Eric Criscitello has found Potsdam, N.Y. to be a great place to run his custom woodworking business, From the Heart Cabinetry. Only a few miles south of the Canadian border, the town is home to a tight-knit community where everyone knows one another. It’s also proven to be a great place to raise a family, another reason the father of 10 children enjoys it so much.
Originally from Southington, Conn., Criscitello moved to upstate New York with his family as a young child. His parents yearned for a peaceful, rural lifestyle and relocated to the nearby Hopkinton area. There, his father Richard started the company.
“We were in the city in Connecticut and it was very busy. My dad couldn’t believe you could buy so much land up here. So, we moved to a 30-acre lot way out in the woods and built a house and other buildings – it was just amazing. He wanted to get away from that urban setting. He loved woodworking and was a real hands-on type of guy, a machinist for years, so in 1988 he started From the Heart Cabinetry,” Criscitello explains.
Criscitello joined his father in 1992 after graduating Parishville-Hopkinton High School where he’d completed an apprenticeship that let him work in the family business for credit. Fast forward to today, he now operates the turnkey company out of a 12,000-sq.-ft. facility with six full-time employees and one part-timer.
While his father initially produced about five custom kitchens a year for local clients, Criscitello’s presence helped pick up the pace. Soon enough they outgrew the 1,000-sq.-ft. garage shop.
“Three years after I joined, we had to build a shop because we were growing. We had to build about 10 kitchens a year. That’s when we built our original shop down the road from this place,” he says of the former 2,400-sq.-ft. building on the main road through Potsdam. “From there we really saw exponential growth. We were out in the community with a bigger shop.”
By 2007, his father retired and Criscitello took over. The four-man operation continued to grow, focusing on residential kitchens and casework and a few commercial projects. When the economy crashed in the following years, they received an influx of work from nearby colleges.
“There are four colleges in the area: Clarkson University, St. Lawrence University, and SUNY (State University of New York) at Potsdam and Canton. From 2008 on we had booming years because of the schools. So many people who got laid off went back to school and we did dorm rooms, locker rooms, cafeterias and more.”
The school jobs opened the floodgates for more commercial work, but in time, the shop was again left with a space dilemma.
“We were definitely turning away work. We completely stopped doing anything commercial because our residential kitchens were so big for us.”
In 2015, Criscitello began renting storage space in what would become their current shop, a large warehouse owned by the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency. At 12,000 sq. ft., with 22’ ceilings and a mezzanine, it was quite appealing.
“They had built it in 2005 but it didn’t get much use. I rented out a 1,000-sq.-ft. corner of it for storage for built kitchens and raw products. But I was driving eight miles back and forth each day to get materials and that became inefficient. I knew something had to change. So, I approached the IDA and said I’d love to buy this building,” says Criscitello, who finalized the purchase in 2018.
The shop, office and showroom occupy a combined 7,000 sq. ft. of the monstrous building equipped with a Laguna CNC router, Weinig molder, Cantek rip saw, and spray booth. And there’s room for growth.
With the new space, the company now does about 10 commercial jobs per year for schools, hospitals, and other businesses and produces around 50-60 kitchens annually.
The market is generally within a 30-mile radius of Potsdam, with Ogdensburg to the west, Malone to the east, Canton to the south, and Canada to the north. Installers travel occasionally to surrounding states for repeat customers, many with second homes.
“Canton and Potsdam are our bread and butter,” says Criscitello, adding that his client’s average residential home value is around $250,000. Jobs range from small renovations to complete remodels in multi-million-dollar homes. “Last summer we did a house with $200,000 worth of casework and we have done a 10,000-sq.-ft house on the golf course in Potsdam with $300,000 worth of work.”
Winter months are harsh, but the company remains just as busy as any other part of the year.
“It’s very cold and there’s lots of snow, but it doesn’t slow things down. Because of that, all the building gets delayed until spring and summer, so now we’re inside homes and doing renovations for the most part.”
Criscitello sees a trend in home storage updates, particularly built-in cabinetry for mudrooms and laundry rooms.
“Instead of hiding things in the basement, I see people put more into their homes to make them more efficient and pretty. We also do a lot of updates to entryways. It’s cold up here and people need places for their coats and hockey bags.”
A team effort
All work is done in-house from design and processing raw materials to installation, including granite countertops. Criscitello, who does CAD designs and estimates, says he has great staff of truly skilled craftsmen. His family helps quite a bit, too.
“My son Tim and my wife are my business partners. My daughter Emily does office managing part time, and I also have another son interested in coming in.”
His children, which include two sets of twins, range in age from seven to 22. Criscitello likes knowing they’re exposed to such a practical business, regardless of their future career choices.
“Right now, my teenagers always come in after school and do things. They’re always organizing the shop, moving things around, it’s great. I tell them, ‘You don’t have to be a cabinetmaker. You can do anything you want. But this will benefit your life because everyone is going to own a home, everyone’s going to have a kitchen in their life, so having a background in that is super handy.’”
Being one of the few cabinetmakers in the area of this size, Criscitello doesn’t have much competition. He doesn’t advertise.
“Instead of putting money into marketing, we try to focus on putting money into people’s cabinetry and kitchens and upgrading them. If they really wanted a certain countertop or door style that costs them a little more, we give it to them.”
Staying on track
The company’s annual gross is about $1.2 million. Criscitello wants to keep growing and increase the commercial projects.
“We’re growing every year. Also, because we’re in a rural area, we don’t get the lows, but we don’t get the highs of big building spurts either. There are no big dips. We’re protected with a relatively stable economy,” he says.
He values his father’s advice in many respects such as not going into debt or getting in over his head. They were always key principles, along with providing outstanding customer service.
“One of the things I think makes us successful today is my dad really instituted a great role model for us. He said our customers are really important. I know a lot of people say that in marketing with the ‘customer is always right’ catch phrases, but my dad really meant it. He built relationships with customers.”
Criscitello does well continuing those relationships and building new ones. He says he plans to continue his role for many years until Tim takes over one day.
“I love my job. I wake up in the morning ready to go. I’m probably not the best cabinetmaker in the world, and I’m probably not the best businessman in the world, but if you give me a task, within 10 minutes I’m going to have the easiest way to do it, the best way. That’s the way my brain works, I’m an efficiency guy. I like to figure out how to operate so we can put out a great product and put it out as quickly and efficiently as we can.”
Contact: From the Heart Cabinetry, 6 Pioneer Dr., Potsdam, NY 13676. Tel: 315-268-0713. www.fthcabinetry.com
This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue.