In Very Good Hands

After purchasing Simpson Cabinetry from its founder, Andy and Betsy Cabrera are taking the Vermont shop to the next level
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Andy and Betsy Cabrera have flourished in their mission to carry on the legacy of Simpson Cabinetry, a shop they purchased from its founder, the late Bruce Simpson, in 2011. “We kept the name to honor him and because it was a good brand. He passed away in May of 2012, but he lived long enough to see that all his employees were taken care of and his company was going to live on,” says Betsy, the shop’s general manager.

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Now operating from a new 8,300-sq.-ft. shop in Essex, Vt., the 14-person company offers custom cabinetry, furniture and built-ins to homeowners and builders throughout the state and beyond. Business has been strong and the owners are confident their early success will continue.

“Most of our business is from people who’ve lived here a while and they’re staying so they’re finally remodeling, or they have second homes. There are a few clients living out of state that are building a new home in Vermont. The economy is going great. This time of year, we’re not usually this busy, so it’s good that we’re seeing the volume that we are,” says Betsy.

Builder roots

The Cabreras originally owned a construction company in nearby Richmond, Vt., that opened in 1989. It included a woodworking shop that supported the residential homebuilding component of the business. Andy and his crew often worked both aspects of the business until it became more practical to outsource with a cabinetmaker.

“As the homebuilding became the primary source of our business, we had this fellow Bruce Simpson building our cabinetry for us,” says Andy. “At one point, he got sick and we took over and then we bought it from him. We were one of his biggest customers, and we merged the two shops together and got out of residential construction, so we weren’t competing with our builder customers.”

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Simpson transitioned to cabinetmaking after a long career as a dairy farmer on his family farm in Sutton, Vt. Simpson Cabinetry started in Jonesville, Vt., in 2002. Diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in 2011, Simpson began seeking a qualified buyer who would keep the tradition alive and ensure job security for his employees. The deal was finalized that year and the new owners opened their doors in January 2012.

“Our shop had done trim work and premanufactured building components, but not so much cabinetry, so the merge made sense. Bruce had a good business going. He made a nice product, developed a good name in this area, so we really felt this was a good transition for us to move into more of a full-time shop environment as opposed to out in the field which is sometimes unpredictable,” Andy says.

Refining their investment

Naturally, the Cabreras aim to perfect the brand they put their faith in. They’ve built on Simpson’s clientele and increased production volume as planned. The biggest change was building their new shop in 2015, which netted them a showroom, offices, more woodworking space, and room to grow.

“The old business was being run out of a leased building in South Burlington. It didn’t really have a showroom and was a lot smaller, around 5,000 square feet,” says Betsy. “We bought the land and built the building on an open lot. The extra space has allowed us to do more projects and now we have a storage area, so we can take on more projects we might not have been able to do before.”

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Growth has also included a second CAD designer, new design software, and several full-time carpenters to help with cabinetry and installations. Most recently, a new employee was hired to help with invoicing and client communications, giving Betsy more time to focus on project management and networking outside the state.

“We got to the point where we’d built the shop, expanded the showroom, got our new brochure done, redid our website and we were kind of chugging along, so it was time to hire office help. Now I can focus more on social media marketing and building long-term permanent relationships.”

Kitchens, baths and built-ins from the shop’s extensive portfolio.

Kitchens, baths and built-ins from the shop’s extensive portfolio.

“Most of our work is still in Vermont, but we’ve really expanded out of state. We did half a dozen projects in the Hamptons (N.Y.) in 2018 alone. We’ve gone as far away as Florida, all up and down the East Coast and throughout New England,” she says.

Simpson Cabinetry averages 75 to 100 jobs per year and its customers are split almost evenly between homeowners and builders.

“The projects are really anything from a small home that somebody wants a good quality kitchen in to all of the cabinetry in a very large, brand new, multi-million-dollar house. We’ve also done renovations of offices, country clubs and various eateries,” says Betsy. “Our background as builders has certainly helped. We know how they work in the field and can talk in the same language.

“Right now, modern designs are trending, as in frameless cabinetry with touch latches and soft-close hinges. White is going strong as a popular finish color and has been for a while. Designers are starting to break up the white trend, however, with splashes of color in islands and other components.”

A backlog and a plan

The shop has the advantage of a waiting list. “We are booking five to six months out right now and people are waiting and planning ahead. In the past, people were surprised they had to wait. They wanted their kitchen in two days. It’s getting better. I think builders are getting better at educating people and certainly we are, too,” says Betsy.

The owners hope to increase volume and make scheduling a bit more predictable.

“It would be nice to get this business to run on a steadier schedule, but I don’t know if we’ll ever get there. The plan is to increase volume and the way to achieve it is to expand our base,” adds Andy.

Contact: Simpson Cabinetry, 15 Corporate Dr., Essex, VT 05452. Tel: 802-264-9009. www.simpsoncabinetry.com

This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue.

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