Corporate guy in a cabinet shop - Keys to success

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Keys to success
Westra credits his employees, many who have been working at Vermont Custom Cabinetry since it was founded, for its success. He referred to them as true artists and repeatedly praised their work ethic. Without their talents, Westra doubts that Vermont Custom Cabinetry would even be in business.

When Westra bought the business, the lack of an Internet presence was glaring. The Web site, www.vermont cabinetry.com, was added about a year ago and gives the business legitimacy, Westra said.

"We had to get something up and it had to look professional. It has really enabled us to go out and market our business," he said. "We've also started to do a little bit of advertising in Vermont Life [a quarterly magazine published by the state of Vermont], which promotes our Web site. A customer can find a list of dealers on our Web site, and once they get together, the design and order process begins."

In the two years that Westra has owned the business, orders have increased enough to justify the employment of 11 full-time and three part-time workers. Westra says he's following a simple formula.

"It's our attention to detail," he said. "Our first priority is to give customers exactly what they're looking for. We had a woman come in a few months ago with an antique drawer, painted with milk paint; it was like a mustard-yellow over red with a rub through on it. We're very ecumenical. Whatever you like is beautiful. We keep our personal opinions to ourselves. They had already tried Wood Mode, which couldn't re-create the finish. We don't do milk paint, everything is conversion varnish, but we'll try to give the look.

"We made a sample and got approval. We delivered it on a Saturday; she called on Monday morning just to tell us how beautiful it was. Our finish suppliers are Bradley Labs in Brattleboro, [Vt]. They sell nationally but they're only 20 minutes away, so when we need to do custom colors, I can run down there and give them a sample and they'll turn it around in a few days."

Staying put?
Westra didn't foresee the day when he would own a cabinet shop but he knew he would at some point buy his own business. As it turns out, he's having a really good time running a cabinet shop.

"It's an incredibly enjoyable business because it's a beautiful product, something you can be proud of. Your customers love it. When you show up, it's Christmas, so in that way it is very rewarding."

The question has to be asked, though — if he hasn't stayed put in one place during a 26-year span, why is Vermont Custom Cabinetry going to be any different?

"This is what I am going to do until I retire," said Westra. "It's the quality of life and it's close to home. It's also a chance to take everything you have learned over the past 30 years at all these businesses and put it to use in your own business. Previous businesses I did not own; this is the first time and place where I am out on my own. It's about time that I put the money where my mouth is."