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Enjoy the journey

Though Interwest Cabinet recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, co-owner Clint Galbrath knows he can’t rest on his laurels. Experience has set him straight.

Rustic rules in Idaho.

“I always thought if you start your own business that you’ll automatically get to a point where you’re just successful and everything runs smoothly, but I found that it never gets to that point. There are always challenges and you have to keep moving ahead. When we first started, we were working toward that day when we were going to relax and kick our feet up. Things don’t work like that so it’s important to enjoy the journey,” he says.

The journey has been shared with his wife, Janeene, co-owner and office manager, and their six children. The Rexburg native grew up on a dairy farm, but left for greener pastures, so to speak.

Employee Kevin Zufelt.

“I really only took one high school shop class, then served a mission for a church in Australia. When I came home, I started looking for some type of work other than dairy, so I worked at several different jobs — one at a convenience store in town, another selling trees and shrubs at a nursery, then my brother-in-law got a job here at this shop, which was Madison Millwork in 1973.

“My brother-in-law only worked here for a couple of weeks, but encouraged me to apply when he left. I had never done any woodworking before and started assembling cabinets.”

Starting from scratch

Madison Millworks was humming along until the Teton Dam collapsed in 1976. Eventually, Galbraith had to take another job with a renovation company that worked all over the country. He lasted five years before being without his kids became too much.

“In 1986, I decided I wanted to start doing something on my own,” Galbraith says. “Madison Millwork closed its doors one night and I opened it up the next day, taking over the building’s rent. But the equipment and employees were gone.”

Clint Gailbraith views a kitchen design.

Janeene and Clint Galbraith Co-owners of: Interwest Cabinet Location: Rexburg, Idaho Shop size: 21,000 sq. ft. Employees: 14 About: A family-run cabinet shop in eastern Idaho offering a full range of custom cabinetry design and fabrication services for residential and commercial clients in the area’s surrounding vacation resort regions.

Today, the shop has expanded from 14,000 to 21,000 sq. ft., and features a Diehl straight-line rip saw; Altendorf slider; Routech CNC machining center; Schmalz ceiling mount vacuum lift; two SawStop table saws; Murphy Rogers dust collection system; SCMI edgebander, wide belt sander and thickness planer; Whirlwind upcut saw; Blum door hinge machine and Ritter shaper.

Galbraith relies heavily on the company’s word-of-mouth reputation and its website to attract customers. The shop completes about 100 jobs per year, which include kitchen cabinetry packages, entertainment centers, fireplace surrounds, wall units, home offices and some millwork applications. The vast majority of work now comes from homeowners. Galbraith would prefer more commercial work, but says that’s beyond his control.

“The commercial market has just gotten so competitive over the last few years. At one time we were just doing cabinets in businesses and schools, but the competition was so bad we just started to focus on residential. Generally, I think we’ve been doing about 75 percent of our work in the residential sector, mostly for middle-class individuals to super-high-end millionaires.”

A recent residential project.

Finding new markets

While Galbraith started with local work, the market has expanded to the resort areas of Jackson Hole and Star Valley, Wyo., and Big Sky, Mont.

“One thing that’s helped us is the diversity of our demographic service area. Going to different areas has helped us out a lot. We didn’t limit ourselves to what was just going on in our local area. We always kept our connections with contractors in other cities and towns. One contractor in Salt Lake City brought us a lot of work over in Park City.”

Rexburg is also home to Brigham Young University-Idaho, which recently expanded from a two-year college to a four-year university and Interwest has benefited from the need for more student housing. But even with a larger client base, competition remains fierce, particularly for commercial work.

“As things have slowed down, finding work in churches and schools like we used to has gotten more competitive. People are trying to survive and just bid the jobs so low that they’re going out of business. They are operating so inexpensively they just disappear.”

Interwest’s customers prefer rustic designs featuring distressed knotty alder. Dark and natural finishes also take preference. Occasionally, there’s some demand for something sleeker.

“A big job we’re doing in Montana right now is very modern,” says Galbraith. “It has wenge wood with a dark stain. I think it’s an influence of the national magazines and what’s going on in other areas. It seems like now in the magazines everything is modern-looking and I think it’s pushing the consumers to want that. They like what they see. We’re very custom-oriented, so we’ll do whatever the customer wants.”

Employee Joe Kidd works in Interwest Cabinet's 21,000-sq.-ft. shop.

Maintaining integrity

Galbraith is interested in growing the business and adding more employees after he makes the necessary contacts to make that happen. But for now, he enjoys having a manageable workforce.

“I found that in all of my years in business, one of the greater challenges is managing employees. Some of my workers in the past acted just like little kids and I got tired of babysitting. One advantage of the economic downturn is we did not change one employee for five years.”

Equally important to him is maintaining the shop’s integrity by continuing to offer products of the highest quality. The trick is to educate the clients on what they’re getting so they don’t settle for a cheap alternative from a competitor or commercial manufacturer. Lately, using computer drawings has proven to be the most effective way of communicating ideas effectively.

“We’re in the business of selling something you can’t see. Yes, you can show them a sample of a cabinet door, but we’re trying to sell them on what they’re going to have and how it fits their house, but they can’t see it like they can with a car they drive off the lot. How do I commit with everything that they are thinking they want. Sometimes they haven’t really expressed it or I didn’t understand it. Say I ask you to just picture a tree. Well, we’ll both think of a different tree. It’s the same thing.”

A custom vanity project.

At the end of each day, Galbraith still knows his investment in his business is worth the time and effort. He knows he can look back and see beautiful work completed in a home. He is still amazed by how many people went out of business doing what he does and is thankful for his crew and family to keep their faith in the company.

Brad Nicbaur takes a panel to the shop's Routech CNC machining center.

“It just seems like there are always challenges, but there are always good things, too. I’ve been in business for 25 years and have a great reputation. I feel as if we are one of the most resilient shops around.”

Contact: Interwest Cabinet, 64 South 3rd West, Rexburg, ID 83440. Tel: 208-356-9188.

This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue.

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