Reece installed this curved Cambria staircase not just once for a model home, but twice, when a customer requested the exact same staircase a few years later.
While the shop does not yet fabricate quartz, Heartland Cabinet does template and install Cambria for the Chicago area.
Fabricating is more than cutting and glueing at Heartland. All of the shop’s fabricators are also trained to template and install both cabinetry and surfacing projects.
Surfacing options at Heartland include Cambria quartz surfacing.
Surfacing options at Heartland also include laminate surfacing.
According to Reece, the addition of the shop’s MultiCAM CNC machine has increased production through significant improvements in shop efficiencies.
Besides shop, warehouse and office space, Reece’s new facility houses more than 1,200 sq. ft. of showroom space.
Heartland Cabinet Supply Inc., in Crystal Lake, Ill., outside of Chicago, was started by Gary Reece in 1999, after leaving a prominent sales position with a large national cabinet manufacturer.
He simply wanted to work for himself again, and after the first two years of touch-and-go with the new business, Reece found that his venture had turned into a success. It would continue to grow not only in size, but opportunity as well by adding countertop fabrication to its list of services.
The cabinet shop started as a one-man operation out of Reece’s home, and his wife came onboard the business about three months after getting things going. With his wife as a permanent addition to Heartland, Reece decided it was time to move the business out of the home and found a small 1,900-sq.-ft. facility to house the shop, warehouse, showroom and offices. The company would eventually grow out of that shop, moving to its current 11,000-sq.-ft. facility in 2003.
The shop’s early business model grew out of stock and semicustom cabinetry, with a market niche working with other trade professionals. “Our bread and butter has been the professional builder/remodeler,” explained Reece. “Working with the trade professionals, the builders and making them happy while maintaining the happiness of their customers . . . is a balancing act. I always looked at it as having two customers. I found this was just something I personally excelled at, and that was the path I took.”
A NEW BUSINESS MODEL
After coming out of the first two years with a substantial amount of growth, Reece came across a local countertop fabrication business that wasn’t doing so well. This presented the opportunity to buy the shop, something he was greatly considering to help grow his own business and customer base. Initially, he wanted to purchase the entire shop, which would have created two separate businesses, but in the end decided to purchase the shop equipment, materials and customer list. Rather than two separate business ventures, Reece was operating a cabinet shop and fabrication facility all under one roof.
“It’s a perfect fit with cabinets,” said Reece. “I’m the type of guy that needs to control as much of the process as possible. I’m not a control freak, but if you let things out of your control, there are certain things you are not able to influence to produce the best finished product.”
The shop that Heartland Cabinet bought out was fabricating mostly laminate with a touch of solid surface, and that’s where Reece got started with countertops in 2001.
Out of the new business deal, Reece acquired a Midwest Automation postform cutting station, some templates, a customer list and some laminate and solid surface materials. “It was a good deal for us,” added Reece. “We’re still one of only a few shops that has a postform cutting station around here.”
In addition to what the shop had arranged to purchase in the deal, Reece also bought routers, saws and other equipment, including dust collection equipment, to supplement the initial investment and get the shop up and running to fabricate countertops. It continued to fabricate laminate and solid surface countertops, in addition to the still-growing cabinetry side of the business, when Heartland Cabinet Supply moved to its current facility.
TACKLING A GROWING MARKET
When the shop began fabricating solid surface, Reece began to get his shop workers certified to fabricate Corian and then just started looking for business. Today, the shop fabricates most major brands of solid surface, attributing that to market demand. “It’s a color-driven business,” said Reece. “We’re not particular to any one brand, so when a customer sees a color or a look they want, we’re happy to fabricate it for them.”
In addition to fabricating solid surface in the shop, Heartland is also one of the few facilities in the Chicago market that is a certified installer of Cambria quartz surfacing, which Reece added to the shop’s growing list of products in 2004.
Heartland does not fabricate the Cambria because Cambria has its own shop, and its business model does not allow for outside fabrication in the Chicago market. “We sell it, we template it, we draw it, they fabricate it, we pick it up and we install it,” explained Reece. “In our market, [Cambria’s] pricing strategy is that it’s all one price. It doesn’t matter the color or edge treatment. That makes it easy to sell.”
Although the Cambria is fabricated outside of the shop, all other fabrication stays in the facility, and the shop generally services a 25-mile radius coverage area performing its own templating and installations.
“We consider our market about a 25-mile radius from our building, but we’ve gone as far as Milwaukee, and right now we’re doing a project on the South Side of Chicago,” added Reece. “We’ve done a project up by Wrigley Field, too. We’ll travel two hours south for a job if need be. We go where our customers go, period.”
With a level of consumer dedication like that, shop efficiency is a must, especially when the farther away jobs come onto the radar. The shop currently handles the efficiencies with Moraware job management software, which incorporates the cabinetry and countertop jobs into one place; a MultiCam 5000 CNC machine, added to the shop in early 2005; and the ETemplate system. “I just can’t see doing the fabrication with anything other than these types of machines and tools,” said Reece. “It’s so darn competitive that you have to find every way to make a buck.”
While Reece cautions this type of machinery is not an inexpensive investment, he does advise that it’s necessary machinery, not only in time and shop efficiencies, but also in terms of accuracy.
“On every countertop, we’re electronic templating and then everything is done on the CNC,” said Reece. “It’s been an absolute benefit.”
Work that used to take a couple of hours with hand tools now takes only about 20 minutes with the shop’s digital technologies and CNC machining, according to Reece, but it took a bit of time to get the shop running this way.
The company started with ETemplate and AutoCAD a year before purchasing a CNC machine to get familiar with the digital processes in the shop. In this process, the company had a way to cut templates and lay those templates up to scribe and rout and for other needs. “Then, we bought our CNC,” said Reece. “There was actually a little bit of a learning curve, but pretty much all our guys can operate that now.”
ALL IN A DAY'S WORK
With a virtual one-stop-shop, as one would expect, Heartland Cabinet sees quite a bit of requests to do both the countertops and cabinets in homes. Not all of the business goes hand-in-hand and not every customer wants new cabinets and countertops at the same time, but it does account for a fair amount of the work. The business is split with about 65 percent going into the cabinetry side of things and countertops accounting for about 35 percent of those sales, which are about $1 million in annual sales, with the shop averaging about 30 countertop jobs per month.
The one-stop-shop idea, while a good marketing angle, isn’t a new concept to the industry . . . or to the consumer who witnesses the concept in just about every large box store.
“You can go to any kitchen and bath dealer or to the big stores and get a kitchen and a countertop, and there are people in this market who do what we do — there’s no doubt about it,” explained Reece. “The difference is when people come in to Heartland and they understand that we, start to finish, can help them. That’s a strong proposition. We are able to control the whole process and do as much as humanly possible to keep the customer satisfied and thrilled with what we do.
“We have a tagline we use here, ‘Think outside the big box,’ ” he continued. “We want people, before they head out to the box stores, to think about us, because oftentimes for as much as you would pay there, you’re going to get a lot better service here. That’s our service mark.”
STAYING ON TOP OF THE MARKET
It’s not news that the housing market is in a slump, with predictions across the board as to when the industry could start to see a notable turnaround, and staying on top of that slump isn’t easy; but having posted net sales of $2.7 million in 2007 (way up from first year sales just under $300,000), Reece apparently knows how to handle this economic decline.
When it comes to marketing the business, he has about 18 categories of lead generators and he tracks each of those carefully. “It’s interesting to see where the leads come from,” said Reece. “A big part of it is our current customers and referrals, and then the Internet is pretty good as well. We also advertise on the radio and we’re very involved in the community. You have to make yourself visible. It’s very important that if you’re a business, you find a role in the community. Not only does it make for a better place to live, but it’s good for business.”
In addition to lead tracking, advertising and community involvement, commercial work has also been bringing revenue since the residential market has been slipping. “We’re seeing and bidding on a lot of commercial projects, especially in healthcare,” said Reece. “The market is up and down. We’re seeing the high-end builders still building and we get some of that high-end work, too.”
Reece has also noticed consumers taking a longer time to pull the trigger than previously, but isn’t too worried as he noted that the Chicago market is relatively stable compared to other areas of the country. “It does have its highs and lows, but it doesn’t fluctuate like Florida, Arizona or California,” he said.