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New lease on life

Until recently, Jim Shaw has relied on general contractors to supply his Shaw Woodworking cabinet shop in the Pocasset section of Bourne, Mass., with work. Now he’s targeting consumers directly.

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“We had a marketing consultant come in, which was extremely helpful. Our old method of getting revenue was always done business-to-business. Now we’re taking a totally different approach,” says Shaw.

Shaw Woodworking Location: Pocasset, Mass. Employees: Seven Shop size: 7,500 sq. ft. About: Custom designer and fabricator of cabinetry and millwork, servicing the southeast New England areas of Newport, R.I., Cape Cod and Boston. Quotable: “I think competition is twofold. It keeps the local economy healthy, but on the other side of the coin, you find yourself competing with people with no insurance who will underbid you by 30 percent. In the long term, they’ll lose anyway. We don’t even try to play their game. It’s frustrating because you know the homeowner or contractor that accepts their bid is not going to get a good quality job with quality service.”

Established in 1981, Shaw Woodworking offers design and fabrication services to clients on Cape Cod, north to Boston and south to Newport, R.I. Shaw had always believed that a successful shop should perpetuate sales by referrals. But the recession squashed his client base in 2010 and a marketing consultant suddenly sounded like a good idea. He was advised to develop new partnerships and connected with a high-end real estate agency, providing access to more than 500 realtors who are, in effect, his sales force.

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“We are planning to have all of the realtors tour our shop and maybe run the CNC. We also want to make a video of the production process to show potential clients. When someone’s buying a house, they always want new things. They may love the house, but not the cabinets.”

So far, leads have increased dramatically.

In the shop

Shaw’s 7,500-sq.-ft. shop is nestled in a quiet industrial park minutes from the Cape Cod Canal and off the main thoroughfares. The shop features a tight-knit crew of lead cabinetmaker Mike Donoghue and cabinetmakers Bryan Geggatt and Mike Peterson.

Shaw manages the shop and handles the bidding while his wife, Vicki, handles the books and marketing. Liz Robbins does the estimating, a process that varies depending on how the work is generated. If it’s through a general contractor, it means getting blueprints from architects and going over the specifications. If it’s through a homeowner, she sets up a meeting to begin the design process before shop foreman Chris Davis makes shops drawings with a CAD program.

The shop’s workhorse is a Holz-Her Cosmec Fox 48 CNC router, which Shaw purchased several years ago.

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“It has increased our efficiency and allowed us to boost the volume of work we produce,” he says. The shop also features a Kreg face framing table and pocket screw machine; Whirlwind upcut saw with a TigerStop automatic stop system; 10” SawStop cabinet saw; and a SCMI sander, shaper, 20” planer, sliding table saw and jointer.

A production-style charting system allows for jobs to be organized efficiently. This is quite necessary when employees are working on several whole-home packages at a time for different customers. A dry-erase board in the shop lists both completed and uncompleted components for each job by location and room, allowing for proficient comparison to assure no part gets left behind.

The company completes about 25 projects per year.

From carpentry to cabinetry

Shaw was more or less drafted to work with his father and uncle on carpentry jobs as a teenager. He wasn’t particularly enamored with the trade at first, but it provided for his family.

“I started a general contracting company, Shaw Construction, in 1981. I was married, with my first child on the way and wanted to buy a house. I had been working on my own and was getting a high volume of requests for custom work at the time and knew I’d be able to make it full time. The business evolved into finish carpentry and cabinetry by the mid-’80s, so I changed the name to Shaw Woodworking.

Shop foreman Chris Davis operates the shop's Holz-Her Cosmec Fox 48 CNC router.

“Cape Cod is a resort area, so 40 percent of the homes here are second homes. About 70 percent of those homeowners’ primary homes are elsewhere in Massachusetts, mainly Boston. We do all of the work for those clients. Other clients have second homes in Newport, so we’ve expanded out that way.”

Shaw gets a lot of renovation work that in his market means rebuilding a home that probably just sold for more than $1 million. “Sometimes the word renovation has a stigma to it. But at that income level, it’s a big deal to us,” he says.

While frameless cabinetry requests are on the rise, paint-grade beaded inset cabinetry is the longstanding design trend on Cape Cod. “Typically you’ll see white painted cabinetry everywhere and there will be one accent feature that will be mahogany or cherry, perhaps the library or the study. In my mind, people like the traditional look because years from now it’s still going to look like it belongs in a home in New England. It’s a classic, timeless look.”

Backwards schedule

The company’s average backlog spans about two months. “We rarely turn down a job. If it’s something we’re not familiar with, we’ll find a way to get it done. To a certain degree, this business can be seasonal, especially here on the Cape. Our season is the opposite of what people might think. People want to be in their summer homes by Memorial Day, and the pressure really builds up before that. But by the Fourth of July, things slow way down.”

Estimator Liz Robbins, left, with the co-owners of Shaw Woodworking.

The slower summer months provide Shaw with time to pursue lucrative jobs and fill the pipeline for the next busy season.

“It’s all about knowing who to contact and I spend a lot of time networking through the associations, former clients and contractors. I’m constantly looking for work. Constantly.”

Shaw would like to grow the business, but will need a bigger shop — especially if a showroom is added.

“We have our annual financial goals set for the next five years and I believe we can meet them very comfortably in this facility.”

Bryan Geggatt cuts face-frame stock.

An ever-present challenge is collecting payments due from the general contractors, which is another reason Shaw is excited about his new marketing plan.

“We’ve tried to analyze every expense and make sure we know that it is efficient, good for our staff and good for our client before doing it again. We practice lean manufacturing, which is good with any industry because it minimizes waste. When we tell clients we practice that and encourage them to do it, too, it is really a big help to our reputation.” 

Contact: Shaw Woodworking, Inc., 150 Highland Ave., Cotuit, MA 02635. Tel: 508-563-1242.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue.

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