Jim Farris still gets a kick out of working with wood. He’s been running Jim Farris Cabinets since 1976, through good times and bad, and not a day goes by when he doesn’t strive to meet and exceed his clients’ expectations.
“Ever since I was young, I’ve been able to make things with my hands. It’s very satisfying working with people where you have to find out how to meet their needs. And you get to build something often that’s very beautiful, that your clients are excited about. And it’s been very rewarding over the years. I’ve never been afraid of building something new and different,” says Farris.
Farris Cabinets does design and installation of custom cabinetry and furniture from its 8,000-sq.-ft. shop in Pasadena, Texas, a southwestern suburb of Houston. Like the rest of the nation, Texas has suffered through the recession. But Farris says the state isn’t such a bad place to be a cabinetmaker.
“Texas is growing as fast as, if not faster than, any other state in the country because we have work available. We’re a right-to-work state and that’s a big deal. Right now, I’m working with a client who just moved here from Australia. Houston is a big sprawling city and you’ve got opportunities to build things for every kind of person in the world.”
Owner of: Jim Farris Cabinets
Location: Pasadena, Texas
Shop size: 8,000 sq. ft.
Quotable: “My advice to other business owners is to try to have little-to-no debt, work together with your clientele and be flexible, and always be clear. Misunderstandings make for unhappy customers.”
An early start
Originally from Houston, Farris studied fine art at the University of Houston until he made the following conclusions: Yes, he had some artistic talent; No, it wasn’t meant for painting and sculpture. He was running a part-time house painting business that led to some woodworking jobs.
“Then I got hired by a shop to do some cabinetry work,” Farris says, picking up the story. “I soon started to wonder why I was working for someone else when I knew the basics and was using my own tools. So I hung a sign out on a fence post and got a few referrals and started my own business at 22 years old.”
The business expanded to eight employees for a time and currently has two. John Fife and Jose Dozal have worked side-by-side with Farris for 23 years, which is interesting because Farris says learning to trust employees has been one of his biggest hurdles as woodworker/owner.
“It’s very difficult for someone that is a perfectionist, who’s used to doing everything himself, to turn it over to somebody else when it has your name on it. But I don’t think of us as myself the owner and them as employees. We’re a team.”
The team had to recently scuttle its plans for a new shop. “We came off our best year in business in 2008, followed by our worst year in 2009. But part of my philosophy all along the way, and how I’ve survived several downturns, is I that don’t carry a lot debt,” Farris says. “That’s not the American way, but I’ve managed to keep my doors open in really slim times. But it also makes it harder to build a new facility.”
All types of clients
Farris has a residential and commercial clientele. The business mainly serves the Houston metropolitan area and surrounding communities of Bellaire, Clear Lake and Galveston.
“Our geographic radius is huge. We will go anywhere, but most of our work is within 100 miles of Houston. At one point, we were working for a designer firm that’s no longer in business and we had a product that was shipped all over the country. They were small furniture pieces. We don’t build and truck stuff all over the place, although we have negotiated projects before outside the immediate area in Beaumont and Dallas.”
Builders, architects and designers bring work to the shop, but Farris also deals directly with homeowners. Farris says most of his new business is generated through his website.
“We’ve had the site up for a long time. Our advertising is done through a company that does search engine optimization, which is a vital part of having your website found by online browsers.”
The company offers all types of cabinetry and casework, stand-alone furniture and some millwork.
“Kitchens, bathrooms and entertainment furniture are a big deal for us because typically that’s a higher-end product and it takes more engineering, more attention to detail. I work closely with several audio-visual contractors. They like working with us because we understand what they need for wiring access, ventilation, how the speakers are supposed to work. That’s a big part of what we do.”
Customers like Farris Cabinets because they get what they ask for.
“My job is to please them; you have to,” says Farris. “That’s part of working with people. People are all different and you have to be flexible. There are some people in my business that are not. It’s their way or the highway. And we like to build things that we like, but we also just like building things that are new and different, and being flexible is all about that.”
Farris answers the phone, meets with clients, estimates and designs. He also sneaks away from his desk to work in the shop, which features a Powermatic 10” table saw, 15” drill press and 22” planer; Delta 10” Unisaw, 32” radial drill press and 12” lathe; Grass hinge machine; Grizzly vertical spindle sander; Ritter pocket borer and CTD 10” cutoff saw.
A steady course
Farris Cabinets is having a good year with prospects for several big jobs. The backlog is a steady two months.
“Any longer than that makes it hard to line up work,” says Farris. “The type of projects we do require a lot of time on the front end. Rarely has someone done all of the planning and is ready to go. Usually when a homeowner comes to me, they’ve done little homework. They know they have a need, but you have to find out what it is that they want.”
Farris, 58, isn’t interested in building a woodworking empire. He believes it’s essential to make time for having a life. He is dedicated to his family and faith. Those are his priorities and the business follows.
“I feel real strongly about craftsmanship, taking pride in your work and doing the best you can. Those are things not promoted these days. I’m not working to satisfy myself and this is more than serving clientele.
“People are interesting and it’s very rewarding to meet with somebody to understand what their needs are and know I can help them. I’m helping people achieve their goals and make things satisfying to them. To start with a concept and see it all the way through from the design is a very enjoyable experience.”
Contact: Jim Farris Cabinets, 2950 South Shaver Road Suite E-10, Pasadena, TX 77502. Tel: 713-947-2153. www.farriscabinets.com
This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue.