If you’re not busy, you’re doing something wrong. The colloquial saying is a running joke amongst building contractors in central Tennessee, according to Joel Priddy, owner of Southall Architectural Millwork in Thompson’s Station, just south of Nashville. Priddy is busy, so he must be doing something right.
Priddy opened Southall, or SAM, in 2016, instantly meeting demand for cabinets in a bustling home-building market.
“Our first full year we were open, 2017, we saw an explosion in sales,” says Priddy. “There were so many people patiently waiting for us to open a cabinet shop, we hit $1 million with six employees. Years 2018 and 2019 were the same, $790,000, with the same employee count.
“By August of this year, after (growing to) 16,000 sq. ft. and nine employees, we hit $956,000. We will blow $1 million out of water by the end of the year.”
Priddy’s father and grandfather ran Priddy Construction for many years in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. The family relocated to Dallas, then Nashville when Priddy was a teenager. Priddy opened his first business, also named Priddy Construction, in 2011.
“I started in this line of work when I was 17 and the woodworking aspect, I was just always drawn to that. I liked the whole construction aspect, but in my early twenties I settled in that woodworking was kind of my gift and started running with it,” says Priddy, now 39.
“I was lucky to just fall into lots of work. I had a high-end market, so I went into houses installing all types of molding, doors and built-ins. We didn’t immediately start with kitchen cabinets, but we set up shop onsite doing built-ins and entertainment centers.
“In 2015, my contractors asked me if I would open up a cabinet shop. They loved the trim, the customer service, what I brought to the table, and they wanted to see if I’d do cabinets also and be a one-stop shop for them.”
While assessing his options, he found a partner, Chris Wyse, SAM’s vice president of millwork operations.
“Chris is second in command. He’s been doing cabinets his whole life and had a custom cabinet shop for about 10 years he ran alone. He expressed a desire to get into a team environment, and in 2016 I bought his cabinet shop. We partnered and just hit the ground running. He had existing contacts and all of my contacts were very pleased we could offer cabinets.
“I formed Southall Architectural Millwork when I bought the shop from him and dissolved Priddy Construction. I had 12 to 13 guys working for me and I just folded them into Southall. I already had a very good reputation here in middle Tennessee, but with the cabinet shop, my business model was more to build a brand and I didn’t want that brand to be stuck to Joel Priddy.”
A great beat
Priddy says a strong local economy and recent remodeling surge has been good for business.
“We had a fair amount of new construction the first of the year. We’ll typically book up six months at a time and by last November, we were booked up six to eight months into 2020. There were a couple remodels, but 90 percent of what was under contract was all new construction.”
The primary market is a 30-mile stretch between Thompson’s Station and Nashville. And yes, that includes those in the music industry.
“Most of our clients, we aren’t even allowed to talk about who they are. In Nashville, there are lots of high-profile people, and I think that’s why we’ve been able to sail right through this year and haven’t missed a beat. They’ve got the money to do it, so we’ve been really blessed,” says Priddy.
About 70 percent of shop’s work is cabinetry. The remaining includes millwork, arched doorways, columns and more.
Commercial projects aren’t common, but SAM can point to its work at the Grand Ole Opry’s Ryman Auditorium.
A new division
Priddy recently bought a nearby semi-custom cabinet shop from Brent Lenthall. It has allowed SAM to offer another price point and gain more space.
“Our custom cabinets are not cheap, and I got tired of turning people away. The way I look at it, there’s money to be made on every project whether that’s a $10,000 kitchen or a $100,000 kitchen, and for me it goes back to that brand I’m trying to create. I don’t only want Southhall to be associated with cabinets that only the elite can afford. I made an offer last year October, bought his building and tools, and put him on the payroll as manager of our semi-custom division.
“It’s proven to be very versatile. One of our main projects this year is a 16,000-sq.-ft. house, and we’re utilizing both the custom and the secondary line there. On a house that big, there are rooms in there that need cabinets but don’t need the cream of the crop in there. If you have something more economical to offer, you use it in the secondary areas and save the bulk of the allotted budget to blow out the kitchen.”
The shops feature Delta and Jet table saws, Ritter face-frame assembly tables, Williams & Hussey molders, a 16” Oliver jointer, Powermatic planers, Blum hinge boring machines, and sprayers from CA Technologies.
Priddy was headed to IWF 2020 to purchase his first CNC machine. “I would have bought one on the spot,” he says. “When it’s something costing you upwards of around $250,000, you want to get in front of it and see it work so we were bummed when the show was cancelled. But it’s really a necessity nowadays. I’ve been talking with different suppliers or manufacturers and am hoping to make a purchase by the end of the year.”
Priddy would like to house both divisions in a single, 25-000-sq.-ft. shop. A showroom is also on the wish list.
“We don’t have a showroom and it has never been an issue with clients. They’re a little disappointed at first that they can’t see a big fancy showroom but understand part of their money’s not going to that.”
He also wants to offer a line of RTA, flat-packed cabinets that can be shipped about anywhere. But that’s at least five years down the road, he says.
“I’m on track for record sales this year. In my humble opinion, we’re not necessarily doing something that other shops aren’t. Anyone can build cabinets. What I feel sets us apart is the customer service aspect. It was always instilled in me that communication is key above all else. You deliver on schedule and do what you say you’re going to do. Reputation is everything and I hear from 90 percent of contractors we work for that’s the reason they use us.”
Contact: Southall Architectural Millwork, 4464 Peytonsville-Trinity Rd., Thompsons Station, TN 37179. Tel: 931-922-8415. www.southallarchitecturalmillwork.com