Harold and Sylvia Crawford weren’t daunted when their son, David, approached them about backing a cabinet shop in 1984.
“We never gave it a thought as to whether it would work out,” says Harold, who serves as the company’s CEO. “We just worked and as it happened, it happened. We didn’t expect anything. We knew that we were not afraid of work and if we worked, we knew it would happen.”
Crawford Cabinets in Martinez, Ga. – a suburb of Augusta – has been happening for 34 years, growing from three to nearly 40 employees, and from one small building into a 66,835-sq.-ft. production and design center.
A majority of the shop’s high-end work is contracted over the state’s northeast border in Aiken, S.C. The rest comes from in and around Augusta. The region is popular with retirees and golfers.
“We do about 70 percent of our work in new homes and 30 percent are remodels. We work a lot with the Aiken economy,” explains Sylvia, who runs the showroom and mentors her three children and other family members involved with the business.
After studying drafting at Aikin Tech in the early 80s, David Crawford decided he wanted to be on the ‘front lines’ of the cabinet business, so to speak.
“He didn’t want to sit at a desk all day long,” says Harold. “He said he really enjoyed building cabinets. I said, ‘okay, if that’s what you want to do.’ I took some money, bought a guy out, and set him up with one employee. That was in July 1984,” says Harold, who at the time was a maintenance supervisor at International Paper.
Sylvia joined her son in his new venture and her brother, also a cabinetmaker, provided some of the early work. “We would pick up jobs he didn’t want to do,” she says.
They concentrated on remodeling as Sylvia’s brother had most of the local builders as regular clients, which brought the siblings to a competitive level. The Crawfords began working with builders in the nearby Aiken market and over time had their own clientele. About a year in, they bought a concrete block building in Martinez.
“It was 40’ x 100’ and I was able to take part of that and build a showroom. We’ve since added three additions and purchased three (other) buildings,” says Sylvia. “I wanted something different. See, back then there were no showrooms, so my biggest goal as a woman was to show another woman what she was getting. Women can be the big decision makers. It’s gotten to be more and more so as time rolls on. They have become more dominant.”
Sylvia regularly attends trade shows like KBIS to keep up with latest styles, and when her husband is busy looking for equipment to purchase at this summer’s IWF in Atlanta, you bet she’ll be perusing the latest hardware and components for fresh design ideas.
The design center was added as a separate building adjacent to the shop in 2005, which is just under 7,000 sq. ft. It is a plus for customers who are welcomed by friendly staff in a common area full of cabinet samples. Sylvia has her own appreciation for it.
“There’s also that when you’re working in the same building with your husband you don’t always agree … so I run this now, this is my part. And he has his part in the other building in charge of production and managing equipment.”
Flat-panel, Shaker-style doors are in demand. White paint is still king, which to Sylvia’s amazement, never seems to get old. Some clients prefer stains, especially if they accentuate interesting grain character like in wormy chestnut or knotty pine.
“People are picky. They have the money to do it and they want it to be right. For a lot our customers, this is their last house,” she says.
Just next door, the production shop is humming. Room after room, there are different stations for cutting, finishing and assembly, and all that goes on in between.
There are four CNC machines running at any given time. Harold Crawford sees them as a godsend.
“Our equipment has helped us so much with downsizing the employee ratio because it came in and took over a lot of what we used to do by hand. We used to have 65 employees. But you also can’t find anybody that wants to work so the equipment has taken care of that problem too.”
Known for service
The Great Recession forced the company to downsize and sales have yet to reach the highs set in 2009 and 2010. But customers now are more willing to part with their disposable incomes, the Crawfords say. The company, which does not advertise, generally works on homes in the $500,000 to $1 million price range.
“Everything is word of mouth. We’re actually doing repeat business for customers back from ’92. Now they’re coming back and want new remodeling done, and some have new homes. We do refacing kitchen doors as well if the boxes are good,” says Sylvia.
“Repeat business over a 35-year span is fantastic. You do a good job and they come back.”
Although they’re seemingly working towards it, the senior Crawfords really don’t want to retire, at least not in a ‘kick back and relax’ sort of way.
“My dream was to play golf whenever I wanted. But it didn’t work out that way. Once I was involved with this I got more involved and didn’t want to stop,” says Harold.
Sylvia is also driven to keep heading into the shop. A while back, she stayed home for months following back surgery
“Time at home was so boring and mundane. It was the same thing over and over. I was very eager to come back to work,” she says.
The couple also agrees they don’t want to expand the business.
“We will hold our size. We figured out you can only control so much and we want to keep our business where we are known for our service. If somebody needs something or they have a problem, we are right there. If you get too much going on, you don’t have enough time to go back and do repairs and stuff like that. And we know that’s made our business grow - providing service to the customer,” says Sylvia.
Contact: Crawford Cabinets, 3831 Oak Dr. Martinez, GA 30907. Tel: 706-868-6329. www.crawfordcabinets.com