Skip to main content

Recession Buster: Diversification keeps California cabinet shop afloat

Brad Tucker has been a cabinetmaker and general contractor in Santa Ana, Calif., for nearly 25 years. During that time, he also worked at Laguna Tools for 10 years and as an independent contractor for Minimax. Two years ago, Tucker took the plunge and bought a CNC machine, seemingly a natural purchase for Tucker Woodworking, his flourishing cabinet shop. Unfortunately, not long after, the recession hit.

Image placeholder title

“Things were really cranking in California so I bought a Flexicam CNC machine,” says Tucker. “I paid nearly $100,000 for it and, of course, the recession hit and I still have $1,800-a-month payments on the CNC and the shop. There is just not enough cabinet work out there; the phone used to ring off the hook …I used to turn down a good 50 percent of what [fell] into my lap and now we’re just scratching for anything we can get.”

For years, Tucker, a lifelong surfer, built his own wooden surfboards, strictly as a hobbyist. But in 2005, Clark Foam, the largest supplier of surfboard blanks, suddenly closed its doors because of alleged safety concerns. In an instant, the surfboard-building industry was turned upside-down. For Tucker, the demise of Clark Foam evolved into a business opportunity and a chance to pay his bills.

“I’ve got to keep this CNC running,” he admits. “The machine doesn’t care that there’s a recession. I don’t want to send it back, put a dig on my credit, so I work harder. I thought, hey, let’s just make some wood surfboards and sell some. So we made a kit, sold a few, and it just sat there sort of dormant. But more recently it has gotten a bit more desperate of a situation to keep my machine running, so now that little bit of money that it was making is looking pretty attractive. We’re cranking the thing up.

“In the beginning, my surfboard kits were nothing more than a frame cut on my CNC machine. But then I got together with Jack Young, a technical writer, who is also a surfer, who wrote a book about how to build a wood surfboard. So I asked him to write instructions for my frames and he’s done that and now we’ve put together a Web site and they’re selling pretty good.”

Tucker says his surfboard business now accounts for between 15 and 20 percent of his business income, but more importantly, it pays for his monthly CNC and shop costs.

“My hobby has taken care of a huge monkey on my back. And, eventually, I want to keep building it. Surfboards and the CNC have saved my business. When everything started going in the tank, my first thought was, ‘Oh my God, I just bought this thing.’ But in the end, I’d much rather build a surfboard than a cabinet.”

Contact: Wood Surfboard Supply Inc. Tel: 714-834-9968.

— Brian Caldwell

Related Articles