About 20 years ago, I started my journey into learning how to build cabinets. It began in a very small shop right behind my house. The building was about 25 x 40 feet and I created a ton of products out of that little shop before moving to a larger space.
Our first year however, was spent in that small shop and we blew through the first few thresholds of growth in no time.
I specifically remember my journey from starting with nothing to hitting the $250,000 mark on an annual basis. Although it was a rather quick journey, as we hit this threshold at about the 4 month mark of being in business, initially it was a tough time.
Looking back, we had zero systems in place and it was only by brute force and awkwardness that we got product out. During each job, we learned through mistakes. At the time there was not a single person that worked with us who understood how to build cabinets efficiently or effectively. Our cabinets had no consistent quality, we were just focused on banging out orders as fast as they came in.
Owner duties were split between myself and my partner. I handled the sales, drawings, and cutting the plywood. He handled the back end of assembly, doors, outfitting, drawers, and other tasks. It was a tough time!
The Normal Path
Normally, when you’re growing through this phase, one of the first things you learn to set up correctly is your books. Then you begin to look for a drawing software that can handle your cut list; because up to this point you’ve been doing most everything manually. In fact, you might not even be drawing your cabinets on a software.
One of the downfalls of the normal path is the ‘yes man’ mentality.
By this I mean that you’re a person who says yes to any project that’s even close to what you’re doing. As long as there’s some semblance of the project resembling a cabinet, you say yes to doing it. Even going so far as to saying yes to anything that has to do with wood!
We all understand, you have to do what you can to pay the bills, to grow your business, and to get your name out there. But the yes man phase is definitely something I do not miss!
Many people also refer to this threshold as the ‘friends and family network’.
If you’re starting your business from scratch then you definitely know what I mean. During this time you lean on support from your family and friends who may have a project going and allow you to come in and do the work for much less than you would like to charge. However, that’s one of the normal parts of growing in this business, doing work because it seems familiar.
The Accelerated path
What’s more important to focus on is the accelerated path. The goal I have in mind is to get you through these thresholds as quickly as possible, in order to position your company in a strong way to handle the next threshold or project that comes your way. My hope is that this becomes a snowball effect, and that your company grows from a strong position, to one that’s even stronger.
On the accelerated path, you need to start by identifying standard procedures. Companies don’t normally spend a lot of time on their SOPs at the start. Often they’re handwritten, fluid, and change on a daily basis.
This is fine for the start, however, you should get in the habit of identifying a process that needs to be standardized so that you set your company up for success in the long run. Standard procedures may not last very long and change with your ever growing company and for this reason you shouldn’t spend an extended amount of time creating them.
Build Your Team
Start regularly posting ads for holes that your company needs to fill. Positions like: a new operator, draftsman, or laborer. Whatever the job may be make sure you’re posting in advance so that you’re ahead of the game when the time comes. If you’re unsure how to build your team, check out our guide on hiring employees effectively. Even if you don’t need to fill roles immediately, make sure that you’re collecting people’s names and information in a spreadsheet. That way, when the time comes that you need to be making hires, you’re not scrambling around for new applications, rather you already have a pool of people to contact.
Compile the Questions
Pay very close attention in this phase to the questions that customers are asking about your product. Questions like: What are the current design trends? What are the materials you use? There will always be redundant questions which you’ll hear time and time again on every project. At this phase, you won’t be doing too much with these questions, but you need to make sure that you have a solid answer for each of these questions. I suggest that you collect the most frequently asked questions in some kind of google document or sheet so that you can refer to them later when you begin to create marketing materials to send to customers.
Play to your Forte
In the early stages, identify what your strong suit is. Try to focus your efforts on that particular task or product as much as possible. In the normal path, we have the ‘yes man’ mentality that I referred to earlier, however that’s the brute force and awkwardness method.
Instead, identify what you want to focus on early so that you can move your company toward that niche. Picture that strong suit as your specific island and move in that direction. It doesn’t mean that you can’t take projects outside your niche, just don’t lose focus of the ultimate goal.
In the early stages, identify what your strong suit is.
Sales. Start changing your mindset away from: I only need to sell when it gets slow. On the accelerated path, you have to make sure it’s a continuous effort to be successful. During the busy times as well as the slow times, you have to be continually selling in order to be successful.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey from $0 - $250k and i’d love to hear some comments on what you endured to get through this phase of business. It can be an exciting time as often we’re just running on adrenaline!