Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.
What do you do and how long have you been doing it? I do cabinets and furniture. I've been doing it locally since 1993 and overall since 1975.
How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley? I've lived here since 1988. I'm from Philadelphia originally, and I came up here from the Bay Area, where I attended art school.
What inspired you to go into this line of work? I've always been good with my hands and I took to it. I started out with a paint brush and then the paint brush turned into a hammer. And somewhere when I was using a hammer, I discovered hardwood. When I discovered hardwood, something clicked in me, and it become a passion for me. I come from an artistic angle. Once I got to a certain level of proficiency, I worked in larger shops with the big boys. I had a passion to learn to glue boards together, and from that I started doing cabinetry. My first real job was renovation, but I have experience in cabinetry and have done mostly kitchens and build-ins.
What decision or action would you change if you could do it again? I might have gotten more into the limelight. I work from word of mouth and I might have done more promotion to begin with. I'm driven from within and working with my customers. I've always kept a low overhead. I wouldn't be doing this now if I had a bigger shop and employees. I would have been out of business a few years ago. If you're doing a job for wineries or a big business, you need to turn out a couple-hundred thousand cabinets, and that's a little too much to chew off for me.
What's the toughest business decision you've made? To stay small. I can't handle low end or production stuff, because it takes too much time. I don't have lower-wage employees I can pass work on to. I have a fairly high-end clientele, so I can't do some of the stuff production shops do. I can't compete apples to apples with some of the larger shops, but then again, I make quality. I have to turn some jobs away. I'll do an estimate for anyone, so with some of the low-end stuff I'm fairly certain I'm not going to get the job. I've wrestled with advertising, but then I would end up doing more bids and estimates for jobs I won't end up doing. I have a barn on my property now, and I work out of my barn. When the housing slump came, I was able to keep my overhead low.
Who are your competitors? Tom Swift at Swift Cabinet & Millwork can do stuff I can't do; bigger shop. He does some very high-end stuff, and he's got the shapers and bigger equipment. Brothers Custom Cabinets is another one. I've had them do some work for me.
What are your goals? I think the economy can support me now, so in five years I think having a couple of employees and guiding them through the job would be possible. I'd like to keep the rest of my fingers on my hands.
What training or education did you need? I've been a tradesman most of my life. I was in my 40s when I went to art school. Wood is an artistic medium for me. It came from doing one thing after another. I made a point of teaching myself, first with skillsaw, a jig saw and a belt sander. Then I started working for cabinet shops in Miami and doing restoration in Cambridge, Mass. I did cabinetry for a friend in Atlanta, as well.
What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs? Go work for someone you respect. You need to learn what end of a screwdriver to hold. You want to learn from someone who knows what they're doing. There is a certain amount of entitlement that comes from too good of an education, and you'll never be in a perfect situation.
To suggest ideas for this column, about businesses that are at least five years old, contact reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.