Jarin and Kelly Smoker started Seven Trees Woodworking in 2009 during what turned out to be the tail end of Great Recession. Ten straight years of annual growth have followed. Eleven appeared to be a slam dunk until the state issued a stay at home order on March 19. It was allowed to reopen on May 1.
“We’re relieved for sure. It’s good to be open again,” Jarin said at the end of April. “We’re still not completely out of it yet. We have a few guys with childcare issues with daycares and schools being shut down, so they’re coming in on a limited basis as much as they can.”
During the shutdown, the Smokers worked jobs on paper and fine turned standard operating, training and development programs for their 14-person shop in New Holland, Pa. They encouraged employees not able to work to file for unemployment but ensured them they had jobs to return to. Of course, the real test lies ahead.
“We will be alright,” says Jarin. “We actually had a decent cash reserve which helps. We did apply and receive one of the loans, the PPP loan, so we’re figuring out how to use it best. As far as how this will affect us in the long run, I don’t think we’re going to notice any immediate impact because we have a bunch of jobs that have already started. But I’m interested to see come fall if it’s going to be a little slower, if people are a little more hesitant, or if it’s going to open back up and we’ll be going strong.”
In the beginning
Jarin, 34, grew up in nearby Gap, Pa. and started building decks and additions for a local contractor after high school. He was a self-employed trim carpenter by 2007. He branched into residential cabinetry before opening Seven Trees, a name based on a favorite Bible verse (Isaiah 41:19) that refers to seven different trees in the desert.
He started with general contractors throughout Lancaster County. The market has grown to eastern Pennsylvania and into New York, New Jersey and Maryland.
Commercial work became the primary focus several years back. “We hired a salesman/estimator in 2017 from a big commercial general contractor around here, and that kept our work very steady and increased our work. That was definitely a turning point for us,” says Jarin. “It helped us get to that million-dollar mark and sustain that. We now have two full-time project managers, a full-time drafter and a full-time operations manager as well,” says Jarin.
The shop grossed $2.6 million in 2019.
“One thing with commercial work is it definitely takes more out of us. It takes more office work than residential does because of shop drawings and communicating with the architects and contractors. But we’ve kind of settled into that now and it’s working out for us,” adds Jarin.
One of the shop’s biggest jobs to date was for the Spook Nook Sports indoor sports complex in Manheim, Pa., which included a bar, restaurant seating, and a 30’ diameter reception desk. Another large project was for the Steak 48 restaurant in Philadelphia.
Shifting to commercial also helped with competition, according to Jarin. He says the Lancaster area is saturated with skilled woodworking craftsmen running woodworking operations of all sizes catering to the residential market. There are many Amish and non-Amish woodworkers constantly seeking their next job.
Staying on track
The shop was expanded to about 6,500 sq. ft. in 2012. It’s filled with automated machinery, including an Anderson Omnitech CNC, SCM shapers, SCM DMC wide-belt sander, and Martin four-sided planer, and a growing workforce.
The Smokers have been renting extra warehouse space and were about to buy a 28,000-sq.-ft. building for a new shop.
“I’m not exactly sure how big we want to get, or how many employees we want to have. A few years ago, we did 10-year vision and realized we were hitting our goals and are now working on the next 10 years. A lot is in the air and we don’t currently have room [to expand]. I imagine 40 to 50 employees is what we want to get to in the next 10 years,” says Jarin.
The Smokers are actively involved with woodworking industry associations. Last fall, they hosted a shop tour for the Cabinet Makers Association. They have also hosted local technical education students on several occasions.
Jarin is hoping to create a better balance between commercial and residential work, which is currently at about an 80/20 split. Some of the residential jobs are quite lucrative. There was a recent project that included cabinetry for a $3 million home.
“I want to kind of balance it out a little more between commercial and residential, so we’re also working on building up residential again.”
Whatever the project, he and his team simply enjoy being part of figuring out how to construct it and what materials to use.
“Complicated jobs are welcomed. A lot of other contractors would shy away from some of them, while our knack is figuring those things out and finding solutions, making it work, and being an integral part of construction,” he says.
Contact: Seven Trees Woodworking, 939 East Earl Road, New Holland, PA 17557. Tel: 717-351-6300. www.seventreeswoodworking.com
This article originally appeared in the June 2020 issue.