Spend a couple of nights waking along Las Vegas Boulevard, also known as The Strip, and eventually nothing will surprise you. A middle-aged man wearing a diaper and nothing else? Check. An old lady in a Batman costume ordering at McDonald’s? Yup, saw that twice.
A couple of blocks off The Strip, near the Las Vegas Freeway, is Custom Design Cabinets of Las Vegas, owned by Romanian-born Jacob Dorenbaum. Inside are six craftsmen creating high-end casework, not far from a trapeze act at the Circus Circus casino. You’re finally surprised.
Dorenbaum is a third-generation cabinetmaker with an old-school passion for the craft. “Every cabinet shop owner knows this is not the type of business that is going to make you a millionaire,” he says. “You’re not going to make a ton of money. It’s something you love and something you enjoy and a trade that produces something you can actually see. If you’re happy, then you will have smiling customers in return.”
The road to Vegas
Dorenbaum grew up in Israel and began woodworking in high school. But school was too expensive for the family budget and his father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: Come work in my shop, he said.
“I was a little upset because I didn’t get to go to school, but I realized I got lucky because I learned something that would allow me to support myself for the rest of my life,” says Dorenbaum.
“To be a good cabinetmaker, you need to know all parts of the business. I learned from my father you have to know how to create it, build it, finish it and install it because if you don’t know one of them, you’re in trouble. I depend on my employees to help me now, but I can do everything they can.”
Dorenbaum arrived in Las Vegas in 1998 to work in his brother’s cabinet shop. “After a couple of years, I went my way and he went his way. I started my own furniture restoration business. That’s all I could really offer at the time because I couldn’t afford any fancy machinery,” he explains.
He saved enough to buy a cabinet shop and has about 5,000-sq.-ft. of shop, showroom and office space, filled with everything but CNC equipment.
“When you make custom things, you tend to do them on an individual basis. I feel CNC is for mass production; not for what we do,” says Dorenbaum.
Home sweet home
Dorenbaum and his wife, Audrey, are happily settled in the Las Vegas suburbs. They enjoy the area’s warm and dry climate. The business opportunities are pretty good, too. While there can be boom-and-bust times, out-of-town money is usually always in play.
“All but one percent of my clients are from Nevada, but a lot of them do not live here. They have a vacation home out here and live elsewhere,” Dorenbaum says.
The shop does about 95 percent of its work for the residential market. Jobs come mostly from referrals and the shop’s website, maintained by Dorenbaum’s son, Shamuel.
“He is a website master,” Dorenbaum says proudly. “He is still in Israel, but you don’t need to be anywhere nearby to maintain a website. That is where I get half of my business from.
“The biggest problem I ever saw in this business was the recession in 2008 when the economy started to get really bad. I guess I was really lucky though because that’s when I got a job remodeling 200 rooms at the Hilton Grand Vacation resort in Las Vegas. It was a condominium and they sent me one year’s worth of work. I was really lucky because there was no other work going on. After that, most of my clients came back and I was back in business as usual.”
The shop averages about one job per week, with styles and trends leaning towards contemporary.
“Lately everyone is going for the modern look. They don’t want the traditional look as much anymore,” Dorinabum says. “Recently, I was asked to take some traditional-style cabinets down. They were just gorgeous and it was difficult to do, but they wanted a brand-new kitchen. Anyone watching would have said not to take them down, but the customer wanted a whole new look.”
Of course, the customer is always right.
The shop has had a run on custom closets, home theater projects, pop-up television cabinets and wine cabinets. Dorenbaum focuses on labor and material when preparing bids, rather than the competition.
“You’re shooting for 35 percent profit from the total job cost. If everything goes smoothly, you will get it,” he says.
He’s noticed that customers are opting for maple over cherry. “My customers like the density of maple and also that you can stain it because of its light color and still get the look of cherry for a much lower price. But I also use so many other woods, such as poplar and bubinga and zebrawood for more designer pieces.”
Like we said, the customer is always right, except when it comes to finishing. “If I think the stain is not right for the job, I make the customers sign off on that part of it so they get the stain that they want and I’m still protected. There have been other times when I feel a stain they chose is not right and it comes back on me,” says Dorenbaum.
If it’s not broke …
Dorenbaum is content with his shop’s size, number of employees and volume of work.
“I really don’t want to grow because in order to grow you start to lose control and then your business is not manageable. Then you end up with a situation that you can’t handle because you try to cut corners to make things go faster and that reduces the quality. I have some picky clients and I want them to come back to me,” he says.
He encourages employees to improve their skills and is proud to see them better their situation. Just recently, he lost a finisher he’s had since Day One.
“He wanted to open his own business. When he came to me he didn’t know how to sand and now I think he’s the best finisher I know. I think what I did for him was I gave him the ability to have faith in himself and build himself up, so he learned on his own. He wanted to go in a different direction and go on his own. I respect that.
“You have to be a lot of things when you are a boss and I’m very careful. You have to be the father and the mother of the guys and a psychologist if they have a problem.”
Contact: Custom Design Cabinets of Las Vegas, 2150 S. Highland Ave., Las Vegas, NV 89102. Tel: 702-366-0953. www.customdesigncabinets.com
This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue.