Ron Smith started Fairfield Woodworkers in the mid 70s. His sons, Jed and Ben, joined full time in the mid 90s. Together, they’ve brought the Lancaster, Ohio cabinet shop into the future, operating from a well-equipped 20,000-sq.-ft. shop and showroom in a growing market.
“Columbus is a pretty hot developing area,” says Jed of the capital city, northeast of Lancaster. “There’s a lot of building going on. The population keeps going up, so it’s definitely helped us. There’s definitely a lot of people moving in, not moving out. The biggest problem I have now is having to turn down work. It’s something I’m not familiar with.”
Jed, the owner since Ron’s retirement, says his father established the shop’s fine reputation and foundation for long-term success. He has focused on improving production and expanding the pipeline.
“I came into the business with somewhat of an already built client base, but I definitely stepped that up to a much bigger level. And while one contractor is going to keep you busy, when you have ten of them, they’re going to keep building and doing repeat work. We’ve done lots of repeat work for customers.”
When the Covid pandemic broke last year, Smith had some financial concerns. But to his relief, work coming into the shop doubled. He foresees the company revenue surpassing $1.5 million in 2021.
“We were busy when it hit but we had enough already when it started that I wasn’t worried about the short term. I was worried about what was going to happen in six months. But it was definitely not a problem. Everybody now seems to want to remodel or move forward with their new homes. It’s been unbelievable,” he says.
“I used to hope for a good referral or a new lead. Even one every week or two would be enough to get us by and it seems like it’s almost daily or every other day now. It’s been good.”
Smith says there are about dozen cabinet shops in his neighborhood, but there’s more than enough work to go around.
“Everybody’s busy so we’re not fighting against each other to get jobs, where maybe 10 years ago you’re fighting for every job. Now, you price it, and you take it or leave it. If I don’t get the job, there’s one right behind it. It’s a nice feeling.
“The biggest selling point we have with our business is this facility. We meet customers here in the showroom so they can see our work, then we walk them through to the shop. They’re just taken back. It’s great to see them smiling from seeing that we do all of the work right here.”
More help needed
The one problem he does face is finding skilled help. Most of the shop’s new employees are learning on the job and the success rate hasn’t been great. “It seems I’ll hire five and keep one,” he says.
The shop features an SCM CNC router purchased four years ago that has been a game-changer. Smith is a traditional craftsman and says he was hesitant about investing in automation.
“I went and looked at routers about 15 years ago, but I just didn’t see the point of having it back then with the payments and having to learn how to use it. There are lots of curveballs. And as we grew, things changed and I was still on the fence when we got it, a little apprehensive. But I don’t regret that decision for a minute.”
With finishing done in-house, Smith is considering an automated process to couple with his spray booth.
“We do so many different colors. I would love to have something like that where we could put the doors on the conveyor belt and they come out painted, but I don’t know. They’re super expensive.”
Smith hopes to learn more at the AWFS Fair, scheduled for July 20-23 in Las Vegas. Last March, Smith attended the Cabinet Makers Association’s national conference in Chicago. He called it an eye-opening experience, especially the opportunity to share similar concerns with peers, and remains active with the group. “I can’t say enough good things about it,” he says.
Smith would like to keep the shop volume close to where it is now and remains committed to putting processes in place that make jobs run more efficiently so there are fewer headaches down the road.
“I feel like over the years we’ve done a lot of things have kind of haphazardly. It’s just we’ve grown and grown and grown and there’s been a lot that hasn’t happened that should have happened.
“It’s important to get organized and make sure that when you meet with a customer you have everything finalized, everything signed, drawings, estimates. Before, a lot of what we did was just handshakes and not done professionally and that’s how my dad did it. Back then you could do that a lot more than you can now.”
The goal, he says, is to achieve the ‘wow factor’ with customers.
“I think just a good rule of thumb is to just always do a good job and make it as perfect as you can, and anybody starting out, it takes a long time to build that reputation and that client base but if you just keep pushing through it, it will come back and eventually you reap the benefits from it.”
Contact: Fairfield Woodworks, 1612 East Main St., Lancaster, OH 43130. Tel: 740-689-1953. www.fairfieldwoodworks.com
This article was originally published in the May 2021 issue.