In Lock Step

The sons of the founders are continuing the legacy of Oak Ridge Cabinets in Chico, Calif., where skilled craftsmanship mixes well with automation
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Oak Ridge Cabinets in Chico, Calif., part of the northern Sacramento Valley, is continually refining its manufacturing process through savvy production management and automated equipment. With its team of 30 employees, the shop provides turnkey custom woodworking services to the residential and commercial markets in and around Chico.

Founded in 1983 by Scott Bechhold and Sam MacNeill, it is now co-owned by their sons, Ryan Bechhold and Shawn MacNeill. Ryan is the lead salesman and Shawn is the production manager. They started working with their fathers immediately after high school in 2004 and 2007, respectively.

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The business started at Scott Bechhold’s 2,000-sq.-ft. barn in Durham, Calif.

“When my dad was in college, he worked at a different cabinet shop and Sam worked there as well,” Ryan explains. “My dad started working on his own in his grandparents’ place and Sam joined him. My dad graduated college but never did anything with that because the business just kept growing.”

Chico is growing as well. With a population approaching 100,000, the city is home to Chico State, the second oldest California State University campus in the state.

“We go to the Truckee and Lake Tahoe areas as well. They are pretty popular for multi-million dollar second homes at ski resorts and places like that. But there are a lot of people here with good jobs who want to remodel their kitchens,” says Bechhold.

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Set apart

In the early years, the founding fathers grew the business, in part, by pursuing builders of track homes. They invested in digital fabrication and bought the current shop, which has had four additions. It measures out to some 30,000 sq. ft. with offices and a showroom.

Oak Ridge has plenty of competition from both large and small shops. But its mix of skilled, experienced employees and automated processes sets it apart.

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“We fall into our own niche,” says Bechhold. “We’re able to do the high-end custom work that most of the smaller shops can’t, but we’re also big enough that we can compete with the big production shops. We can do multiple apartment units here at the same time we are working on a $50,000 custom job.”

Oak Ridge grossed $3.5 million in 2017 and is on track to repeat.

“It’s a profitable number,” says MacNeill. “We have the capability of doing a larger volume, but it’s not necessarily larger profit. You can turn the wheel as much as you want and spit out big numbers as much as you want but slowing the pace and focusing on a higher profit job is better.”

“Our fathers always tried to impress upon us that the goal is to make money, and if that’s not happening, figure out why,” Bechhold adds. “I’d like to gobble up all the big high-end jobs as possible. But if a contractor we work with is doing a 4-plex or an 8-plex (multi-family homes), we’re more than happy to blast through that. There are a lot of rentals in the area and we want to keep that connection.”

Fortunate indeed

A lavish laundry room (left) and a walnut mantle, showing the range of Oak Ridge.

A lavish laundry room (left) and a walnut mantle, showing the range of Oak Ridge.

The owners say they are fortunate to have an above average pool of skilled labor in the area.

“We get replacements fairly quickly when we have turnover. I think it would be difficult to find an employee for a production level job if were in the (San Francisco) Bay area,” says Bechhold.

The shop’s long-term strategy of adding digitally-controlled cutting and machining equipment continues to pay off.

“The introduction of our new nested base router (a Giben G4 Evo) has been a big improvement. But there’s still a lot of hands-on work being done in the shop just based on the custom nature of the work that we do. There are so many variables involved,” says MacNeill.

“We order most of our doors now. We used to make them all but now there are so many options. There were five or six doors we would make, but when somebody wanted to buy a different door, to get set up with all the knives and the sanding heads and all that, you don’t know when you’re going to do that style again, it didn’t make sense.”

Oak Ridge wasn’t immune to the Great Recession. When business fell off, that ‘figure out why’ mentality was put to the test.

“When the recession hit, we pulled the permit lists to see where new houses were being built in Truckee, Davis, Sacramento, Eldorado Hills, Granite Bay and any of the surrounding areas. Then it was a matter of going to talk to the builders,” says Bechhold.

“I would go and look at the specs on a new house and decide who might be interested in custom cabinets depending on how big and how much it cost. I would talk to 10 people and usually get six sets of plans, and we’d end up getting two or three of those jobs. If we didn’t mess them up, we knew we’d probably get a referral.”

Customer driven

A tour of the Oak Ridge shop includes plenty of automated machinery, assembly area and spray booth. Note the dolly running over a track system.

A tour of the Oak Ridge shop includes plenty of automated machinery, assembly area and spray booth. Note the dolly running over a track system.

Kitchen cabinets represent a majority of the sales at Oak Ridge, and the demand is an even split between the remodeling and new construction markets. But styles run the gamut from European to traditional.

“We try to stick to face frame, but our customers in the cities want that modern look,” says Bechhold. “We’re also getting a lot of calls for the rustic, woodsy look from materials like knotty alder from the high-end resorts in the mountains.”

The biggest change over the years has been the customers becoming more involved in the design process. The internet has opened their eyes to the many possibilities, when it used to be the shop recommending fewer options.

“Most customers have a preconceived idea of what they want,” says Bechhold. “They usually get it off the internet and it doesn’t matter what you show them because they want what they want and you’re going to have to conform to what they want. About 15 to 20 years ago there were only two options. Now it’s all customer driven.”

Contact: Oak Ridge Cabinets, 1128 Midway, Suite A, Chico, CA 95928. Tel: 866-558-0855. www.oakridgecabinets.com 

This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue.

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