Peter Pomerantz, principal of Pomerantz Woodworking in Waitsfield, Vt., didn’t set out to be a woodworker, though he was certainly prepared for it.
“I was basically raised in the woods of Vermont. I still make maple syrup with my family in the house I grew up at. I still spend the spring cutting, splitting and stacking wood. My parents were kind of back-to-the-landers so that led me initially into a career in wilderness education. Then as I got closer to wanting to have a family, I decided to bring what was beautiful about nature inside with woodworking,” says Pomerantz.
Established in 2007, Pomerantz Woodworking employs three craftsmen and serves the residential and commercial markets. The custom cabinet shop grossed about $300,000 in 2013.
Pomerantz built his family home in the late 1990s, then started making cabinets as a side job. He built a shop, hired an employee and started a print-oriented marketing campaign that really got the ball rolling.
“We’re really fortunate right now. We’ve been super busy and we’re really growing and have a whole calendar year of work lined up. I did a lot of marketing professionally right at the beginning and it really paid off,” says Pomerantz.
Building rustic contemporary
The shop’s mainstay is residential kitchen cabinets followed by bathroom remodels and built-ins. Commercial projects, which account for only about 5 percent of the total work, include coffee shops and small retail stores. Vermont residents make up half of the company’s clientele. To guard against putting all his eggs in one basket, Pomerantz is always trying to widen the shop’s geographic market.
“Most of our clientele is in the Northeast, but we’ve been all the way down to northern New Jersey and the Philadelphia area. We’re in a pretty good spot where we can be in Boston, Connecticut and New York pretty quickly. The majority of my work in  was with New York City clients, but it’s not that way every year.”
The volume of work has always been pretty steady, averaging about one kitchen per month. Pomerantz attributes this to being fair with his pricing.
“I try to price according to two things I take into consideration, which are the market value on other quotes from commercially-made cabinets combined with what it actually costs us to build. But I try to do more of what the value on the market would be versus what it costs me in labor, materials and profits to make.”
The shop promotes its use of locally grown maple, walnut and butternut and will build in any style as long as the customer is paying. “I would say our standard in common would be more of a rustic contemporary. People want a lot of clean lines, but with a rustic look. But there is a great lean towards traditional designs as well,” notes Pomerantz.
On sales and downtime
Pomerantz emphasizes the value of his cabinetry in every sales pitch.
“I basically tell our clients that if they went to a retailer and required the same specifications like inset doors and drawers, the soft-close hardware and everything else like glass doors, additional accents and moldings, that they can expect to pay a higher price because I don’t have their markup. My clients get more for their dollar.”
Pomerantz learned early on to stay busy whenever sales are sluggish and make valuable use of downtime.
“Sometimes I stay busier when things are slow because I’m always building something for our design showroom or I’m working on something marketing-related and that could be community service of some sort like building something for one of the schools my kids are in just so I can be in the public eye of doing something good. Or I’ll start doing some kind of improvement around the shop, whether it’s configuring machines and space or setting up tools or dust collection.
“When thing slow down, I can usually get furniture pieces through the shop. Someone a while back wanted a table I wasn’t able to do when I was too busy before with a large kitchen, so I was able to complete that to fill some of that downtime.”
Pomerantz Woodworking is currently housed in a two-story commercial building. There’s an office and showroom on the second floor with a picture window exposing the shop floor below. Pomerantz has been improving the place one day at a time and is about to install a new spray booth. The shop is well-equipped, but Pomerantz hopes to add a large wide-belt sander and a CNC machine.
“My challenge now is finding resources and capital to invest in equipment,” he says. “When I started, I didn’t take out any business loans and no family members endowed me with large sums of money. It was really pretty out-of-pocket with initial startup so I would like to find sources for funds to get larger equipment.
“The state of Vermont really values its work and landscape and there’s a significant amount of money they’re willing to give businesses that are involved in farm or forestry products to better serve their clientele with value-added products, so I’m trying to apply for grants.”
Sharing what he knows
Pomerantz enjoys passing along his knowledge of the land and the craft with clients and aspiring woodworkers. He recently formalized an internship program with the nearby Harwood Union High School in Morewood, Vt.
“We have just brought on three interns from the local high school. They are going to go through a set of skills for me and they have to write a report at the end to get school credit for it. I’m tying in what I used to do in wilderness education with what I do now.
“I’m trying to make the business a community resource locally while serving the needs of the higher-end population.”
Pomerantz has a pretty clear view of what it takes to be successful. “You need communication with everyone in the chain from the clients to employees, suppliers and financers,” he says. “It’s critical that you enjoy working with people of different personalities and with different goals.”
Contact: Pomerantz Woodworking, 1675 Main St., Waitsfield, VT 05673. Tel: 802-496-9751. www.pomerantzwoodworking.com
This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue.