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Home on the range

Cole Custom Cabinets of Casper, Wyo., does everything but grow the trees, as the owners like to say. The one-stop shop designs, builds, finishes and installs custom cabinetry and countertops for kitchens and baths, casework for other parts of the home, and provides some millwork services.

William Cole entered the cabinetmaking business in 1962.

Owned by husband and wife William and Linda Cole, the company has eight employees and operates out of a 20,000-sq.-ft. facility featuring a large production area, office space and showroom. Conveniently located in the center of this small and quaint Western town, their competition mainly consists of big-box stores.

The Coles are looking to retire, having put their business up for sale about three years ago. But finding a buyer has been difficult. The area is a magnet for transient residents who move in and out with the health of the state’s oil industry, which has dominated parts of the local economy for decades.

“Business around here is all oil-field-related and oil is down right now so we’re in a slump. What keeps us going is we are a well-known cabinetry shop. We’re pretty much the only custom shop here in town,” William Cole says.

A local resource

The shop competes against the big boxes with this simple marketing message: “Custom work doesn’t mean it’s more expensive; it means better quality.”

“A lot of our clients are residential, but we also do a few commercial jobs for apartments, doctors’ offices, local business and kiosks for the local mall,” Cole says.

To acquire business, the company invests in occasional radio and TV commercials, but work is mainly sought through word-of-mouth referrals. Local real estate agents have traditionally mentioned the business when Cole Custom Cabinets are featured in homes they’re showing.

“That’s often been a surefire sell of the house,” Cole says. “Our customers mainly want our work done in their kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and closets. They want built-in entertainment centers and we do some libraries.”

Merging into cabinetry

William and Linda Cole.

William Cole didn’t exactly plan to be a professional cabinetmaker, but like his peers had the common sense to use the hands-on skills he learned growing up to earn a living as an adult. Originally from Elkhart, Ind., his father, William Cole Sr., tapped into the trailer door industry, making and customizing hollow core doors.

“You couldn’t buy a hollow-core door back after World War II in the ’50s and the trailer industry needed a narrower, shorter and lightweight door. So I helped him make those for a while, then in the ’60s we moved (to Casper) and started doing framing. We brought our table saw, band saw, joiner and shaper and set up shop in a two-car garage.”

Their work got noticed, but the town needed a cabinetmaker. There was a shop for sale, which the Coles bought in 1962.

“We bought Stasiak Cabinets and back then everyone who was building houses, all the contractors were associated with them. We thought that was a little tough for people to remember, so we just changed the name to Coles.

“It was still all word of mouth back then. My dad and I would stop at job sites to see what was going on and we used to go to the lumberyard every morning to see who was getting what for a foundation, etc. We’d ask them who’s doing their cabinets. We only put out about three kitchens a month back then, but it picked up.”

They eventually moved into a Quonset hut, a flat slab of concrete with a rounded steel cover, but soon needed more space. They started building their current shop in 1969. It was still a father-son business at that point, but employees weren’t far off.

Battling the recessions

Cole isn’t “pushing it” like he used to, but he’s still in the shop every day.

Cole Custom Cabinetry has been through several tough economic climates and was hit hardest by those attributed to corporate oil giants moving their business elsewhere or halting operations due to pricing, availability and a number of other factors.

“There’ve been tough years. In 1962 Pan Am moved out. It was a big oil field company and that put the town in a big slump, and then in the ’80s when we had another recession with the oil being down and things were very slow.”

In 1989, the shop stopped making cabinets for about 14 months. There wasn’t enough demand. The Coles, including daughter Cari, switched to a custom motor coach business turning road buses into luxury motor homes, which seemed promising with Yellowstone National Park only a few hours away. Naturally, they named the company Cole Custom Coach and, once they found interested buyers, purchased pre-built, running Prevost buses to renovate with all of the custom interiors imaginable. The company competed and sold 11 buses in total and a picture board in the office illustrates all of the work.

“We still did some cabinets, but the whole idea was to make money. Marathon Coach and Country Coach started at the same time so we thought, ‘Why don’t we start doing that.’ But here we are in Casper, not centrally located and it’s tough to travel here in the winter, so those things made it tough to do warranty work or modify if it they wanted a cover on a mirror or something.

“Then, in ’91, the contractors came back and wanted cabinets, so we came back. That was for all brand-new home construction and that’s mostly what we do now. In 2010 and 2011 it was really busy and, after 2011, things evened out. Right now it’s kind of mellow. We have one $70,000 project we’re working on in a new house, though.”

Moving forward

The shop has in-house finishing and builds countertops, too.

The Coles are, as always, ready to accommodate whatever request comes in. They are busy keeping up with the new design trend of painted woods in light colors such as white, gray and blue as opposed the dark walnuts of the ’70s and natural oaks and maples of the ’80s and ’90s.

“Influencing the change are the HGTV and DIY shows and the most popular wood right now is hickory. They want lots of knotty hickory with natural finishes. It’s very rustic. It’s what people like in this territory. The more knots and character, the better. They can’t get enough.”

Being in a remote location, they frequently order materials out of town, mainly from Paxton Lumber Co. in Denver. They have a very low employee turnover and, while well-equipped with the basic shop staples, Cole says he likes to keep things on the “old fashioned side” and do everything by hand without automated machinery.

“We’d like to sell the place and have it continue as a custom cabinet shop, but there aren’t that many master craftsmen out there and the way things are going around here it’s not going to sell anytime soon. I talk to people and nobody says their kid wants to be a cabinetmaker and my two sons don’t want to be cabinetmakers. It’s hard to find help, too.

“My health is not real good, but I’m still here. I’m not pushing it like I used to when I was here at 5 in the morning, but I’m here every day. It’s nice to have all of the people come in after you’re done and say they really appreciate your work. And we get to hear what all of their friends and family and what everyone said about the cabinets.”

Cole Custom Cabinetry has been through good times and bad and now it’s for sale.

Contact: Cole Custom Cabinets, 350 N. Beech St., Casper, WY 82601. Tel: 307-234-0736.

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue.

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