Off to the races

Saratoga Custom Cabinets got its start during difficult times but continues to grow and expand its market
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Inside-1

Jared Phillips, 34, bravely opened his cabinet shop during the last recession when other shops were going out of business. But you should know that he’s pretty good at beating the odds.

The owner of Saratoga Custom Cabinets runs a four-person shop in Ballston Spa, N.Y., serving what’s known as the Capital Region in and around Albany, N.Y. The plan is to expand the market, but let’s go back to 2006 when Phillips was working as a chef at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He was injured in a motorcycle accident and spent a month in intensive care. He had broken bones throughout his face and rib cage, along with severe bone, tissue and nerve damage to his right arm and hand. And he probably needed a new career.

“The start of everything happened while I was sitting in a waiting room for physical therapy,” says Phillips. “I opened a magazine and there was a bar for sale in a kit you could order. I thought, ‘that would be really nice to have’. I wasn’t working, so buying anything like that was out of the question. But I wanted to make it.”

He built that a bar and impressed a friend, who put it on eBay. Over 20 orders rolled in, so Phillips hired some help and got busy. About a year into his recovery, he decided woodworking was a viable career.

Jared Phillips is a hands-on owner, spraying finish

Jared Phillips is a hands-on owner, spraying finish

Rapid growth

In March 2008, Phillips rented a 900-sq.-ft. warehouse in Saratoga and formed his company under his name with a DBA status. He hired occasional help and returned to the restaurant business part-time to help fund the operation. In 2009, he took out his first and only ad in a local flyer. The work poured in.

“I was getting calls before I even knew the ad ran. That’s when I decided I needed to put all of myself into the business. It just evolved immediately from there. I offered anything and everything in woodworking. If you could imagine it, we could make it happen.”

By 2011, he relocated to a 3,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in Ballston Spa, renamed the business Saratoga Custom Cabinets and formed a website. Working only through referrals, he quickly attracted a client base that included residential and commercial developers and homeowners seeking renovations. All were within a 50-mile radius, spanning from Albany to Lake George.

Phillips also accepted furniture restoration work through home insurance mitigation companies. One company he worked with frequently presented him with a job for over 100 pieces of antique furniture for house in Malone, N.Y. that got struct by lightning. It was a tall order, but possible in the larger facility.

“All sorts of quality antique Victorian era furniture had been damaged from smoke, soot, water and cleaning solvents. There were solid mahogany, cherry and walnut tables and dressers and a dining room set. At that point we had been in business over three years, so refinishing was second nature,” says Phillips.

“Our clients are mostly local. Some are visiting the area in the summer and live elsewhere, and we just go to where they are. We’ll go down to New York City and west to Utica and Syracuse for kitchens, insurance work, or whatever they need. We’ve had clients that live here in the summer and Florida in the winter. We’ve installed four kitchens in Florida. It’s easy as that. There’s an incentive to go, too, because it’s warmer.”

His clients know the value of the shop’s knowledge and skill level, and simply want first rate work.

Working in the shop or “doing whatever needs to be done”.

Working in the shop or “doing whatever needs to be done”.

“There are a lot of people who’ve had a bad experience with retail cabinetry and are at the point where they’re either getting into their final home or at the point they want to spend money and invest it properly. They want a cabinet that has the duration to last and will not settle for anything less,” says Phillips.

The shop is attuned to the various and ever-changing style trends clients present to them. In recent years, there’s been a transition from contemporary styles to more traditional and rustic looks that coincide with the Adirondack feel.

The new shop

As the business continued to grow, so did the shop. In 2015 Phillips learned about a commercial property in the center of town, where a mini-golf course once stood, and decided to build to suit.

“I loved the idea of building a new building, but cost was on my mind. I was very apprehensive on building a building that fit with Ballston Spa’s aesthetics. The [seller, an engineer] offered to do the design and cost analysis, but the biggest thing to me was what could be done with the inside of it,” Phillips says.

A contemporary kitchen from the shop’s extensive portfolio, featuring maple cabinets with an opaque finish, pantry, and island.

A contemporary kitchen from the shop’s extensive portfolio, featuring maple cabinets with an opaque finish, pantry, and island.

Construction on 10,000-sq.-ft. building began in 2016. He’s been in since 2018 and rents out the other half. He’s still working on the showroom when not busy estimating, creating CAD designs or helping in the shop.

“I wear many jackets here. In culinary it appalled me when the boss could not do the employee’s job. Here I can do anything I ask them to do. I spray finish, put cabinets together, whatever needs to be done.”

Shop employees, including Phillips, Matt Fosmire, Thomas March and Ray Thomas, have come up with a twist on “Sons of Anarchy”, a television series about an outlaw motorcycle club, with “Sons of Cabinetry”. Everyone has a unique set of shirts, titles and patches with show catchphrases like “Men of Mayhem” and spinoffs such as ‘Hardwood Original’. Phillips says the customers love it and he enjoys the fun and feedback.

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“It started out as a joke, having work shirts to do with the Sons of Anarchy, but people thought they were the coolest thing. We wore them to a Chamber event and so many people came up to say they love our shirts, asking if we rode our bikes there. It was a way to give us a uniform,” says Phillips, who incidentally chooses not to own another motorcycle.

Future plans

The immediate plan is to get a showroom ready for a grand opening. “I would like to see that happen within a year,” says Phillips. “The thing is, we have to keep up with the workflow. Ultimately I want to get the showroom up and going and have a customer service person on staff to take care of walk-in clients.”

The shop has an eight- to ten-week backlog that Phillips is striving to reduce to four to six weeks.

“I would like to expedite lead time. That would be incredible. The thing is, lead time can go by very fast. It depends how many clients you’re multi-tasking at same time. Right now, we’re on an average of multi-tasking 20 to 30 clients a month. What’s nice is if one gets delayed, you can go to another one. Prioritizing is important. I never want to see a customer angry over a deadline.”

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Taking nothing for granted, Phillips clearly wants to take the time to do everything just right. He’s not only proud to have overcome that life-changing feat in his early 20s, but to be able make a name for himself even when the odds were against him.

“Age was a big thing when I started. I was young and had to undergo skepticism, so being able to rise above that was okay. I told myself I was going to do this and put the quality in and it shows, and that’s a big thing. It’s just a matter of my clients seeing their ideas brought to life.”

Contact: Saratoga Custom Cabinets, 1 Charlton Road, Ballston Spa, NY 12020. Tel: 518-956-1756. www.saratogacustomcabinets.com

This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue.

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