Kelsey Crisp, owner and operator of KC's Woodworking & Countertops in Princeton, Ky., knows firsthand that bigger doesn't always mean better. After having built a woodworking business that at its peak put out around 200,000 parts per year, he found that pricing pressures created by global market competition at that level were less than kind. So, he reinvented his company, merging custom cabinetry with solid surface countertops to develop a niche that afforded him a sound living and a profession he loves.
The Rise of a Businessman
Crisp grew up in the construction business, and woodworking was a hobby long before he ever made it a career. When he got older, he decided to dedicate his life to the trades and attended Murray State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in vocational education. His intention was to share his love of carpentry, which he specialized in. However, after graduating in 1982, he was drawn to the business world and started a woodworking company.
"After college I started doing trophy components — plaques, bases, different items — a lot of custom stuff," he explained. "I always tended to go toward the custom stuff that trophy manufacturers couldn't buy out of a catalog when they wanted something unique."
He soon built a successful niche in custom wood parts and was doing what he loved. He spent the next two years fabricating intricate parts for trophies and shipping them around the country, and he did custom cabinetry on the side. His business was doing so well that he was having trouble finding cartons for shipping. He heard about an area light fixture company that kept a lot of cartons on hand in Hopkinsville, Ky. Little did he know that innocent trip to see if he could buy some obsolete boxes would end up putting him at the helm of a mass production effort that was eventually pumping out 200,000 wood parts a year.
"I went to Thomas Industries, which would later become Thomas Lighting, to buy some of their obsolete boxes and ended up meeting the purchasing agent," said Crisp. "He asked me what I did and I told him about my custom parts business, and when all was said and done, he ended up letting me quote a couple of parts."
Crisp was awarded a contract that changed his life. "The first order was for 10,000 pieces and it just kind of blew me away," he said. "There I was, fresh out of college with not a lot of money, handling such a big order. That was my start in mass production woodworking."
The parts KC's were producing were largely vanity light bars that would be used in lighting products that would be distributed by big box stores.
"That started in 1986 as a one-man operation," said Crisp. "After that initial order, I progressively began to hire employees and we started really branching off in that direction.
"I worked with their designers closely," he continued. "They would sketch up parts and I would do a lot of prototypes for them, which kind of just opened up their market. It was good for them to have someone just 30 miles down the road that could do a lot of custom stuff that could then be mass produced to compete with the overseas market."