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At home in Oklahoma

You can almost hear the pitchman say, “Want a quality cabinet? Go to Quality Cabinet in Jenks, Oklahoma.”

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And if you make the trip to Jenks, south of Tulsa, you’ll meet owner Dave Grounds, who joined his dad’s business in 1995. The shop has been producing — you guessed it — quality cabinets for nearly 50 years. Grounds is about as grounded as they come, taking the daily challenges of running a small woodworking shop in stride, always with an eye on the big picture.

“Daily challenges aren’t problems, they’re just part of life,” Grounds says. “If I have a challenging day, I try to remember other people have real problems.”

Like father, like son

When Chuck Grounds started the business, he quickly developed a reputation for integrity within the homebuilding community and built a strong local customer base. Naturally, this left a strong impression on his son.

“[My dad] grew the business basically by word of mouth and reputation, which is really the best advertising that money can’t buy,” says Grounds, who came to the business with a bachelor’s degree in business management and computers from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater and an MBA from the University of Tulsa.

“After receiving my undergraduate degree, I worked in information technology for eight years. I always knew I wanted to be self-employed at some point, but just didn’t know what capacity that would be in, which was my reason for getting the MBA.

“So 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to join my dad’s business here and I jumped at it. At that time, all of the cabinet drawings and cabinet part cut lists were done by hand. My technology background prompted me to automate the process and create a company website about eight years ago.”

Shop foreman Kevin Lettlefied and owner Dave Grounds review plans.

The shop’s clientele is mostly local homebuilders, contractors and homeowners. It serves the Tulsa metropolitan area that has a population of nearly 1 million people.

“We offer custom cabinet design and manufacturing. We build unfinished cabinets and deliver them to the job site,” says Grounds, noting that it’s fairly typical in his part of the country for independent painting contractors to finish the job on site after trim has been installed.

The job mix is about 95 percent residential and varies between new construction and remodeling work. Grounds proudly says that four out of five customers are repeats.

“Work trends change from month to month around here,” he says. “If you asked me 10 years ago, I’d had said about three-quarters wanted work for new-home construction and the rest wanted remodeling work. Since the economic downturn, I think more people are remodeling instead of buying new homes so that has kind of pushed that percentage closer to 50-50.”

Cabinets and entertainment centers have always been the big sellers, but the shop also offers furniture, bathroom vanities, wine racks, wet bars and more. The shop has always tried to stay with the times.

“Advances in cabinet hardware over the years have enabled us to expand from building half-inch overlay face frame cabinets to building cabinets with full overlay and inset doors and drawers,” Grounds says. “We’ve had a steadily growing demand for full overlay and inset cabinets from our customers.”

The shop offers “good, better and best” cabinet interiors, which translates to using high-density particleboard, MDF or plywood. This lets the customer choose the option that best fits their budget.

Kevin Littlkefied installs cabinet hardware.

Four-man shop

Quality Cabinet is housed in a 10,000-sq-ft. building, which features an elaborate showroom and plenty of parking.

“Since my dad started the business, there were two other previous locations. He built this building in 1981 so we’ve been here quite awhile,” says Grounds, who reports his dad is still alive and working, but stepped out of the cabinetry business shortly after he took over.

Grounds measures, designs and quotes every job. He handles the invoicing, accounts payable and payroll. He also coordinates the cabinet deliveries. But he’s more than happy to outsource the tax work.

He currently has four employees, but has had as many as eight in the past. The “new guy” has been employed for eight years. Suffice to say, he’s got an experienced crew.

“I’m lucky to have low employee turnover. I’ve had two employees retire after 25 years of service and my shop foreman has been here for 19 years,” Grounds says.

The showroom really helps customers to decide on a finish. It has sample oak, maple, cherry, hickory, knotty pine and ash doors on display, as well as knotty alder that has been very popular lately, according to Grounds.

“We’re doing a lot of knotty alder and stain grade maple, but we’re not doing as much of the oak these days. People have kind of gotten rid of the grainy look. We also see a lot of paint-grade cabinets. Some people will do stained cabinets in their kitchen and painted in their utility cabinets and their baths. Other people will do painted cabinets everywhere. In terms of percentage I would say the painted versus stained cabinetry finishing preference around here is close to 50-50, which is more than I’ve ever seen in the past with the paint.”

Despite Grounds’ background in computers, the shop doesn’t have any CNC machinery because it builds so many custom projects.

Sooner pride

Mistake-free work and on-time delivery have distinguished Quality Cabinet for nearly 50 years.

The Tulsa area is still feeling the effects of the economic crash in 2008 and 2009, but Grounds doesn’t think Oklahoma was hit as bad as other states.

“We were affected the same way our customers were affected. As their fortunes go, so go our fortunes. It was a challenge for the homebuilders in particular. Remodelers were not hit as hard, but there were a lot of homebuilders that just got out of business. We just adapted and did whatever cabinet job we could,” Grounds says.

“For about five years, we also did a lot of fire and water restoration jobs. It’s an avenue that’s totally separate from the homebuilding market. There’s a challenge in it because you have to match existing work.”

Grounds attributes any success to the professionalism of his crew.

“You need — and we have — a quality shop foreman who can really make or break your operation,” he says. “Our previous shop foreman retired after 25 years and our new one has been here 19 years. He’s a talented leader in our shop and definitely a key to our success. He’s especially good at building installer-friendly cabinets. He takes steps in the fabrication process that can make installation much easier and quicker for cabinet installers. In turn, this leaves a happy end user who doesn’t have to deal with unnecessary delays or hassles.

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“We also use quality hardware rather than using a cheaper knockoff end-product in order to avoid call backs and warranty issues. And we have a reputation of delivering on promises. When we give an estimated production lead time, you can depend on delivery 99 percent of the time.”

Grounds is extremely focused on efficiency and the job details. The idea is to get it right the first time, thus saving time and money.

“Everyone makes mistakes but it’s how you deal with mistakes that can set you apart,” he says. “If we make a mistake, we apologize and make corrections immediately. Customers certainly appreciate a swift response to problems.”

Why change?

Grounds is pleased with the pace of the shop’s growth and can’t think of anything he’d do differently. Change for the sake of change can only do more harm than good, he believes.

“Everyone knows we’re here. We’ve got a good location on a busy street and we’re very close to a lot of the new home developments,” he says.

Grounds is a native of Oklahoma and can’t imagine doing business anywhere else.

“The state’s leadership is very pro-business and that makes it easy to operate here,” he says. “I plan to continue our current strategy and grow when business conditions warrant it. I like to grow to meet demand, rather than grow in hopes of [generating] demand.”

Contact: Quality Cabinet Co., 817 N. Elm St., Jenks, OK 74037. Tel: 918-299-2721.

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue.

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