Standards run high at Elite Custom Cabinetry, a shop with 10 employees in Phoenix that straddles the residential and commercial markets. Owner Craig Peters started Elite as a contracting firm in 2006, added a cabinetry division that took off, then dropped the contracting component.
“We were having a hard time selling cabinets as a general contractor to other general contractors,” says Peters. “They were afraid there was a conflict of interest and they thought I was going to steal their customers, so we felt the cabinetry needed to have its own name, its own entity, its own brand.”
Peters is a big believer in having a well-trained workforce, giving strong attention to project details, and automating the shop wherever possible.
“Everything we make has to be nice,” says Peters. “I don’t settle for anything that’s less than perfect or beautiful. I like to set a high standard. And in this industry, I don’t want to be a typical contractor. I want to raise the bar.”
A veteran owner
Peters, 64, moved to Arizona from Wisconsin at the age of 30, and has owned hair salons, an automotive repair shop, and a billiards equipment store, among other endeavors.
“This is my eighth business. I’ve been in business my whole life since I was 11 years old. I’m a certified automobile mechanic and although I haven’t worked on cars in a while, you just retain that knowledge, and I’d like to be at that same level in the cabinet industry. I’d like to be looked upon as the go-to guy or the guy to call to get answers.”
Elite built its reputation through word-of-mouth referrals. Today, the company’s website brings in about half of all new jobs. Elite’s market extends throughout the Phoenix Valley, mostly concentrated in Maricopa County. Clients include general contractors, designers, and homeowners.
“We do both residential and commercial and it fluctuates very often. Sometimes we go heavy residential and then it flips, and we do heavy commercial. There’s never a rhyme or a reason, it just seems to be one way or the other way,” says Peters.
“Right now, we’re not doing much commercial work. We probably have 17 jobs on the books, and I think one is commercial and it’s a very small job.”
Top requests for residential projects include kitchens, home offices, bars, entertainment centers, and closets, according to Peters.
“We do some designing here. We work more with making things utilitarian for the space of the room, but we don’t want to call ourselves designers because we’re not. I can help make it work, but it’s hard for me to design someone’s home without making it utilitarian.”
Precision is priority
Elite operates from a 10,000-sq.-ft. facility with a showroom in an industrial complex.
The shop features an Anderson America Selexx Plus CNC router with 5’ x 12’ table; Holz-Her 1308 XL edgebander; Blum hinge and line boring machines; Cabinet Vision and KCD software; Cantek 36” wide belt sander; Castle pocket machine and face frame table; Dantherm dust collectors; Global Finishing Solutions paint booth; Guffey paint system; Mirka sanders; Powermatic jointer and planer; RazorGage chop saw; SawStop table saw; Schmalz vacuum lift, and Unique door machine.
Peters says he embraced automated technology about ten years ago for its accuracy and repeatability.
“What’s interesting is with the CNC machine and the edgebander, we’re measuring every piece of wood with a micrometer. We’re cutting things into the thousandths; we’re not using fractions or millimeters. It’s that precise. We cut our pieces so they marry together with the dados and the rabbits, so it’s crucial that the CNC cut the doors, edgeband and assemble them immediately.”
The company delivers but does not install, and it subs out a few things that aren’t done in house, such as thermofoil doors.
The current backlog is approximately four months. All jobs require a 10 percent deposit to get in the queue and another 40 percent to start. The issue at hand is hiring more workers, according to Peters.
“Our volume is down since Covid because I’m unable to find help. I’m short three guys right now from what I would like to have in the shop and if I had three more guys, our volume could go up because the work is there.
“So, we’re turning work away, and the Valley is pretty much three to four months backlogged, so the people aren’t shocked when they call us and we tell them it’s going to be 12 or 16 weeks before they get to their job. Nobody is surprised when we tell them that lack of help is why our volume is down. I just don’t have the help. There’s just nobody out there applying for a job that wants a job. It’s a problem.”
Elite provides CNC and edgebanding services to about half dozen other shops in the area.
“We also hold shows here at our shop,” says Peters. “We’ve had solid surface companies and paint stores come and do presentations here. We have a big, clean facility with nice lighting so when we hold shows and have presentations here, we invite twenty other shops.”
Peters would like to retire at 70 and has been strategizing ways to grow in the short term.
“My goal is to buy a few more pieces of equipment. That way our shop is fully capable of doing everything on its own without subbing anything out to anybody else, so everything can be built in-house. We will be able to control our own pace. Eventually we’d like to offer our own cabinet line that we can sell online or to the general public.”
Contact: Elite Custom Cabinetry, 4202 E. Elkood St., Suite 25, Phoenix, AZ 85040. Tel: 602-491-0211. Website: elitegcaz.com.
This article was originally published in the December 2021 issue.