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Small shop, big business

Chuck Bloodgood runs a small family business that's been taken over by machines. Big, expensive machines — about $1 million worth — have allowed Bloodgood to skimp on employees, yet match the productivity of other custom cabinetry and millwork shops with twice as many workers.

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Bloodgood runs Architectural Cabinets Inc. with the help of his wife, Sandy, and 19-year-old son, Justin, in Ruskin, Fla. They seem outnumbered in a shop that features a Biesse Rover 20 CNC point-to-point, Biesse Selco EB-70 beam saw, Altendorf F45 sliding table saw, Omal 1300 insert dowel borer and SCM K203 edgebander (to list only a few).

How can a small shop afford so many major purchases? First, by investing all profits back into the business, says Bloodgood. But also by sticking to a plan, started when the shop opened almost a decade ago, of creating a self-sufficient operation to compete with the biggest and the best.

"We don't rely on outside manufacturers of any kind, except for hardware and material," says Bloodgood. "I started with a shop straight out of the Flintstones — with a table saw, chop saw and a couple of routers. Then, year after year, we've re-invested in machinery to increase productivity. When we got the point-to-point, our volume increased significantly. What used to take 15 minutes suddenly took 15 seconds.

"With our beam saw, we're cranking out the boxes so fast that we're waiting for the doors."

Bloodgood doesn't like to wait, so it's no surprise he's looking for a machine to make raised panel doors faster than humanly possible.

Change of plans
Blame it on Mother Nature. That's basically how Bloodgood ended up in central Florida.

After high school, Bloodgood took his first job at Universal Custom Millwork in Amsterdam, N.Y. He stayed five years, learning and appreciating the 32mm system of building cabinets. That led to a job offer from a millwork shop in Tennessee, so Bloodgood sold his home, packed up his belongings and started driving south. But a snowstorm caused a detour to his brother's home near Ruskin, where he established his own shop about two weeks later.

In the early days, Bloodgood took whatever jobs he could get — building bathroom vanities, refacing cabinets and remodeling kitchens. Today's clientele includes mostly high-end homeowners who request built-ins and kitchens. His current backlog is anywhere from three months to a year.

Usually when Bloodgood begins a remodeling job, he'll start drafting off the original footprint of a kitchen and work on making it more functional, unless the owner wants to completely change things around. After drawings are approved and a contract is signed, the shop's turnaround time is typically four to six weeks.

Bloodgood estimates that repeat clients account for 30 percent of the shop's work. Another 20 percent comes from a local builder, while Bloodgood will occasionally seek work from architects and designers. Since there are only a few cabinet shops in the area, competition is not a problem, he said.

Most jobs are within a one-hour radius of Ruskin. Bloodgood has had out-of-state offers, but doesn't accept them because he can't afford to lose time in the shop. "It's our schedule," he says. "When we leave here, we're down, and nothing gets done."

Bloodgood typically gets $15,000 to $30,000 for a kitchen job. "We're not struggling, but at the same time the same kitchen we're doing here would sell for $10,000 to $15,000 more in New York," he says. "It seems to be getting better because a lot of people are moving down from the North and are already adjusted to [higher prices]. The northern people, when you give them a price, it's not an issue. We've had customers say we don't charge enough, so I guess we're reasonable."

Tied to the shop
Bloodgood's first shop was small, only 1,200 sq. ft., and it soon got to the point where he was losing work because he didn't have the space to handle it. He purchased his current property, about an acre-and-a-half, six years ago and has about 15,000 sq. ft. to work with. His shop occupies about 5,800 sq. ft., and the rest will be used for a showroom.

The shop operates 13 to 14 hours per day, six days a week (Sundays are reserved for church and yard work). Bloodgood likes the long hours and has no plans on scaling back. With plans for the showroom, which will require a concrete pour of nearly 1,000 sq. ft. and full-scale kitchen displays for a grand opening later this year, he's got the throttle down.

"The main reason we want to do the showroom is to not have to impose on [previous] customers to show their kitchen," says Bloodgood. "We'll have some small pieces of furniture for sale, but for the most part it will be for clients to see the quality of our cabinets."

Sandy has always done the accounting and bookwork for the business, but in 2001 when the couple's youngest of their three reached school age, she began working in the shop and helps with installations.

Justin has been working in the shop since he was 12, but chances of him staying are slim since he's studying criminal justice at Hillsborough Community College in Sun City Center, Fla. Bloodgood is supportive of whatever his son wants to do.

"Justin's been a huge help, but school is more important than him being here," says Bloodgood.

Bloodgood isn't sure what he'll do if Justin leaves. But no phone calls please. He's not ready to start hiring.

"If I start bringing people on, the cost of the product will have to go up. I try to be as fair as I can to the homeowner. I'm not going to get rich doing what I do, not unless you slam 20 guys on the floor."

And that's not likely to happen. "I love what I do," adds Bloodgood. "At the end of a job, to stand back and hear our customers respond ,"

"We've had customers cry," Sandy chimes in. "We've been very blessed."

Contact: Architectural Cabinets Inc., 2603 14th Ave. S.E., Ruskin, FL 33570. Tel: 813-645-7055.

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