Outsourcing on call

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Twenty-four years ago, Max Hunter and his family founded one of the first woodshops that was specifically designed to make parts for other cabinetmakers. It didn’t evolve from a small custom cabinet shop: it was built for outsourcing.

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Located in Vallejo, Calif., Western Dovetail (drawer.com), has grown from dovetailing drawer boxes to supplying an entire range of drawers, doors (wood, laminate and foil), inserts and trays, slides, pulls and a host of other hardware and jigs. Along the way, the company even survived an earthquake: on the last day of IWF 2014 in Atlanta, its factory on Mare Island (which is actually not an island, but rather a peninsula in Vallejo) had to be evacuated after a 6.0 tremor partially destroyed the building. That was on Sunday, and Max and his team immediately hopped on a plane home. By Wednesday, they had already moved the shop and were back in production.

Western Dovetail’s story illustrates a few primary aspects of the evolution of outsourcing. The first one is timeliness: Hunter’s biggest concern after everyone’s safety was getting all work-in-process completed and shipped to his customers. Today, the company’s custom drawers usually ship within five to 10 business days. And Western Dovetail has also done what several other industry leaders saw early on as a necessity for growth: it has expanded beyond a core product (drawers) to offer a one-stop shopping experience.

Hardware Resources (hardwareresources.com) has been in business for 28 years and took a slightly different evolutionary track. With headquarters and manufacturing in Bossier City, La., and warehouses from coast to coast, it is perhaps the fastest-growing manufacturer of hardware in the country. It builds mitered cabinet doors and drawer fronts, but also designs and makes a huge catalog of hardware for kitchens, baths and closets. It also makes decorative corbels, capitals, posts, legs and feet and has developed a vast network of dealers.

Staying local

While the corporate approach is certainly convenient and predictable and offers economies of scale, smaller outsourcing companies must appeal to a different set of priorities to survive. They remain regional or even local, do one or a small number of things and depend on personal interaction to establish a loyal customer base.

For example, Cabaxis (cabaxis.com) builds drawer boxes in a second-generation cabinet shop in western Kentucky and does so with a five-day turnaround time. The company appeals to a woodshop’s sense of pride in construction, but also appeals to the purse strings with free shipping on orders over $500. But what sets Cabaxis apart from the bigger competition is something less evolutionary than traditional: call the phone number and you can talk directly to somebody who actually knows how to run a dovetailer.

Like Western Dovetail, CCF Industries in Apollo, Pa. (ccfdrawers.com) opened its doors in the 1990s. And, like Cabaxis, it has specialized ever since in manufacturing dovetailed drawers. In addition to solid hardwoods, CCF builds with foil, melamine and plywood such as Baltic birch. To set itself apart, the company’s marketing has evolved to include features such as a one-hour Quick Quote system with no minimum order size, in-house laser engraving, edgebanding, front and side scoops, file slots and undermount slide notches. CCF also carries slides from Accuride, Blum and Sterling, using hardware as one way to expand its offerings.

Top Drawer (topdrwr.com) in Apache Junction, Ariz., also offers laser engraving as an option on its dovetailed drawers. In fact, Top Drawer prides itself on innovative solutions such as corner drawer stacks with additional depth, curved fronts, angled drawer sides (or fronts and backs) and specialty storage solutions such as tie drawers for closets and custom trash can drawers.

Another regional supplier that specializes in drawers is Timbercraft (timbercraftdrawers.com) in New Milford, Conn. The company slogan is “Delivering your drawers throughout the Northeast in five to seven days,” and that pretty much sums up the business plan. Timbercraft has been building solid-wood, custom dovetailed drawers since 2003 and, through the years has added features such as integrated wooden drawer pulls, custom drawer inserts and all-wood cabinet door storage units.

Martincraft (martincraftwoodproducts.com) in Owens, Wis., makes custom dovetailed drawers and components such as trash bins, spice racks, silverware drawers, knife block drawers, cookie sheet pullouts, file drawers and so on. The drawers are handcrafted in maple (other hardwood species can be specified) using classic English half-blind dovetails.

Indiana-based Amish Country Woodworx (acwoodworx.com) is perhaps a little more sophisticated, despite the name. In fact, the website stresses that the company integrates tradition (Amish craftsmanship) with technology (online ordering). A supplier of dovetailed drawers, the business is another prime example of the way that outsourcing is evolving. It offers exactly what it says: high-quality traditional products, sold through an online ordering process.

Drawer Box Specialties (dbsdrawers.com) in Orange, Calif., follows much the same parameters. Woodshops can browse an online catalog of components, choose various materials and construction methods, and then either place the order through the website or request a quote if the job is more custom than basic. The company has an extensive offering of specialty items, including drawer-in-a-drawer options that take advantage of taller spaces.

Canary Closets (canarycc.com) lies somewhere between a small custom supplier and large factory. The shop in Union, N.J., is named after founder and manager John Canary. A cabinetmaker for more than 30 years, his work has appeared in numerous publications such as Architectural Digest, The New York Times and House and Garden. Bridging the gap between custom and industrial with hands-on personal service has been key to the evolution of this business. Canary Closets also offers an online closet design tool that shows real-time pricing and creates end-user bids. While many woodshops already use similar programs, the idea here is to bring new and smaller shops into the fold. The design software is free and web-based, so a woodworker doesn’t even need to install it on a computer. The ClosetPro program works on any device including laptops, tablets or even smartphones and comes with video tutorials.

Drawer Connection (dcdrawers.com) in Mesa, Ariz., specializes in dovetailed and doweled drawer components in solid wood, melamine and plywood material choices. Its new Drawer Outlet Kit is a sign of the times: it can “upgrade a kitchen in less than 15 minutes” by adding electric outlets that are stored out of sight until they’re needed. The kit includes two dovetailed drawer boxes, full-extension ball-bearing drawer glides and all of the necessary hardware. They’re ideal for charging phones and tablets: just plug them in, drop them in and close the drawer.

Larger suppliers

One of the wood industry’s go-to outsourcing suppliers, Elias Woodwork (eliaswoodwork.com) has been in business since 1983 and is located right at the center of the continent in Winkler, Manitoba — a stone’s throw from the North Dakota/Minnesota border. Elias is the epitome of evolution: its plant has grown to 255,000 sq. ft. and includes state-of-the-art finishing facilities. Production is centered on building cabinet doors and refacing products for the kitchen and bath industry, but it also does a large volume in recreational vehicle casework. As it continues to evolve, Elias has recently added several new lines such as custom ready-to-assemble cabinet boxes, a polyester-saturated paper on MDF cabinet door line (DLV), a high-gloss acrylic line of cabinet doors, new Thermofoil colors and a greatly expanded wood species selection. 

WalzCraft in LaCrosse, Wis., has managed to evolve into one of the biggest players in the industry without losing its personal touch. Founded as Cabinet Factory Inc. in 1982, the company started out with a few profiles and one wood specie. Today, it has more than 340,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing and administration space and employs almost 300 full-time employees. WalzCraft continues to grow its product lines and keep up with trends. For example, one of its newest offerings is a weathered barnwood option called Rotary Mill Mark Distressing, which has the look of the rough circular sawn lumber that is often seen in reclaimed barn wood.

Decore-ative Specilaities (decore.com), established in 1965, has embarked on an aggressive journey to provide a product that removes the difficult aspects of finishing for its customers. It offer water-based finishes and an extensive line of doors and drawer fronts, drawer boxes, components, molding, and hardware.

Another corner-post of the industry, Keystone Wood Specialties (keystonewood.com) in Lancaster, Pa., has been serving the needs of cabinetmakers, furniture builders and remodelers for more than 40 years. The menu includes cabinet doors and drawer fronts in a number of styles, plus dovetailed drawer boxes, cabinet face frames, molding, wainscoting and panel arches. One of the newer offerings is locked miter construction that can be ordered at any angle between 90 and 140 degrees for projects such as non-rectangular face frames, Lazy Susan doors, end panels, column or post wrapping, and so on.

Perhaps one of the oldest outsourcing suppliers, Clever Storage by Kesseböhmer (cleverstorage.com), was founded in 1954 and has grown through the years into a corporation employing more than 2,000 people. Based in Bad Essen, Germany, Clever Storage is still family run. It’s now one of the world’s leading kitchen furniture industry suppliers (European-style cabinetry), and distributes to over 60 countries worldwide, including the U.S. where it has a branch in Wilmington, N.C.

Specialty suppliers

On the other end of the hardware outsourcing niche is Sawtooth Shelf System (sawtoothshelfsystem.com). This California company supplies wooden shelf supports. Its product is based on a pre-industrial revolution cabinetmakers’ design that uses ratchet or bird’s mouth “teeth” cut into pairs of wooden uprights that catch and hold horizontal supports for the ends of shelves. The company recently expanded its offering to include wine rack storage, closet organizers and currently in the works, gun racks and glass shelf cleats.

Some companies have evolved into a specialty role that served the needs of those serving others’ needs. For example, Rev-A-Shelf (rev-a-shelf.com) in Louisville, Ky., began back in 1978 and its first product line was metal and polymer Lazy Susan components that were manufactured for the largest U.S. cabinet builders. The company is now one of the North America’s largest suppliers of everything that goes into cabinets such as hampers, blind corner solutions, closet organizers, drawer inserts and dividers, wire and rattan baskets, recycling bins, pullouts, swing-outs, door storage, appliance lifts, wine racks and the like. Rev-A-Shelf even offers a combination knife holder/cutting board system that glides on full-extension ball bearing slides and actually replaces a drawer.

Brown Wood (brownwoodinc.com), based in Lincolnwood, Ill., is the ultimate outsourcing supplier, claiming that it “can produce virtually anything in wood, to any specifications.” Equipped to also incorporate silk screening, laser engraving, and imprinting in the wood finishing process, the company offers project design services for components, plus assembly and packaging. Brown Wood also offers thousands of turned and carved decorative wood components through its Designs of Distinction branded product line.

Turned, carved and molded wood components are also among the specialties of Osborne Wood Products (osbornewood.com), which makes its home in Toccoa, Ga. Osborne has been providing woodshops with beautifully crafted table legs, island legs, corbels, bun feet and moldings since 1979.

Another supplier with a vast inventory is Outwater (outwater.com), which offers a wide array of architectural and millwork components. Founded in 1972, its original business plan was to provide small and midsized furniture and cabinet manufacturers with a reliable source for plastic extrusions — and do so with sensible minimums. Today, the company has evolved into an international manufacturer and stocking distributor of more than 65,000 standard and innovative component products with 300,000 sq. ft. warehousing and distribution facilities located in both New Jersey and Arizona.

Another specialty supplier, Kentucky-based Create-A-Bed (wallbed.com), has taken its outsourcing role to the other extreme, offering just two primary products (a standard and a deluxe Murphy bed kit with plans for a do-it-yourself cabinet) and a couple of accessories. But, despite that, the gallery page shows how other shops have taken the basic kits and flown with them. Design ideas shown here include sports, kids and traditional casework themes.

Speaking of light kits, a woodworker might take a minute to visit Doug Mockett (mockett.com) and see a little bit of evolution in that area. The company has a number of hidden phone charging kits and pop-up power sources that can add a very custom, and very contemporary element to any casework.

There will always be a need for custom components, and they’re not always wood. Take, for example, The Glass Source (theglasssource.com) which is a stained glass studio located in Seymour, Conn. It’s one of the top studios in the country for restoration and custom glass design, as well as a major learning center for glass arts. Adding custom stained or art glass to a cabinet job can elevate an ordinary office or kitchen project to a whole new level.

Having an outsourcing supplier who can guide a woodshop through that process is very comforting. Growth and learning have their perils, but also their rewards. As our customers’ needs evolve, it seems the outsourcing industry is not only keeping pace, but perhaps even setting that pace at times.

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue.

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