A no frills approach - Woodshop News

A no frills approach

Parsons Kitchens is off the beaten path and lacks a fancy showroom, but that doesn’t matter to a big city customer base
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Mike York at the shop’s table saw.

Mike York at the shop’s table saw.

Parsons Kitchens of Brownfield, Maine operates out of a remote 2,500-sq.ft. shop with eight employees in the western part of the state. There is no sign out front and there’s some curiosity about what the building is used for, but it’s been a go-to source for custom woodworking since 1978.

Jason Parsons took ownership in 2017 after realizing that his father, Larry Parsons, would soon need a hand keeping the turnkey business going full swing.

“I saw that my father was trying to do less around here and wanted to get involved with the day-to-day now instead of when my father was too exhausted to do it anymore. He’s still involved as a de facto consultant. He has a backlog of knowledge that’s invaluable,” Jason says.

The shop grosses just over $1 million in annual sales and had a strong 2019. The Parsons attribute their success to a no-frills approach and solid reputation, particularly in the Boston area.

 Employees John Ferry sanding doors

 Employees John Ferry sanding doors

The beginnings

Larry Parsons was a chemist and machinist before woodworking entered the picture. After several years of working at a cabinet shop, he decided to open his own.

“I began to see a need for customized products in people’s kitchens. From there the business just evolved and I hired one or two people. I was in a very competitive market, but I kept at it. So, in doing this, we started getting into other markets of cabinetry, other room furniture, home theaters, home libraries, home offices, all custom designed,” says Larry.

“Back in the 90’s this wasn’t an easy sell. We did some home shows and sometimes we couldn’t give it away. People just didn’t have the money. But we were able to get just enough to keep us going, and I’ve remained in business. I’ve only had one layoff and that was for a week.”

Jason started helping his dad in the mid 90s and was hooked.

“I started around 24 years ago in the spray room and helping clean the shop, and eventually started working with the guys and learning the nuances of the trade. The more I picked my father’s brain, the more intrigued and more interested I became in the detailed portion of cabinetry,” says Parsons.

The original shop was in Larry’s garage, which was later merged with a warehouse. A separate building was constructed years later and has since been connected.

James Goodman clamping doors

James Goodman clamping doors

“Just looking through pictures and photo albums of how much this place has changed over the last 30 to 35 years, it’s really remarkable how it’s expanded,” says Jason.

Boston beckons

The initial client radius spanned a mere 50 miles when Larry first started, but good reviews got the attention of some rewarding connections.

“Someone saw my work up here and talked me into doing a project for them in Boston and from there it kept going and we started getting introduced to the architects and contractors,” says Larry.

Now, most of the company’s work is in the Boston area where it completes roughly four or five residential kitchens per month along with occasional high-end commercial jobs. They’ve also served clients throughout New England, New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C. and even Texas.

“About 90 to 95 percent of our work comes from the Massachusetts area. When I first started, we were probably doing two kitchens a month and now we’re doing more like five kitchens a month,” says Jason.

David Sgroi in the finishing room.

David Sgroi in the finishing room.

Even though the Boston jobs require extensive travel, with Jason vising clients and taking measurements two or three times a week, the Brownville location has its advantages such as lack of local competition. Recently, they’ve caught a break with a few more local projects.

“This is home. That’s what it amounts to. We’ve had some high-end builders in the area that have hired us for local projects and that has helped immensely. It’s almost a vacation when you have a chance to focus on someone 15 to 20 minutes up the road if you need to grab an extra measurement,” says Jason.

“In the community around here, a lot of the people I talk with still don’t know what we do here. We have a fairly big following down in the Boston area and we’ve come across people who have heard of us from down there but up here people don’t know. We don’t put a sign up because we’ve been successful just working on word-of-mouth type of basis, letting people’s testimonials sell our work for us, so it’s worked out well on that end.”

Fair and reasonable

The Parsons say their open price scale and focus on keeping costs fair and reasonable attracts clients with varying budgets. From basic projects in smaller homes to $100,000-plus kitchens in large ones, they’ve remained fully operational even when the economy fluctuates.

“When there were downturns and other shops we knew were struggling, we were busier than ever. I think part of it is because a lot of our customers know we’re not going to mess around with pricing just because times get bad,” says Jason.

Two kitchens from the shop’s extensive portfolio.

Two kitchens from the shop’s extensive portfolio.

The company caters to any design request and lately has been doing more slab doors with high-gloss and stained finishes. The shop also produces tables with a convex bottom, known as UFO tables.

The shop may lack a fancy showroom, but the team always makes custom sample doors and other pieces to show customers during the design process. It’s part of the strategy to keep costs at a minimum.

“This is a working office-type shop and there’s not much to show but we’re good at turning around cabinetry. We have a niche here. What we’re offering in my opinion is a very high-end product without the frills of the major costs that get built into the cost of manufacturing,” says Jason.

Leaving a lasting impression

There’s no room to expand the current shop, so relocating is a possibility, Jason says.

“As of right now, I think we’re going to remain here. I’m still trying to establish myself since I’ve only been running the business two years. We kind of have our niche and we have machinery here we like to work with,” he says.

“The goal at some point would be to move the business to New Hampshire, near Conway, where I live. It’s about ten minutes away. But the agreement I have with my dad is that while he’s involved, I will stay here.”

Jason says he becomes more intrigued with cabinetmaking as time goes on and enjoys learning something new every day.

Two kitchens from the shop’s extensive portfolio.

Two kitchens from the shop’s extensive portfolio.

“Growing up, I knew my father was a cabinetmaker, but I had no idea what he was really doing here. His peers have such an admiration for him. It’s just mind-blowing what he does here and really came as a shock to me.”

Larry enjoys mentoring his son and is currently experimenting with new software to increase efficiency. He teaches Jason and the crew simple techniques that enhance the products, such as rounding dovetail drawers on the sides and installation techniques that cut time drastically. To him, it’s all about leaving a lasting impression with the customer.

“The funny thing about people is that the eye doesn’t tell them all the time what their heart is going to feel. They’ll open something, they’ll see something, they’ll do something, and they’ll know there’s something unique or right about that product, but they don’t know what it is. The only way they know is if they have some other item to compare it to side by side,” says Larry.

Contact: Parsons Kitchens, 510 Hampshire Road, Brownfield, ME 04010. Tel: 207-935-3737. www.parsonskitchens.com 

This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue.

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