Turning dreams into reality is a slogan taken seriously at Lardieri’s Custom Woodworking in Lakewood, N.J. The custom shop has been dedicated to creating the finest residential and commercial cabinetry and furniture for 24 years.
“Everything that comes out of here is so beautiful and original. The artistic end is what I love about the business,” owner Robert Lardieri says. “Everyone is just so happy to see the final product. I just love showing it off. I have a lot of pride in what can be made out of just a pile of wood. We make our own dovetail drawers, moldings and doors. We do pretty much everything.”
Lardieri has an innate business sense. He perpetually thinks about where there’s a void in the market and incorporates what’s needed to keep business coming in. One example is his decision to begin offering an affordable line of stock cabinetry after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“I wanted to offer the stock cabinetry because with Sandy down the shore there was so much devastation in our area and the insurance companies and FEMA weren’t working the way people wanted. There were a lot of people who did not have big fancy homes that were just losing their homes because they didn’t have the money to rebuild and take care of what they had. Everything needed to be gutted and remodeled so we saw the market available towards less expensive cabinets,” Lardieri says.
AN EARLY ENTREPRENEUR
Originally from New Jersey’s Ocean County, Lardieri was hooked on woodworking after taking high school shop classes. He worked for his father-in-law, focusing on millwork, after graduation, and six years later started building cabinets in a rented garage. By 1993, he was officially a full-time shop owner. He’s had his current shop since 1994 and it has grown from 1,200 to 8,400 sq. ft. and features an elegant showroom and client meeting area.
Business growth didn’t happen overnight, but referrals brought in steady work. He’s had as many as 20 employees, but now has six.
“Our development was really a natural thing because it’s all referral work and little by little our client base just grew. We started with lots of smaller jobs, but now we can do bigger jobs and our client base is broad. We’ve done work in Washington, D.C., and we’ve got a job in Atlanta. We do a lot of work in Hoboken, N.J., and Manhattan.”
Lardieri says his dad, Don, was a big help in the building the business, putting in about 10 years after retiring from General Dynamics. “Dad was definitely a big part of this business. There was a time we were doing a double shift, a night crew, and he was running that for me to help get more production time in.”
The shop is about a 20-minute drive to the coast, filled with high-end summer homes, especially in the borough of Mantoloking, a highly populated barrier island undergoing heavy housing developments.
“We’re doing a job on Long Beach Island right now, the next barrier island around here. We’ll go wherever the work is,” Lardieri says. “We do a lot of summer homes, but we also do primary residence homes. There’s a lot of money on the ocean and a lot of builders use us for their interior work. We’re also looking at a job in Maine right now through one designer that works abroad. We do some commercial jobs for banks and doctors’ offices, but for the most part it’s high-end residential work.”
Finding skilled help is always a challenge, but Lardieri thinks his company has benefitted from working with a clean slate.
“We’ve taught everybody we have working in the shop now, except for one guy. That’s good because they learn our ways and we’re pretty specific on how things are done. We do what we can so they’ll stay and have had pretty good luck.”
The shop hasn’t made the move to CNC. Lardieri says the volume of work isn’t there yet, but would consider a purchase if it improves.
Customers can choose from a wide selection of domestic and exotic hardwoods and veneers, framed or frameless cabinetry styles, and dozens of door and drawer styles. Finishing options run the gamut from paint to stain. A dedicated in-house team does all installation.
“I tell people we can do anything you can dream up,” Lardieri says. “So if it’s something you can imagine, we can make it work. Then one of the things we always pay attention to is, of course, aesthetics and design, but also maximizing storage and maximizing the usage. So closets we’ll do a lot of hidden compartments and that kind of stuff.”
In the shoreline homes, white painted furniture has always been a top finish of choice. But Lardieri has seen a little variation with materials and colors to liven up, or dull down, the standard white look.
“Everything has gone to painted white, but there’s a lot of gray and light-blue and some green. There’s a trend going to painted panels that look worn. The reclaimed looks for the shore style are pretty popular and we work with that, too. We’ve gotten interesting material from church barns.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Lately, the shop has had gross sales of $800,000 to $900,000 per year. While business is relatively good, there are always new challenges.
“Even though we’re working with high-end clients, what’s happening now is price gouging,” Lardieri says. “Even people with a lot of money realize everyone else is shopping around. They know the people without money do it out of necessity and now they’re doing it, too. I can be working a kitchen deal and lose it over a $300 difference in a bid. It’s really frustrating. But I kind of have an idea of what to watch out for, especially when they tell me they’ve looked at a few places already.”
Lardieri recently added a one-stop shopping program, offering closet components, bathroom vanities and more. The idea is to lure customers away from the big box stores.
“Even in the big homes that we do, they’ll spend their money on the master bathrooms and the kitchens, but they don’t want to spend a ton of money on the laundry room or kids’ bathrooms. We needed to come up with an idea like one-stop shopping here so we carry a couple of lines of furniture vanities, hardware and stock items. We deal with a few companies to bring our price point down.”
Further expansion and more products offerings are on the table.
“I’d like to throw more guys in the shop and I definitely want to remain versatile,” Lardieri adds. “We started custom and stock closets recently and I want to offer more things. Ideally I’d like to expand on what we’ve been doing and offer more things to the market and eventually have my own building. We’ve been renting for 24 years. Seeing what we’ve done over the years, I won’t rest until that happens.”
Contact: Lardieri’s Custom Woodworking, 1830 Swarthmore Ave., Lakewood, NJ 08701. Tel: 732-905-6334. http://lardieriswoodworking.com
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue.