Established in 1995 by a tenacious young entrepreneur, Myers Custom Woodworks in Franklin, Pa. has grown from a one-person shop in a small garage to a 25,000-sq.-ft., multi-facility operation with 22 employees. The custom woodworking firm is busier than ever, a remarkable turnaround from the early days of the Covid outbreak.
“The state tried to shut us down for six weeks and that hurt us. I lost most of my shop workers,” says owner Ron Myers. “I told most of my guys I didn’t know what they’d be coming back to when they came back; that we may not have a business anymore. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I kept taking on work. I think we’re sitting on 35 kitchens right now.”
Myers started the company at 19, fulfilling a goal he had since high school. But it wasn’t Plan A.
“I was all signed up to go into the Air Force during my high school senior year. I was in my final stage at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Stations) and two weeks later I was supposed to leave,” says Myers. “Then my folks, after I made them a bedroom set, asked me if I could build them a kitchen.
“So, I went to my recruiter and told him I wanted to start a furniture shop. He kind of laughed at me and said, ‘You know what Ron? Give it a year and we can still get you into the Air Force if it doesn’t work out.”
Myers started in his father’s garage with very little knowledge about the craft or business of cabinetmaking. He’s entirely self-taught.
“Looking back, I didn’t go to a vo-tech program because back then I thought it wasn’t cool. Sometimes now I wish I had, but me not going is part of the success of this shop. I started out building furniture here and never worked for another shop, so I created my own ways of making cabinetry and furniture. Because I started building furniture before kitchen cabinets, we built our cabinets more like furniture, and I don’t have the same style as anyone around here.”
A fast start
During his first year, Myers hired a cousin still in high school and then another employee, Darrin Rowland, who is now the shop foreman. A year later they built a separate shop next to the garage with an office, as well as an on-site showroom that illustrates Myers’ broad style offerings from traditional to contemporary, with a particular emphasis on Craftsman-style furniture, his favorite.
The larger facility is across the street in a newly built warehouse. Eventually, Myers wants to move everything there. The new building is filled with production machinery (see sidebar).
“Machines are a huge payoff, but employees are your ticket and bread and butter,” says Meyers. “I would not be here at all without the people I’ve had working with me. You can buy all the fancy machines in the world, but you can’t replace the people.”
Myers no longer spends much time in the shop due to an accident. “I cut the ends of my fingers off in a planer at age 22. I learned quickly how to work with pinchers,” he says. “Losing my fingers made a better businessman out of me, and that’s why I stay in the office or go do estimates and meet with customers.”
With customers from Massachusetts to Florida, that’s no easy task.
“We do the entire East Coast and the reason that has started is a lot of our clients in New York have multiple homes in different places,” says Meyers.
“For 17 years now, we’ve done a lot of work in the Hamptons on Long Island (N.Y.) I’ve actually done so much of the work there that we’re trying to get out. But you never know what’s going to happen in the future and I won’t totally shut it off. A new developer just found us and I kept telling him ‘no’. He just wanted a price, so we threw a fairly high number out there and he wants us to do the work.”
Myers says the shop gets two or three kitchen orders a week from the local market. Franklin is about 80 miles north of Pittsburg in Venango County, home to an oil boom in the years following discovery of petroleum in the 1850s.
“Oil was discovered in Titusville,” says Meyers. “Rockefeller and [other oil executives] were in this area back in the day, and that’s why there’s so many mansions around. They’re gorgeous homes. You can buy them for $150,000 to half a million, which is an absolute steal. They’re just monsters. The stained glass in them alone is probably worth that.”
Myers adds that he’s fortunate to have plenty of wood suppliers nearby. He has over 100,000 bf of inventory, which he believes has tripled in value over the past two years.
Last year, Myers added eight employees after holding at 16-18 in the years leading up to Covid. The increase creates new challenges within the business structure but helps tremendously with the backlog.
“It’s getting more and more difficult to manage,” he says. “I’m not going to say bigger is better, and I wasn’t trying to go down that road. But the amount of work that is there and the designers that are finding us, we need the help. We’ve got a designer in Pittsburgh now, and we’ve got a kitchen dealer in Erie (Pa.) that orders all their cabinets from us. We have our own designer here and other staff involved. So, between all of us we’re not staying caught up to where we should be.
“I don’t really want 25 to 30 employees, but I can see within a year we’ll be at [that level].”
Satisfied with the progress of the business and his station in life, he says he has no regrets but always wonders what life would have been like had he gone into the Air Force.
“I would have gotten to see lots of the world. I was going with another classmate and another guy from a local school. The three of us were supposed to go to basic training on the same day; they’re now both retired.”
What’s in the shop
- Atlas Copco screw air compressors
- Biesse Klever CNC router
- Biesse Viet S1211 wide belt sander
- Cabinet Vision with Screen-to-Machine software
- Cantek bandsaw with resaw feeder
- Castle face-frame assembly table
- Dodds SE20 dovetailer
- Donaldson Torit sanding booths
- Festool track saws and Domino joiner
- Holz-Her Triathlon 420 edgebander
- Holz-Her 1205 panel saw
- Ironwood upcut saw
- JLT drawer box and panel clamp machines
- Kremlin air-assisted sprayers
- Northtech 26” planer
- Omtech laser engraver
- Oneida dust collection
- Powermatic shapers
- Quickwood molding sander
- SCMI molder and planer
- Southworth lift tables
- Unique 250 door machine
This article was originally published in the April 2022 issue.