Ordering out

Outsourcing can save a shop time and labor, and also presents a new business opportunity
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Saint-Georges specializes in providing curved cabinet doors and matching millwork.

Saint-Georges specializes in providing curved cabinet doors and matching millwork.

There’s a new concept in Europe that North American cabinet shops may find interesting.

In 2018, IKEA reported almost 40 billion euros ($44 billion) in sales. That’s a sizeable number, and when one considers the relatively low cost per unit of their product, it’s also an awful lot of cabinets and furniture.

Given the numbers, it’s no surprise that other companies have found a way to piggyback on IKEA’s success. Take, for example, Reform (reformcph.com/us). This is a Danish company that has four locations in major European cities, and has now opened its fifth showroom in New York. Here’s what the company says on its website about what it does:

“IKEA makes quality kitchen components. Reform designs unique kitchen fronts and countertops made from durable materials, that are easy to combine with IKEA’s basic and popular modules. It’s that simple!”

Yes, they make aftermarket doors, drawer fronts and laminate tops for customers whom they first send to an IKEA store. Specifically, IKEA. No other supplier.

They’re turning factory boxes into custom casework, at bargain basement prices. And they’re not alone. There are half a dozen companies doing this already, and more entering the market.

Reform is a hybrid business that takes elements from two separate sources and combines them to create a new market. It’s outsourcing taken to new heights. They let IKEA do the heavy lifting, and the customers do the install. All they have to do is buy in, or else make the components, most of which are just single parts (as opposed to the milling and assembly time required to build complete cabinets, or even drawers).

It’s a brilliant business model, and one that is definitely going to eat into the traditional custom cabinet market over the next few years. From a strictly numbers viewpoint, there’s no way that a regular woodshop can compete with the IKEA/Reform template by building custom casework.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to.

Here, the old adage “if you can’t beat them, join them” comes into play, but with a twist. Somebody has to make all those aftermarket components. A small- to medium-sized cabinet shop could definitely add the IKEA-customizing option to its catalog and offer the exact same service that Reform does but make the parts in-house. A shop could even harvest the IKEA doors and drawer fronts that its customer buys and use them as patterns to drill for handles and hinges. That way, they could probably even let the customers do their own installs. They’ve already installed the boxes on the walls. Why not have them pop the doors and drawer fronts on, too?

Think about that. Never building boxes or drawers, never working on a jobsite, and still being paid to make cabinet and furniture components in-house on a CNC.

It’s outsourcing in reverse.

Round cabinet doors are available from Saint-Georges Doors in Quebec.

Round cabinet doors are available from Saint-Georges Doors in Quebec.

Throw them a curve

Woodworkers who don’t like the flavor of that particular IKEA brew still have a number of ways to gain from outsourcing. Two of the most profitable aspects are working in the round and finishing.

Sheet goods are flat, and most cabinets are rectangular. At some point, designers simply run out of ways to add some pizzazz to all those straight lines. What if a shop could add curved cabinets at the end of each run, or perhaps oval or round islands? And what if curved doors could be ordered in, so that just the cases need to be built in-house?

Say hello to Quebec-based Saint-Georges Doors (www.cabinetdoorsg.com). The company builds curved cabinet doors and matching millwork. The doors can be convex or concave, so a shop can deliver outside or inside curves on cabinets. Saint-Georges also offers doors that curve from top to bottom, and that option doesn’t just come in single-arc curves (think of the complex profile of a bombé chest).

Curves and rounds can really dress up a project, and they certainly separate it from that old run-of-the-mill rectangular look. Components that are something other than square can say custom in a way that almost nothing else does. Being able to buy in and build in these components can also set a shop apart from the competition, especially if the finishing job is out of the ordinary.

Finishes can be the most personal aspect of a project. Woodshops that invite an interior designer or perhaps an area artist to help with color choices can often create something new and exciting that’s simply not available in a factory catalog. A creative mind can shake up the mix. For example, wall and base cabinets don’t need to be the same color, and most outsourcing suppliers can expertly tint to match color samples, swatches or Pantone colors for components that they supply. The shop can then complete the package by adding a precisely matching color and sheen to accent pieces that it makes in-house. By originating the color scheme, rather than settling for something offered in a supplier’s catalog, the shop can add value, and profit, to components.

There’s also a nascent trend toward applying complex artwork wraps to appliances, and it might be handy having an artist on call to work out pigments for cabinet components, so they work well with some of the wilder color schemes that are beginning to creep into kitchens.

The point here is that outsourced components don’t have to be dull.

With that in mind, Wisconsin-based Walzcraft (walzcraft.com) has initiated a new program called the Adventure Series, where a woodshop can order five-part doors and drawer fronts where either (but not both) the stiles or the rails have a profile milled into them. It’s a way for woodworkers to create a one-of-a-kind look, and it’s actually quite dramatic.

Another way that smaller shops can keep their edge in an increasingly IKEA-like industry is to keep in mind that color and texture are not among the stronger points of factory kitchens. Large manufacturers tend to lean more towards monochromatic monotony. But a shop that can find an outsource supplier who will work with new laminate sources (or explore more options with current suppliers) can offer custom color and textures that add perceived value. Take, for example, the newest family of textured laminates from the Italian company Cleaf (www.cleaf.it/en). They have the look and feel of natural woods, but with all of the durability and toughness of laminate. These include Geta, which is based on the material used to make traditional wooden Japanese sandals, and Poro Noce, which reproduces the look and feel of walnut.

Doors from WalzCraft’s Adventure Series. 

Doors from WalzCraft’s Adventure Series. 

Time is money

Yes, outsourcing can save time, and money. But only efficient, well-planned and versatile outsourcing can build profits. One key here is to establish a solid supply chain, where the shop’s software, samples and showroom are all keyed into one or two major suppliers and there are no surprises. The quicker and more accurate the bidding process, the more profitable the project will be.

Elias Woodwork (eliaswoodwork.com) has been building cabinet and furniture components since 1983, and the people in its front office have watched the industry change dramatically over those 36 years. Keeping abreast of trends and technology is always a challenge, especially when your business is keeping other businesses profitable. So, last fall the company launched Access Now, which is an online ordering program where woodshops can get quotes and place orders anytime, from anywhere. The program also gives woodworkers access to their accounts, estimates, shipment tracking, product details and pricing. This lets a shop bid jobs over the weekend. The woodworker can tweak the details while standing in the customer’s kitchen on a Saturday morning, and have the purchase order signed before the competition opens for business on Monday.

Keystone Wood Specialties offers a similar service. Its new online Instant Pricing program lets a woodshop receive an email in under 30 seconds with pricing attached. It’s convenient and easy to use, and Keystone has created an informative tutorial to explain how the process works at keystonewood.com. By the way, the company recently added Bee-Line dovetailed drawers to its catalog. Billed as an affordable alternative, they have 5/8” sides and a choice of 1/4” or 1/2” bottoms, plus they only require a five-day lead time.

Another way to cut costs and build profits is to speed up the assembly process. In September, the component supplier Cut 2 Size Parts (c2sparts.com) in Prescott, Ariz. announced that it now offers Lockdowel assembly on any Speedbox cabinets ordered through its website. The cabinets are shipped flat-packed, and a single box assembles in about five minutes.

CabParts (cabparts.com) supplies cabinet boxes, closet components, drawer boxes, door and drawer fronts, and a wide selection of hardware. The company’s marketing literature has a concise summary of the reasons why a woodshop should outsource. It will have “an immediate and positive impact on a shop’s bottom line because assembly does not require highly skilled labor, expensive capital investment or large shop areas.” That about says it all.

Another large outsourcing supplier is Cal Door & Drawer (caldoor.com) in Morgan Hill, Calif. Among its wide-ranging catalog are several door choices that have a distinctly Southwest look to them. One nice aspect of its marketing package is a short but comprehensive video shop tour that lets woodworkers see by whom and where their cabinet and furniture components will be made.

There’s a lot new happening at Canestoga Wood Specialties (conestogawood.com) in East Earl, Pa. In July, the company added to its Allure decorative laminate veneer (DLV) door program. New to the catalog are French Cut Shaker and Miter designs in popular Bright White and White Dove colors. Two of the new mitered profiles, Cabo 225 French Cut and Tobago 225, have a beveled framing bead. Because they eliminate finishing, DLV doors offer significant savings of 30 to 50 percent over similar finished wood doors, according to the company.

Decore-ative Specialties in Monrovia, Calif. (decore.com) has one of the most intuitive and well-designed websites for shop owners looking for components. Among its catalog offerings are Streamline RTA cabinets. Shops can choose from a variety of cabinet configurations, custom color edge banding, and cabinet materials. Streamline orders include assembly hardware, and they can ship from either California or North Carolina. Decore-ative Specialties also offers instant pricing and anytime ordering.

Hardware and accents

Outsourcing doesn’t just save time and money on casework. There are also several very reputable suppliers that offer wood furniture parts and hardware-based items, such as pull-outs and organizers. Rev-A-Shelf (rev-a-shelf.com) in Louisville, Ky. is among the leaders in this field, and the company has just added a number of base cabinet pull-outs, some if which ride on Blumotion soft closing hardware.

Another well-known supplier is Osborne Wood Products (osbornewood.com) in Toccoa, Ga. Among its most recent catalog additions are some square and round stainless-steel table legs, and a selection of Arts & Crafts corbels and brackets. Osborne also supplies less traditional solutions such as a good selection of round feet and other furniture parts in clear acrylic, and a clever new table lift system that elevates a coffee-table top to a more usable height for people sitting on sofas.

New from Richelieu Hardware in Quebec (richelieu.com) are several recycling and composting bin options for base cabinets, and an ingenious solution for using all that wasted space in corner bases. It’s called the Qanto Electric Lift-Up System, and it essentially lifts out of the countertop to expose storage space in difficult-to-access corners in L-shaped or U-shaped kitchens, as well as end cabinets. It can also be incorporated in a kitchen island design.

There’s a whole range of new products in the latest Designs of Distinction catalog from Brown Wood Inc. (brownwoodinc.com) in Lincolnwood, Ill., including a selection of decorative grilles that can be ordered in various shapes and sizes, and can be easily cut to fit in custom applications. One way to use them is to have a grille replace a solid panel in a wall cabinet door for a lighter look.

One way to profit from outsourcing is to shop where there are discounts. Cabinet Parts (cabinetparts.com/biz) in Pompano Beach, Fla. offers professional woodshops a 5 percent discount on its entire catalog, 60-day interest-free financing and up to 5 percent cash back on purchases. In addition to wooden accents (among which is a very large catalog of furniture feet, legs, corbels and the like), the company also carries trash pull-outs, drawer dividers, pantries, wine racks, free-standing islands and any kind of organizer one can imagine.

New Jersey-based Outwater Plastics and Architectural Products (outwaterphotogallery.com) has made things a little easier for woodworkers who are looking for specific cabinet and furniture components by dividing its gigantic Master Catalog into 19 sections on its website. On the other side of the country is Doug Mockett & Co. (mockett.com) in Torrance, Calif., which offers pop-up power ports, furniture legs, drawer pulls and more. 

This article originally appeared in the November 2019 issue.

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