As a matter of good business sense, Travis Walker knows not to put all of his eggs in one basket, as the saying goes. This approach has enabled him steadily to grow his turnkey company, Walker Woodworking in Shelby, N.C., since its formation in 2000 by working for different types of clients from builders to homeowners throughout the state and beyond.
In 2015, Walker and his wife Stacey envisioned a way to bring company volume and revenue to an entirely new level. They would create a showroom offering several lines of semi-custom cabinetry to complement the shop’s original custom cabinetry offerings. This portion of the business, Greenbrook Design, a kitchen and bath design center, became fully operational two years ago and has opened the floodgates to new client connections.
“We did this because in the past, if I was bidding a whole house under new construction, the builder would only let us do the kitchen, and maybe the master bath because of our price point, so we would lose out of the rest of the house. But now we can service the whole house,” says Walker.
Walker, who has 31 employees, says the system has made for 100 percent growth. Company revenue reached $3.8 million in 2018, more than double the $1.8 million achieved in 2017.
Land of opportunity
Situated in the state’s foothills between two client hot spots – Charlotte and Asheville – the company occupies a 10,000-sq.-ft. building on Walker’s property, which he’s added to six times. It is also in the same town where Walker was born, raised and served as a paramedic.
“I just enjoyed helping people,” Walker says of his first career choice. “But I was working so much I didn’t have time to see my family or anything. I was working around 120 hours a week. I literally worked seven days a week for seven years with no day off.”
Walker discovered woodworking as a hobby in the mid 90s. A friend and mentor taught him the basics.
“I started working for a guy when I was 12, Scott Cole, who did carpentry work and small renovations and as I went through college, to be a paramedic, I still worked for him. I learned a lot from him. Roger Martin, another local cabinet maker, has also been a mentor through the years.
“In ’96, I cut down an old oak tree my granddaddy planted on our family farm and wanted to sell it for lumber instead of using it for firewood. Once I saw the lumber, I decided I’d rather try to build something out of it myself. I borrowed $3,000 from my grandmother and set up shop in a single-car garage and got started,” he says.
Using the heirloom lumber, he built a china hutch, entertainment center and crib for his family. He took on more projects, hired an employee, and was suddenly inundated with work, courtesy of a successful effort at the 2001 Spring Home and Garden Show. It prompted him to quit his paramedic job to focus solely on his new career.
“We flew in and made a kitchen display and handed out a tri-fold brochure. It was a four-day show and we talked to a bunch of people. We cleaned up on Monday, and on Tuesday I had at least 25 calls for new kitchens in Charlotte and I said, ‘What have I done?’”
Something for all tastes
Aside from the occasional bar for a restaurant, custom cabinetry and furniture for new and remodeled homes is the company’s primary focus. The service radius is about 100 miles which includes the neighboring cities and well into the state’s northern mountain areas such as Boone. The company has worked as far away as New Orleans, and occasionally services homes in Kiawah Island, S.C., and parts of Florida.
Clients have all sorts of ideas for what they want and can select from four design categories including Walker’s own line of custom cabinetry, plus those of the three semi-custom lines. Walker says clients who go fully custom tend to select transitional-looking styles such as combinations of Shaker doors with some moldings, and that painted finishes are all the rage.
“Most of our work, about 90 percent of it, is painted in a whole spectrum of colors. We’re also doing a lot of quarter-sawn white oak using Rubio finish, a rub on oil finish for clients who want the natural look.”
Over at the 5,000-sq.-ft. Greenbrook Design, clients can browse a wide array of cabinetry styles that fall into three brands: Dura Supreme, Cabico and Medallion, as well as various vanities, countertops and many other products for kitchen and bath remodels not manufactured by Walker.
“The cabinets we build in our shop won’t typically go in a $150,000 house. These semi-custom cabinets are a more affordable option that lets us sell cabinets to anyone.”
Walker is in a fortunate position when it comes to finding help. Prospective employees seek him out through word of mouth or by referral. He’s happy to give anyone a chance.
“We’ve just got a really good crew of people. But nobody came here as a trained person. We did all the training,” he says.
The team includes woodworkers, finishers, installers, managers, drafting engineers, designers, and administrators. Stacey runs the marketing and their daughter, Taylor, is a design student.
Walker has always been interested in upgrading the shop with the latest and greatest.
“We’ve done a whole lot with technology here. We started using KCD Software to do drawings in 2002. Clients would be so impressed with the 3D renderings.”
His equipment list includes a Pratix S 5’ x 12’ CNC, 24” planer and Olympic K360 edgebander from SCM; Kaeser compressor; Kentwood M609X six-head CNC molder; OMEC CNC dovetailer; Butfering Optimat SGO31 three-head wide-belt sander; Balestrini PICO CNC door machine; TigerStop and RazorGage automatic saw stop systems; Dantherm cyclone dust system; four Kremlin spray pumps, and Production Coach ESP and Cabinet Vision software.
Production Coach software was about an $80,000 investment. Walker says the system, combined with his organized team members, has created a lean manufacturing process on the shop floor that ensures projects get completed and delivered on time.
“We’re always early now. I used to be the guy that would tell you we’d be there in August and it would be November when we’d show up. We’re not like that anymore. We’re on time.”
Seeking space, stability
Despite some setbacks in the earlier part of the year due to Covid-19, work has picked back up and jobs are rolling in. However, there’s still just one little problem: the shop is busting at the seams.
“I wouldn’t have put this shop where it is if I knew we were going to get this big. I put it on a spot on my land and thought it would be perfect but now it can’t grow anymore. If I go down the hill, I’ll be in the creek.”
Walker now rents a warehouse space to store parts, materials and manufactured cabinets. The family’s RV garage is full of cabinets. The goal is to put everything one roof.
“We’ve grown over the years through trial and error. Nobody taught us anything. I learned how to spray on my own, build on my own, but where we’ve transitioned from is just amazing to me, and I couldn’t have done it without the staff that I have. I had a vision for it, but they helped me get there,” adds Walker.