Trailblazers in Portland

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So two guys start a woodworking business out of a garage and, 30 years later, they’ve got a 26,000-sq.-ft. shop and 40 employees.

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That’s the short story behind Legend Custom Woodworking in Portland, Ore., which does most of its work for medical facilities, commercial food services, restaurants, offices, schools and high-rise condos.

The two guys are Gordon Lundquist and Don Gunstone, who founded the company in 1984 and, to this day, take turns managing the business. Through thick and thin, they’ve subscribed to the basic tenants of providing exceptional service with dependability and it’s gotten them pretty far.

Employees to employers

Originally from Seattle, Gunstone says he developed a strong appreciation for woodworking in school, but had a love for the trade as a child when he built model airplanes and birdhouses. He started out as a carpenter, before convincing a cabinetmaker to hire him. It was a good move because he enjoyed the work more, but no so good because the shop soon went out of business.

Gunstone started building decks and anything else to make ends meet when he crossed paths with Lundquist, who was doing the same thing. They teamed up and became partners.

“At first we worked out of Gordon’s garage at his house, but there was too much noise, too many smells and the neighbors were very unhappy,” Gunstone says. “We went to my garage at my house for a while after that. But there was not enough room there, so we rented a small property for a while right outside of Portland, then went into a larger commercial building nearby. In April 1993 we had the opportunity to purchase the building we’re in now.

From left, project manager Larry Lotter meets with co-owners Gordon Lundquist and Don Gunstone.

“We never had a business plan. The only plan we ever had was to service our customers. Our core values are what we are about and we want to make sure our customers get a quality product.”

Portland and beyond

The company today specializes in commercial work, supplying casework, millwork, windows, doors and staircases. It works closely with architects and builders and has extensive experience incorporating stone, solid-surface, metal and glass components into its projects.

“When we say we do commercial woodworking, that’s very broad,” says Gunstone. “We do a lot of cafeteria and food service outlets, we do one-off pieces such as tables and prep stations for restaurants and much more.

“We are probably the second- or third-largest shop in the area depending on the economy. Last year we were second.”

Portland is the primary market, but San Francisco and Seattle are also in play.

Legend promotes the use of FSC-certified building materials and helps clients achieve LEED certification. “We’ve done quite a bit with reclaimed fir from demolition jobs. That’s been really hot in this area the past few years in this area,” Gunstone says.

For the most part, Gunstone says Portland has a small-town feel where everyone knows everyone. “I would say that, generally speaking, it’s pretty comfortable doing business in Portland. I’d say that the area is pro-business.

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“A good portion of people that live in the area are very interested in fishing, hiking, camping, mountain-climbing and skiing. A lot of my employees have come here from California to be near the mountains and the ocean. The coldest it ever gets here is maybe 20 degrees. You can golf or go bicycling in January. You can’t do that [comfortably] in Detroit.”

A modern shop

When about 75 percent of your work is supplied by referrals and repeat customers, advertising isn’t a major concern. And there’s no grand plan for future growth, according to Gunstone.

The company has annual revenue of $5 million to $7 million and has invested heavily in top-quality industrial machinery.

“Our goal for the last couple of years has been to keep on top of new machinery to stay on the cutting edge,” Gunstone says. “We have a lot of modern German and Italian machines, like edgebanders, saws and CNCs. Most of them come from Stiles. These machines are very innovative and very necessary for our production schedule.

“The recent recession didn’t hurt us that much. I can honestly say that we did OK; we didn’t have a lot of layoffs. Things did get much more competitive, though. Everybody seemed to have dropped their price. We never dropped our price during the recession.”

Gunstone can still appreciate the early years when there were no employees. But the shop has a low turnover rate, so the partners must be doing something right.

“Things can get difficult with so many people on staff. A shop of around 10 would probably be easier. We run 30 to 40 jobs at any given time,” Gunstone says.

A sampling of the shop's commercial work.

“But we have a saying around here: ‘We don’t get paid until we nail something to the wall.’ Until the customer pays, we don’t get a check. We have to get out there and complete it.”

Needless to say, the partners are sticklers for meeting deadlines.

“We believe our success comes from keeping our core values, which reflect being loyal to clients, keeping up on industry changes such as in technology and keeping your quality at a very high level.

“I’ve really tried all my life to not have a shoulda, woulda or coulda attitude. I’ve taken those words out of my vocabulary. You just do the best you can with each day you have,” Gunstone says.

Contact: Legend Custom Woodworking, 17415 S.E. Kendall Ct., Portland, OR 97216. Tel: 503-669-1000. www.legendcustomwoodworking.com

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue.

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