Established in 1985, Bay Custom Cabinets is a family-based custom woodworking business owned by Dan O’Bannon, working alongside his son Matthew and nephew Ian. Located in Watsonville, Calif., the company offers high-end cabinetry and furniture to general contractors and homeowners throughout Santa Cruz and its neighboring counties.
Focused on customer satisfaction, the business maintains a solid reputation based on the quality of its product and the expediency and manner in which it gets the job done at a competitive and reasonable price.
“It’s been challenging, to say the least,” O’Bannon says. “We’ve had ups and downs, but the last 28 years that we’ve been in business it’s been that way. We’ll be slammed, then we’ll have two weeks of slow time when we have to go out and be creative in how we find work. But through this past recession, a main contractor nearby has kept us going.”
The early days
Born in Los Angeles, O’Bannon went to work in a cabinet shop in Santa Cruz when he was 23.
“My father and grandfather were carpenters and I have always liked working with wood. In high school, I took shop class and in college I built sets, so when I was 23 I decided I wanted to work in a cabinet shop.”
After 10 years of working for another employer, he opened a small shop in Capitola, Calif. O’Bannon was 32 at the time and jobs all over Santa Cruz County started to flow in. Demand necessitated a move to a bigger shop. He finally settled on a 2,000-sq.-ft. shop in Soquel. In the process of expansion, he began to train his two brothers, Jeff and Larry, as apprentices. Production soon tripled.
Another expansion followed. This time, O’Bannon wanted to live where worked, so he and Matthew purchased a three-acre property in Watsonville in 1998. The shop is still a work in progress, but features a 5,000-sq.-ft. machine and bench room, plus plenty of space for offices and storage. A new finishing room is under construction, which is an addition to the shop’s services.
“We have a new room with a spray booth coming,” O’Bannon says. “We’ve lost a lot of work because we haven’t finished in the past. Our customers will go into these big-box stores and they will offer them this big package with a baked-on finish that you can’t even do in California and they sell them on it.”
Most of the shop’s orders come from referrals and repeat customers. About 95 percent are for the residential market, three-quarters of which are classified as remodels. Commercial jobs, though few and far between, include work at a local bank and a school.
“We do a lot of remodeling jobs. That seems to be popular because most clients want to stay in their existing neighborhood. But most of these are total remodels where they gut the home entirely,” O’Bannon says.
Many of the jobs involve full custom kitchens with cabinetry, stove hoods, islands and bars. But there are a fair share of requests for bathroom vanities and built-in bookshelves.
The shop is working mostly with alder and cherry. O’Bannon says there is usually a cost factor involving finishing choices for clients on a budget so they will go for paint-grade material. Reclaimed lumber is becoming a popular request.
“In the ’70s and ’80s, dark oak was real popular. Now people want alder rather than oak because it’s not as grainy and because you can stain it any shade or leave it natural. It’s universal as far as color.”
Shaker-style doors have been a popular seller for about 15 years. A newer trend is incorporating contrast into a room, such as a traditional kitchen with an ornate island in the center. O’Bannon feels this reflects clients’ desires to have a little bit of every style in their home.
“We feel our designs are right in the middle of the road as far as being traditional and modern and that’s kind of where we’d like to be. We’re a production shop, a small operation, so we can and want to produce things quickly.”
Employees are cross-trained in the shop and all are capable taking a project through the design and estimating phase through final installation. Designs are drawn by hand and O’Bannon prefers to build with a story pole for its reliability.
O’Bannon says he’s friends with the competition. They get together to share tips and equipment. He holds up his fingers and says, “these are the best 10 tools you can have,” but also strives to keep the shop up to date with modern machinery.
Working day by day
O’Bannon says he tries to keep things simple, focusing on individual jobs as they come in. He hasn’t had much luck lately making long-term plans because the economy has fluctuated so much recently. The overall goal has been to produce products of the highest quality and keep pace with the orders as they come in.
“It seems that since the last recession things have gotten better. In 2007 it had seemed like everyone was feeling it and we didn’t feel it for a couple of years and then it started to slow up in 2010 and 2011. Luckily we’re small enough where we don’t need a ton of work to stay busy, but we also go through it pretty quick.”
O’Bannon would like to improve the shop’s high-tech approach. While he prefers a hands-on approach, he believes that a better understanding of computer technology might serve him better as an additional tool. He says he has an open mind when it comes to cabinetmaking as unique situations come up all of the time.
“The biggest challenge is keeping the work in here. Our marketing is all a work in progress. We are working on our website. In this day and age, we have to get our website up to speed.”
Contact: Bay Custom Cabinets, 379 Calabasas Road, Watsonville, CA 95076. Tel: 831-724-9473. www.baycustomcabinets.com
This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue.