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Coming of age

When Andrew Marques purchased Cove Woodworking of Gloucester, Mass., in May, he made a bold decision to reestablish a failing business in a down economy. Hope and perseverance are the words he uses to express to his peers that he is committed to making the business succeed. The goal is to reconnect with former customers and exceed their expectations on new commissions. So far, things are moving in the right direction.

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The company serves the needs of commercial who seek quality custom cabinetry and furniture built in a timely manner. Products offered include custom tables, bars, casework, millwork and other specialty items. It currently has two full-time employees and would like to add a third cabinetmaker.

“Business has been steady and we’ve doing pretty well,” says the 24-year-old Marques. “We just did all the tables and bars for a nearby country club and a yacht club. Things have been very difficult in this industry. At one point, the previous owner only called when he had work. We’re looking to establish in a down economy and I’m young enough where, if for any reason it doesn’t work, I can recover and find another job or get into another shop.”

Right place, right time

Marques joined Cove Woodworking after graduating high school in 2007. He joined the Navy in 2009 and after his enlistment was up, found the business was for sale. The former owner had been looking to retire and sold all of his equipment to Marques, who has two silent partners.

“It just seemed like the right opportunity and I had the right money backing,” says Marques. “We still work with all the same clients, both national and local.”

“It wasn’t a surprise to my family that I decided to purchase it. Since I was a little kid I was always in my grandfather’s shop down in his basement. I loved doing woodworking, and did cabinetry and carpentry in high school. I just have a strong passion for it. I love making things that will last for many, many years and being able to say I built that. “

Marques is the third owner of Cove Woodworker, founded by Dan Brummett about 30 years ago. Brummett was known for investing in craftsmanship rather than using expensive machines.

About 80 percent of the shop's work is in the commerical sector, including conference tables for boardrooms.

“Brummett, who’s now in California, was really hands on and ran it like a communal, fun place to work. He’d take people that had no direction at all, that took interest in woodworking, and just taught them the basics,” says Marques.

A man with a plan

Marques’ main focus is getting a steady volume of work and gaining the trust of the shop’s previous clientele.

“The focus is to get the business going, so here at the shop we are putting a lot of attention towards local clients,” he says. “We are working with a few general contracting and architectural firms in Beverly and Cambridge, Mass. We were just contacted about a resort at Stowe Mountain in Vermont, which will be a really big job.”

About 80 percent of the company’s work is in the commercial sector, but Marques is hoping to have a better balance in the residential market.

“With the economy the way it is right now, we are seeing restaurants trying to spend more money while the independent homeowners are sitting on their money. But we are starting to see a change. We just got hired to do a large residential bar right here in town. We haven’t seen that for four to five years. Our goal is to stick mainly with commercial jobs, but we aren’t going to shy away from any project if asked.

“With the residential jobs, we try to stay around the North Shore area outside of Boston. A lot of the customers like to come to the shop to check out their projects.”

Marques is a hands-on shop owner.

The shop’s commercial clients want contemporary and simplistic designs. Sapele and white oak are used most often, according to Marques. A typical job — such as 20 tables with chairs and bases for a restaurant — takes about six weeks to complete from order to delivery. The shop does its own finishing and submits numerous stain samples to clients to add more personal service.

Beating the drum

Keeping an eye on all aspects of the business has been Marques’ biggest challenge thus far. He’s been on the phone a lot, attempting to reconnect with former clients and arranging face-to-face meetings with those who respond favorably. He’s also been busy sending flyers and postcards to local homeowners, establishing social media marketing efforts and experimenting with print advertising.

The shop resides in a light industrial section of Gloucester, a pleasant coastal town north of Boston. The shop is generous at 7,500-sq.-ft. and there’s an additional 800-sq-ft. of office space on the second floor.

“There is plenty of room here for us to work and add employees,” says Marques. “Our goal is to have up to six full-time workers out on the shop floor. When this place was at its busiest years ago, there were 10 employees and we were still comfortable.”

Head craftsman Scott Mulcahey, left, works on a cabinet commission with Marques.

The shop features a Safety Speed Cut panel saw, SCM wide belt sander and DeVilbiss spray booth. Marques favors the Festool Domino joinery system and has plans to add a new dust collection system and a band saw in the near future.

“We’re not seeing too much competition these days, since many of the other local shops have gone under,” says Marques. “The real challenge is reconnecting with the clientele. There’s been four years of silence here because the previous owner let it fall by the wayside when he lost his motivation. When potential customers see our name, they want to be reassured it’s the same quality as in the past. That’s a tough sell because you need the job to prove it. It’s working, but many have moved on and found other means of getting their products.

“My best advice to anyone struggling right now is don’t give up the fight. Use perseverance and motivation. If you put yourself into your business, it will give itself back. It might be tough, but keep going.” 

Contact: Cove Woodworking, 20 Kettle Cove Lane, Gloucester, MA 01930. Tel: 978-526-4755.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue.

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