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Growth spurt

Willow Creek Woodworks of Idaho Falls, Idaho, has been gracing homes in the West with custom cabinetry and millwork for the last 15 years. Since Day One, owner Jaxon Ching has served clients well and marketed effectively, helping his company grow from a two-man operation to about 20 employees.

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Playing the roles of outside salesman and project manager, Ching’s dedication has been critical to the company’s success.

“I think we stayed in business all of these years because of the quality of work we produce. When we leave a job, we want to make sure it’s 100 percent perfect. I think everyone knows us because everything is about quality. Even if we’re losing money, that’s important in business. That’s how you’re going to grow,” says Ching.

Product offerings include a vast range of functional and decorative cabinetry, doors and other architectural woodwork. Talented and imaginative in-house designers and craftsmen incorporate unique flairs into each cabinet, whether they are contemporary, traditional or Western in style. State-of-the-art machinery also helps with the mass-production requirements, including millwork and staircase applications.

Eager to learn

Jaxon Ching Owner of: Willow Creek Woodworks Location: Idaho Falls, Idaho Shop size: 15,000 sq. ft. Employees: 20 Specializes in: Kitchen and bath cabinets, passage doors, architectural woodwork and custom projects.

Ching started building cabinets in Napa Valley, Calif., after he got out of the Navy in 1989.

“I had been on the base for three months where I did nothing but install stainless cabinets and beds. After I left there, I went to work for a cabinet shop in Napa Valley where I learned on the job. I did a lot of sidework at home and really started to like woodworking.”

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By the early 1990s, he was married with his first child and yearned to live in a more relaxed location so he moved to Idaho Falls. There he secured a job at Falls Cabinet and Millwork, where he started running jobs after a couple of years.

“I was doing whole projects on my own. Building them, going out of town to install them or talk to contractors and customers, meeting with architects. It got to the point where I knew I should just be doing it on my own.”

Ching’s former business partner, Doug Harmer, who had also been at Falls Cabinet and Millwork for several years, had a similar goal.

“[Doug and I] got together and started talking about the business. We became a partnership and got financing so we could rent a shop in downtown Idaho Falls.”

In January 1997, the pair hung a shingle on their new 4,000-sq.-ft. shop reading Willow Creek Woodworks. The two started with a little advertising and a few phone calls and flyers, but mainly relied on Harmer’s contacts in Jackson.

“We talked to contractors we already knew and asked for them to give us a chance and help get our name out. Little by little, we started developing a relationship with some of the contractors there. We had up to 10 employees within about three years in a little shop. It was crazy, so we bought our current shop.”

Several years later, Ching bought out Harmer and became sole owner.

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Geared for residential

About 90 percent of the commissions are done for a high-end residential market, mainly in Jackson and Sun Valley, Idaho. Most of this work comes by way of contractor, but some homeowners do contact them directly.

“We don’t do much work around this area because people don’t have the money. The average price of homes we work on are in the millions. A couple of jobs we’re working on right now are $4 million to $6 million dollar homes.”

Some commercial projects, to name a few, include John Paul Lodge in Snow Basin, Utah; Dollar Lodge and Sun Valley Club House in Sun Valley and Colonial Arts Theater in Idaho Falls, Idaho; Gutterball Office Building, Four Season Condominiums, Trapper Inn in Jackson Hole and Little America Remodel in Cheyenne, Wyo.; and Napa Valley Kitchen Galley in Napa Valley, Calif.

“I definitely prefer residential work over commercial work. Every once and a while we do resorts and whatnot. Commercial jobs are really not that bad. I mean, it’s nice work and pays good money, but they’re scary too because if you lose money on them you lose quite a bit.”

Style preferences are all over the place, but generally lean towards contemporary with lots of exotic veneers.

“People like mountain contemporary, some people like things really modern and some people like it rustic. There’s nothing we say no to.”

Top material preferences are cherry, alder and walnut.

Most of the shop's work is for luxury homes near mountain resorts.

Production and service

The shop typically works on about three jobs at a time and there is a backlog of about two to three months for a simple kitchen or room package and about four to five months for a whole home package. Last year the company bit off a little more than it could chew by taking on too much work. But, as any cabinetmaker might agree, it’s a good problem to have.

“Work has been overwhelming us lately and ever since the summer of 2012. We’ve been working a lot of overtime. Unfortunately, what happened was we got a lot of jobs but the time frame overlapped and we couldn’t tell our customers we wouldn’t accept any more work.”

As far as dealing with the competition, Ching says the secret is to offer the best customer service possible.

“You do whatever it takes to make them happy. I cater to my customers, sometimes too much. I will make up to six samples of doors if I have to — or whatever it takes. We just recently built a door and I dropped everything to make a sample door. A lot of guys are way too busy. They have that attitude that that’s a waste of time. I just replaced an entry door that was ruined by snow, which is natural wear and tear. I could have said no to the customer, but my biggest fear is that as soon as you do something wrong it will get around fast.”

Mountain contemporary? Not sure, but Ching says customers like it.

Ching says he would like to grow the company if possible, but would need to convince a neighbor to sell land in order to expand the facility. He also might take on a little more commercial work this year as well to boost revenue.

“I think the best part of being in this business is seeing at the end of a job. I like to see what we’ve built. When we go to people’s homes and see it all put together and it’s all furnished, you say ‘Wow that looks good.’ ”

Contact: Willow Creek Woodworks, 4021 E. Lincoln Road, Idaho Falls, ID 83401. Tel: 888-522-2486.

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue.

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