The decision in 2007 to buy a custom cabinetry business was a professional pivot for owners Matt and Shelley Wehner – and one that the husband and wife had early doubts would pay off.
For one, neither had any cabinet making or business ownership experience. Second, the purchase of Cabinets by Lane, changed in 2008 to Cabinet Concepts by Design, was made right before the start of the Great Recession. That wasn’t a recipe for success, the owners admit.
“We sunk our life savings into it,” Matt said of their company, which designs, manufactures and installs custom cabinets and closets. “To have that kind of recession hit when you just first buy a business was shocking.”
Buying the small, four-employee business stemmed from Matt’s desire to shed a suit and tie and be his own boss.
Projects for the company were hardly flowing when the Wehners took over, as Shelley said only two jobs were in the queue. The couple quickly realized they’d also have to put on marketing hats to drum up business among homebuilders. They began pulling building permits and reaching out to builders with jobs in high-end subdivisions or that had projects with home values over $500,000.
“It was probably a blessing in disguise that the economy kind of tanked,” she said of the Great Recession. “We didn’t know what we were doing, so we didn’t have a flood of business. We were able to learn one job at a time how to do it. We would have probably not made it if we walked into something where we were slammed.”
Fifteen years later, not only has Cabinet Concepts by Design survived, but the company was honored May 4 by the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce with the 2022 W. Curtis Strube Small Business Award among finalists Audio Acoustics Inc., Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks, H Design Group LLC and Hold Fast Brewing. [Read more about the finalists on pages 10-11.]
“I’d like to thank all our clients and customers,” Matt said upon accepting the award during the chamber’s annual luncheon at the Oasis Hotel & Convention Center. “I can’t believe how many are out there that we’ve built cabinets for already. We really appreciate it. If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t be up here.”
He also thanked Shelley, noting, “If it wasn’t for her, I’d have quit in year one. She made me keep going.”
On the rise
The Wehners say their approach to create a niche in the custom high-end market has paid dividends. While most of its clientele own homes in the $600,000 and higher range, the company works with customers on a lot of different budgets, Shelley said, noting projects are largely referral based.
“We’ve done $5,000 islands before and all the way up to a $40,000 kitchen,” Matt said.
It took several years to build up the business, with 2012 the first profitable one, Shelley said.
“From that point on, we’ve had nice, steady growth the entire time,” she said. “It took us five years of blood, sweat and tears, believing that we could figure it out.”
While figures weren’t disclosed, Matt said last year’s revenue was 10% over 2020, which was roughly 25% above 2019. The revenue growth rate is even higher this year.
“If we do what we did first quarter for the next three quarters, that’ll be 43% growth from last year,” he said.
Part of that growth stemmed from acting on the need to move when the company outgrew its 6,000-square-foot space in Nixa.
“We were busting at the seams, trying to fit cabinets we built in our shop and hold them until the job was ready,” Matt said, noting the business relocated in 2014 to a 30,000-square-foot building just outside Springfield city limits.
The move also allowed the company to add automated equipment, which resulted in expanding its product offerings to design and manufacture custom closet systems. The result was the creation in 2015 of its Simply Organized by Design division.
The product expansion was a natural progression and a profitable one for Custom Cabinets, Matt said, adding roughly 25% of company revenue is generated by closet projects.
“It’s steadily rising and we’re slowly working to build more closets,” he said. “We really haven’t even marketed that hard yet.”
Like many businesses, supply chain issues have been a challenge, Matt said. Drawer track guides were particularly difficult to obtain in recent months, he said, adding the problem is beginning to ease.
“We had at one time over 1,000 on backorder,” he said, noting an average house uses 40-60 drawer track guides. “We had a lot of jobs out there without drawer boxes in them.”
While the employee count has risen this year to 43, the Wehners say they’d like to see it reach 50.
Part of that growth is a planned 10,000-square-foot facility addition. The couple own 5 acres and can add to the west side of the building. The extra space would accommodate additional space for staff and equipment, which includes investing in an automated flatline finishing system for spraying materials. Conversations with contractors already have started, Matt said.
“Our biggest hurdles right now are lead times for surveyors to get the ball rolling,” he said, adding the project likely won’t be completed until 2023.
Reflecting on the couple’s work over the past 15 years, Shelley said getting recognition from the chamber is significant.
“Somebody noticed us and it’s very humbling. It almost brings a tear to my eye to think about all we’ve done,” she said. “We’ve worked really hard to get to where we’re at.”
However, the owners are quick to point out their employees make Cabinet Concepts by Design much more than a two-person operation.
“They’ve helped our company get recognized just by the quality of the work that they’re doing every single day,” Shelley said.
Mercy Springfield Communities is replacing its Mercy Clinic Family Medicine – South Creek building, located at 2711 S. Meadowbrook Ave., with a new building that is 1,500 square feet larger.