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Reach Me at the Beach

Frankford Custom Woodworking in southern Delaware serves a primary market of vacation homes and businesses along a 25-mile stretch of coastal communities.

Maynard Esender, owner of Frankford Custom Woodworking in Frankford, Del., has the right business in the right place, and has earned an excellent reputation for his high-end custom cabinetry over the past 30 years. His company is located close to the Delaware and Maryland shores where high-end homes and resorts require plenty of cabinetry and commercial casework.

“There are some bad spots in the United States, but this is not one of them. We got affected pretty bad by 2008, but we managed to stay in business. It got a little scary. But the economy in this area is booming in many different areas,” says Esender.

“I would credit it greatly to the track home builders, who build homes that look nice when you walk in but after you’ve been there a while you see the need for bookcases and entertainment centers like the model homes have.”

The company also specializes in closet work, gracing those spacious walk-in closets with hardwood shelving to replace wire racks. Additionally, it carries a line of manufactured cabinets allowing for a full range of offerings for all types of buyers.

Today, Esender maintains an average of seven employees in his spacious 10,000-sq.-ft. shop.

Shannon Cole  is the newest team member.

Shannon Cole  is the newest team member.

Bartending to building

Esender started his business like many a woodworker – he fell into it. Originally from Baltimore, he visited Ocean City, Md., over summer vacations, often staying with family members at their beach homes. He tried a little college at the University of Baltimore but by his early 20s, beach life beckoned. He moved to Ocean City in 1962 and worked around the clock tending bar and waiting tables. The only downfall was the off-season.

“I loved it, but nobody would hire you for a real job in the winter knowing you would go back to tending bar and waiting tables in the summer. That’s where all the fun and money was,” he says.

“You couldn’t get a job in a grocery store or do office sales, so the only choices you had were you could be a commercial fisherman, which paid well but the working conditions are rough, or in construction, which wasn’t good money but it was on dry land. I took the latter and managed to become a halfway decent carpenter. By 1962, I was a year-round resident of this area.”

By 1981, at age 38, he’d refined his woodworking and finishing skills while simultaneously working for and operating several bars and restaurants. He decided it was time to start his own business, which began in a shed in his backyard.

“I was a trim carpenter in the late 70s, and when I got married and started thinking about a family, I opened up my own shop. Then I moved from Ocean City to Frankford because it was very affordable and near a good market. My market is the beach.”

The shop’s primary market ranges from Lewes, Del., to Ocean City, only about 25 miles apart.

“Lewes is a relatively small town with some restaurants and shopping. It’s a debarkation point of the peninsula for the Cape May-Lewes ferry. There’s a lot happening near the Rehoboth and Dewey beaches. Bethany Beach is nearby and Ocean City’s population probably swells to 275,000 in the summer.

“This location is one of the things that got us through the recession. The phones really start ringing as we get closer to summer.”

The breakdown of residential and commercial work is about 50/50. The shop often works with large developers, prominent builders and general contracting firms, as well as individual homeowners. Work ranges from a small kitchen renovation to an entire hotel lobby.

Local design tastes range considerably. Esender describes the current trend as “anything original”. One day a customer will spec laminates. The next day a customer might show up with a tree.

“I go with the flow. I really do. We’re working on an oceanfront house right now north of Bethany Beach that is being designed by an architect in Washington D.C.”

The shop is enjoying a two-month backlog before the summer rush. Competition is not a major concern.

“There are three or four shops around that do this kind of work. In this area I’m probably the biggest. There are two pretty good-sized ones in Salisbury which is 30 miles inland and there’s one in Easton, Md. There’s a lot of big money in Easton, and that shop serves that area.”

Rob Harbaugh is a 12-year veteran of the shop

Rob Harbaugh is a 12-year veteran of the shop

In the future

Esender foresees business will continue on a positive note in the years ahead. While heaps of regular annual vacationers visit from Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and beyond, another group is contributing to the area’s sound economy.

“This particular area is attracting a lot of retirees. You can retire in a relatively comfortably climate, though it did drop to single digits here in January a couple of times. If you’re from Washington, Baltimore, Philly or even Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, you can get home to see the grandkids’ high school play or football game, or the family can come down to spend the weekend. If you retire to Florida, you don’t see the family that often.”

Esender has one child, Graham, who works in Hong Kong. The succession plan, for now, is to take a step back and let his employees take over.

“A couple of us have been talking about our next big move now that the economy and our books have stabilized. We will be looking into purchasing a CNC machine and a larger, more efficient edgebander. Really, I think the outlook for the next five to ten years is quite good. I really do.”

Contact: Frankford Custom Woodworking, 34139 Dupont Blvd., Frankford, DE 19945. Tel: 302-732-9570.

 This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue.

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