Even with a secure teaching job and an active family hay farm to manage in 2001, Kris Reynolds boldly began to pursue woodworking as a new career without hesitation. As a result, Reynolds Custom Woodworks in Winslow, Maine, was established in 2005.
Sitting by his design desk in a polished showroom, formerly a garage, Reynolds reflects on years past where he spent time there playing darts with friends on Friday nights.
“It was just a hobby then. The shop wasn’t here,” he says.
Attached to the 800-sq.-ft. space is the 5,000-sq-ft. shop where his three employees carry out their days perfecting custom cabinetry projects for new and renovated homes near and far.
The company is grossing $600,000 to $700,000 a year and is still growing. A steady stream of high-end residential customers makes up the client base.
“We’ve done lots of work in Massachusetts lately, in Cambridge, the North Shore, Salem area and Cape Cod. I started advertising in those areas five years ago and I’m now starting to work for neighbors of places that we worked at. The referrals are great because it takes the pressure off the selling,” says Reynolds.
Reynolds is part of a multi-generational farm family and grew up in the house next to the shop, where his parents also grew up. He currently lives down the road, though still on the 300-acre family farm.
“We used to have a dairy farm. Now we’re a hay farm called Haymaker Farms. We put up about 200,000 bails of hay a year to sell to people who have horses, cows, or what not. The farm is a generational thing and it’s my turn to be the steward.
“There used to be a lot of dairy farms around. We got out of it because it wasn’t profitable. You either had to borrow money or get out. We were debt free and we weren’t going to lose the farm if we stopped, so my father went back to teaching. I was a freshman in high school when we sold the cows. We had a vegetable farm and did the hay thing. It’s actually profitable to sell hay.”
Reynolds graduated with a degree in education from the University of Maine at Orono. At that point, the thought of a woodworking business never crossed his mind.
“When this all started, I was a school teacher. I taught high school physics for 10 years at a private school nearby. I also taught earth science. I have a geology background.”
Reynolds began to acquire his woodworking skills after building a table for his wife, Stephanie, in 2001.
“Growing up on a farm I learned a little bit of everything. There was always something to fix. I had a basic knowledge of how not to cut my fingers off and how to work with wood. But it really started when my wife and I moved into our current home and she wanted a table in the hallway upstairs. We couldn’t find one to fit there so I made one. It came out great and it was easy.”
In the following years, he made numerous other pieces for the house and friends started to commission his work.
“I couldn’t wait to get home from school and get out here and work,” he says.
For the next several years, Reynolds worked double shifts while Stephanie raised their two sons, Jason and Matthew. After teaching all day, he’d change from a dress shirt and tie into work pants and a flannel shirt, then go work in the shop all night.
“Then someone asked me to build them a kitchen. I thought I didn’t want to do it, that it was just doors and boxes. I did it, and honestly the amount of money was pretty good for the work I did. And that’s the direction this company went.”
Once the boys were in school, Stephanie went back to work so Reynolds could quit his teaching job to run his cabinet shop full time.
“At that time, I had one guy part time, but I put in a lot of sweat equity in those years. It was hard, it was tough, but it had to be done. I couldn’t afford to have a big giant crew. All the profits from my teaching job went to purchasing the next piece of equipment.”
Early on he was producing a kitchen every two months, but the small garage made it impossible for even two people to work at the same time. He built his current shop in 2007 and was able to hire more help.
Reynolds initially started somewhat locally, with his first major job at an elaborate home and guest house in Pittston, Maine, that included several kitchens. He knew early on that high-end work would be his forte and did online marketing to target the northern coastal areas he works in now, including Portland, Maine.
“I got our name out using Google AdWords and Craig’s List. I really did some guerrilla marketing online. It paid off great,” says Reynolds.
He’s the shop estimator and designer. He prefers to work directly with homeowners on both new construction and remodels, rather than through contractors.
“I like to work with end users because I like to understand how they are going to use the space. Very rarely do I work with a contractor, even on a new construction project. It’s mostly the homeowner.”
Most projects start with kitchens, generally in the Shaker style, which lead to vanities and built-ins throughout the home. Over time, Reynolds has refined his products to what best suit his high-end market. The top request is for flush inset cabinetry. He builds all cabinets with 1” stock. “I had a client asked me to do this a few years ago and we’ll never go back. To me, it’s a more robust, thick, chunky look,” says Reynolds.
“One thing we do differently than anyone else is we hand paint our cabinets. We don’t spray. It takes three days to do. It’s super thick and very durable, and so easy to touch up. We leave our customers some paint.”
Keeping it lean
Reynolds has some major bills paid off and hopes to bring on another employee within the next year.
“I’ve been spending the last couple years in here getting debt free. So, now we’re running a debt-free shop. The building and equipment are all paid for. Now I can start hiring and not have the worry of having to pay those bills.”
In addition to learning about the importance of being debt-free from his father, the time in which his business began to thrive aligned perfectly with the Great Recession.
“We cut our teeth at a time when the economy was struggling a bit and because of that we were forced to be lean. We were really forced to be focused on efficiencies. I hear people talking about how tough it was 2008 and 2009 but for us it was just status quo because that’s all we knew. We were busy. The people that we sell to still had money,” he says.
Whether it was luck, strategy or both, business is going quite well. Last year was the shop’s best.
“The goal would be to gross a million, but that can’t happen with the amount of people we have now because we’re at capacity.”
Reynolds would like to build more furniture but says it just isn’t profitable. He still makes two or three pieces a year which is a nice change of pace. He gets in the shop whenever he can.
“My fun comes from the unique things in the project like the hoods. The things that aren’t just the box and doors.”
Contact: Reynolds Custom Woodworks, 550 China Road, Winslow, ME 04901. Tel: 207-649-3764. www.customcabinetpro.com