After entering the accounting field in his early 20’s, John Dean soon realized he was too active and creative to continue down that career path. But after founding Dean Cabinetry in Bolton, Conn. in 1996, he wakes up every day looking forward to work. His team, which has grown to 18 employees, is equally motivated.
The turnkey custom cabinetry business offers planning and design services, construction, finishing and installation. It stands out from the competition by offering kitchens and other home casework products to meet all budgets, including custom, semi-custom and stock cabinetry options.
“We’re unique in that we can hit anyone’s price point. We don’t start with what we do and try to make it a fit,” says Dean.
“We like to be very up front with what budget numbers they’re looking at and they tend to self-select into a cabinet line,” adds his wife and co-owner/designer, Leah Dean.
Little by little
Dean is from the Bolton area, just east of Hartford. Growing up, he learned all sorts of repair and maintenance skills from his father, who bought and sold properties. Then he went to college for accounting.
“I worked for two years as a CPA. But right away I wanted something different. I couldn’t see myself wearing a tie and being behind a desk all day. I liked being active. I liked creativity. And I liked working with my hands,” he says.
Dean started with general remodeling and carpentry jobs sourced from local contractors. He quickly gravitated to cabinetry.
“Little by little, I tried to find just the cabinet projects,” he says.
Dean’s started in his basement, moved to a garage and then a barn while adding employees and equipment as needed. He had six employees by 2013 and needed more space, so he purchased a 4,000-sq.-ft. building that has served him well. The shop is preparing to move into a 16,000-sq-ft. space by the end of the year.
Doing it right
Most jobs originate from homeowners and contractors, and have to do with remodeling.
“We don’t do commercial work because we enjoy working with clients. And we’ve learned how to help people through the emotional ups and downs of remodeling a kitchen,” Dean says.
“I think that’s the enjoyable part of the business, if you do it right. It can be hard part of the business if you don’t do it right.”
Dean has attempted commercial revenue streams in the past but the return wasn’t there. “[Commercial’s] just a really different animal. You’re dealing with long bid and lead times and you have to wait forever to get paid.”
The shop serves New England and beyond. “We go down towards New York City and up into Boston and all throughout Connecticut and its shoreline. We travel all over.”
Dean sees a strong preference for European-style cabinetry and projects that include light-hued painted finishes accompanied by stained accent pieces, such as white kitchen cabinets with a clear-coated center island.
“I think things are moving towards a modern feel. There are always the higher end traditional homes up here that want that traditional Colonial detailing.”
The Deans see strong, healthy camaraderie in their ranks, which they attribute to keeping the work environment friendly and enjoyable. Their son Kevin, a student at the University of Connecticut, has been a big help.
“We try to be family oriented and we do events and activities which create a family-like atmosphere. Kevin’s been working hard on that. We do tailgate events, happy hours, etc.,” Dean says.
Kevin launched the company’s first advertising campaign in 2015. He also runs morning meetings and has implemented a successful lean manufacturing program.
The shop employees include eight on the administrative side and 10 woodworker and/or installers. Dean says turnover is relatively low and help isn’t too hard to find.
“We try to keep a close watch on our processes so that we can train people easily. We don’t want processes which are difficult for people to learn. If they are, then we outsource that.”
Growing every year
The shop’s average annual gross is about $2.5 million. It didn’t skip a beat during the last recession.
“We were smaller then but I think our advantage was not doing commercial work. We’ve also never done a large amount of new construction. New construction really took a turn in ’08 in Connecticut and it has not fully recovered. We were fortunate to avoid both of those.”
Dean says the shop completes about two to three kitchens or other jobs weekly and is hoping to double that in the next couple of years.
“Our challenges are always growth related because we’re growing every year. There’s always a portion of the business where we need to be more efficient.”
Ironically, Dean feels that his dreaded former day job has helped the company succeed.
“My accounting background, my organizational skills, that all really helped us not miss details, the small details, and that’s what helps us survive in remodeling with all of the changes.”
There are, of course, days with glitches and headaches, but Dean has no regrets.
“Honestly, when I hear someone say they’re retiring I find myself saying, ‘Oh, sorry to hear that. That’s awful.’ I can’t even imagine it.”
Contact: Dean Cabinetry, 263 Boston Tpke., Bolton, CT 06043. Tel: 860-643-1501. www.deancabinetry.com
This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue.