Formerly based in Monroe, Ohio, The Woodworking Shop has experienced so much growth in the last couple of years that it recently expanded into a larger, 30,000-sq.-ft. facility in Miamisburg, Ohio. Company owner and founder Mark Sams says the lack of space in the previous shop (7,500 sq. ft.) hindered the company from taking on more projects and had him turning down work every day.
“The economy for us is doing very well. We are still busy as we can be and are turning down as much work as we are doing. I recently turned down work for a major grocery store and for a new hotel in Columbus with another construction company, so I’m saying no as much as I’m saying yes. Part of this move was so when opportunities come in we can take advantage of them without having to say no,” Sams says.
Sams, who has eight employees, runs a full turnkey operation. The shop offers design, manufacturing, delivery and installation services of custom cabinetry, millwork, casework and solid-surface counters for hotels, retail stores, medical facilities, educational institutions, grocery stores and churches. In addition to millwork and casework, it also offers wood and plastic laminate lockers.
A very busy man, Sams also dabbles in other business endeavors, such as helping manage his family-owned retirement community in North Carolina and running a local consulting business with his father for non-profit organizations. He has been a preacher for more than 30 years and is currently a church pastor at LifeBridge Christian Church in Middletown, Ohio. These have all enriched his networking and interpersonal skills and contributed to his success in the woodworking industry.
Starting off small
“I started the company in 2002 and, for six years, it was much more of a hobby than a livelihood,” Sams says. “I did some jobs on the side, most of them residential casework and built-ins. I did a few commercial things here and there. I was in a small building on my parents’ farm, here in town.”
He moved to the Monroe shop in 2008, which was only 2,500 sq. ft. then.
“Right before that move I literally told my wife I could figure out how to pay for the space and utilities for a year and said, ‘Let’s try this out and see where it goes.’ I had started in a new church and needed additional income, so I said, ‘Let’s do this, too.’ ”
It was risky, what with the U.S. economy facing the Great Recession, but Sams had a plan.
“I knew the market was obviously going to come back so when everybody else was closing their businesses, we were buying their equipment and growing. I knew when it came back, it would come back hot and heavy and there would not be the companies out there to meet the demand.”
The big break came when he got a call asking if he was interested in building lockers for a national manufacturer.
“We started building wood lockers for this company and we still do today,” Sams says. “There are only about seven major wood locker companies in the U.S., so we manufacture for one of those companies. We have lockers at Harvard, Yale, Texas State and Virginia Tech. We have done athletic lockers for new sports complexes, which are plastic laminate with raised panel doors, like you’d see in a country club.
“Later, when I thought I could pursue commercial work, I did. About 95 percent of what we do now is commercial and about 25 percent of that is lockers. We do very little residential work nowadays.”
Contractors are calling Sams, asking him to bid jobs, rather than just look at them. That’s a sign that his business has gotten the recognition it deserves from his years of hard work. He says the turnkey service is very appealing to contractors because they can always know what’s going on with one shop working on many tasks.
The company does not engage in marketing and relies completely on word-of-mouth referrals for sales. Sams is a member of iSqFt (www.iSqFt.com), a service for general and subcontractors to see what construction is going on in their area and to learn professional tips. He is also a member of the Cabinet Makers Association, which keeps him in touch with colleagues on a national scale.
About 70 percent of the company’s work is considered local, which includes all of Ohio and parts of Kentucky. But the company has connections and jobs set up all over the country. It completes about 90 jobs per year, but they are different in size where one hotel, for example, is a job in itself.
“Commercial-wise, we do a lot of hotels,” Sams says. “We have contracts for three Ohio hotels right now in 2015 with contractors and builders, the Hampton Inn in Cincinnati, Fairfield Inn in Columbus and also the Holiday Inn in northern Cincinnati.
“This Holiday Inn is nearby for us and it’s a flagship hotel being the only one in the country with a chapel along with it. There are four or five bridal suites. They’re going after the wedding market and it’s a whole new approach for Holiday Inn. We’re doing the restaurant and all the millwork; it’s kind of cool.”
The company also provides casework for retailers such as DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse). Another part of the business is church and clergy work. Sams’ background as a preacher helps him relate and get the job done right.
“One of our contractors does a lot of church buildings, so we usually get all of those. We are doing work in a church right now in Dayton, the Christian Life Center; we are doing all of the millwork there. Because of my church background, it makes it easy for us to deal with churches. We know what they’re thinking.”
Sams is planning to hire a production manager in the next few months, with any luck. “Finding employees is a challenge right now. I would bring in three guys today, if I could find them,” he says.
The shop looks like an SCM showroom. Sams has a strong relationship with the company, participating in its “Lunch & Learn” program by hosting prospective buyers at his shop for machinery demonstrations.
Sams isn’t the least bit apprehensiv e about being friendly with his competitors. He’s quick to help them out and feels there is plenty of work to go around.
“There are companies that bid jobs and every so often we will lose one because of that, but we really don’t find competition being that big a deal for us,” Sams says. “I don’t know if it’s because of the arena we work in with the contractors or whatnot, but we don’t find competition to be a big deal in this area. And we have a good relationship with all of our competitors. We know them and they know us. I could knock on all of their doors and they’d say hi and welcome me and the same thing here.”
A very good year
Sams says he expects to gross close to $1.5 million this year. “In 2015 we will almost double our gross sales from 2014,” he says. “Our anticipation for 2016 is to grow another 50 percent beyond this year, if not more than that.
“We have a plan to hire more individuals in 2015 and additional ones in 2016. Another part of the reason for the move and relocation is to streamline what we’re doing in-house. Our actual in-house staffing and employee base is pretty good. In other words, we should be able to produce the product and get it out the door. We are going to hire a production manager and installers to install the product since I install and do not sub that out.”
The company has a new product that’s being well-received. It is a hidden storage shelf for valuables that releases from the bottom with a magnetic key. Sams has partnered with another company to make the product available through major retail outlets in the sporting goods and furniture industries.
Finally, Sams sings the praise of running a manufacturing business in the Buckeye State.
“Ohio is a very positive place to own and run a business,” he says. “We do not have some of the regulations they have in other parts of the country, such as the Northeast and West Coast, so it’s not as tough. The area that we just moved into very open to bringing in new businesses, so they have been very welcoming to us.”
Contact: The Woodworking Shop, 1195 Mound Road, Miamisburg, OH 45342. Tel: 513-330-9663. www.thewoodworkingshop.com
This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue.