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All in the family

Chesapeake Woodworking in Baltimore, a family-owned custom millwork shop, was founded in a small garage in 1987 by brothers Jim and Dave Schreiber, along with their cousin Mike Boettcher. Determined to grow the small business into a premier architectural millwork operation, the three worked around the clock to boost their clientele and gain name recognition.

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They met their initial goal in 1996 when they began grossing an annual average of $3 million and had about 35 employees, and are still just as driven as on Day One.

"To start a business, you can't work 40 hours a week. You've got to work whatever it takes to get the job done and make the customer happy - that's how we started the business," says Dave Schreiber.

Most of Chesapeake's clients are from the commercial sector, where project managers and general contractors seek custom services in fabrication of countertops, built-in cabinetry, hardwood floors, trim moldings and doors, and historic restorations. Commercial customers routinely include hotels, restaurants, schools, banks and corporate offices.

Occasionally, the company does other services such as furniture repair and small jobs for other businesses with less-equipped shops. Chesapeake has a dynamic machinery inventory ranging from historic die-hard shop staples to highly technical CNC machinery, which enables it to fabricate without limitations.

Making the move

Prior to founding Chesapeake, the three partners had grown up together in Baltimore, and worked together at Western Mill & Lumber Company in Maryland. They ventured into the business without hesitation, but still recall those exhausting days in the late 1980s when only the three of them handled everything from estimating to installing. They were mainly focused on cabinetry and restoration back then, and they also did a fair share of repair work on yachts. It couldn't be more apparent that all of that has changed.

"At some point, you reach a time where you're faced with the decision of 'Do I want to continue to renovate basements or do I entertain the possibility of doing bigger work?' We decided to grow," says Schreiber.

Chesapeake's work force features 15 woodworkers and about a dozen installers.

The company's expansion took a gradual course. Initially, the owners hired one employee who is currently their shop foreman. During the course of the next five years, the company grew to 20 employees, which is when the owners decided to move into their current shop in 1996.

"Being in a community where everyone knows everyone, someone was impressed with the work we did at a local restaurant. After that the referrals began and some of our biggest contracts followed. Some of those customers are still our customers."

Most of the employees have been with the company for around 10 years.

Commercial focus

Chesapeake completes hundreds of projects per year, of which about 80 percent are from repeat clients. About 85 percent of the company's clients are within an hour-and-a-half drive of the shop, but the company will service the entire East Coast and has gone as far as Florida for a job. They have shipped all of the woodwork for a bowling center in Japan. The shop is currently working on a large hotel in Blacksburg, Va. Schreiber says the company has worked on many hotels during the last five years.

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