Investing in Flexibility
By Suzanne VanGilder
Like so many great panel processing stories, this one begins with a panel saw, an edgebander and a CNC router. Set against the sultry backdrop of South Florida, this is a tale of survival and success -- of using flexible technology to bring the sexiest materials in the industry to the masses.
Of course, machines are nothing without people who understand how to leverage market position and maximize supplier relationships. People such as the Canters. After years designing, selling and installing cabinetry for many different companies, patriarch Artie Canter decided to open his own operation, Distinctive Kitchens and Baths, in 1990 in Boca Raton, Fla.
“We are very diverse in what we do,” said Adam Canter, president of Distinctive Kitchens. “My dad always believed in serving a wide customer base. If one part of the market slows, another might pick up. It keeps the business somewhat recession proof.”
While Distinctive Kitchens does everything from rental apartments to multi-million- dollar custom homes, the majority of trade is new construction, track homes and production homes for large-scale homebuilders throughout South Florida. There is also a retail and remodeling division for individual customers. As business grew, so did the need for stability in the supply chain.
Enter panel saw, edgebander and CNC router.
In 2002 the father-son team started EuroCraft Cabinets, a semi-custom cabinet company.
“We knew if we started manufacturing our own line of cabinets, we would have one great customer off the bat,” Adam Canter said.
Computer-electronic whiz and second son Jeffrey Canter was recruited and sent to Stiles Machinery in Grand Rapids, Mich., to learn how to program and operate the new machinery. He developed a catalog and integrated ordering system, and by 2004, EuroCraft was profitable with two to three days of weekly production capacity to spare.
Dealers were added, and EuroCraft enjoyed exponential growth until the 2009 recession leveled out business. The company came back strong in 2010, grew yearly and closed out 2016 at $13 million in sales.
“Distinctive Kitchens carries several lines of fine cabinetry, but the reason we survived the recession and are where we are today is the flexibility that EuroCraft has in manufacturing any product we need,” Adam Canter said. “There were a lot of other players in the market, and as they exited, there was a backlog of work. EuroCraft was able to match their construction methods, door and drawer systems and finishes. Business grew a lot because of that.“
Over time, EuroCraft added space and equipment to meet the demand of its growing dealer network. Its 55,000-square-foot-facility built in 2013 produces about 4,000 cabinets a month. While equipment is well-maintained and regularly updated, Jeffrey Canter understands EuroCraft’s sweet spot.
“We aren’t a big company with huge overhead. Being manageable and scalable helps us survive changes in the market,” he said. “I’m not spending money on R&D to find out the next latest and greatest color. We focus on market demand and convenience for our dealers. We respond quickly and get product to market. That is probably our strongest suit.”
EuroCraft takes advantage of the technological investments that big door and drawer front manufacturers make in developing on-trend product lines, integrated ordering software and quick fulfillment. The company puts its investment dollars into equipment that improves production speed and agility for making standard cabinet components, custom details and replacement pieces to help dealers complete installations quickly.
Recently, EuroCraft made exciting equipment acquisitions. The mainstays are all represented -- updated throughfeed CNC router, additional panel saw and edgebander to increase capacity -- and are supported at the beginning of processing with a new Homag IntelliStore automated material handling system from Stiles Machinery and at the end with a Homag automation throughfeed case clamp, also from Stiles.
“With the storage and retrieval system we know exactly what we have in inventory, how old it is, when it came in and where to find it.” Jeff Canter said. “The machine can make rainbow stacks if we have a job requiring multiple materials. It rotates stock on high-inventory items and will dig through as many sheets as necessary to find exactly what we are looking for. It is the coolest piece of equipment in the new building.”
Though maybe not as marvelous as the IntelliStore, the throughfeed case clamp eliminated a perpetual bottleneck and presented an opportunity to re-engineer the production line for increased efficiency.
“It will improve our capacity and labor costs,” Jeff Canter said. “Now that we are seeing the numbers we can achieve, we are figuring out how to do it in less time.”
Focusing on doing the basics well allows EuroCraft to produce cabinetry for a variety of markets. During the recession, the operation absorbed a millwork entity that used the same basic processes. In addition to residential cabinetry, the facility meets shifts in market demand by taking on commercial projects (health care, casino, education) as Distinctive Millwork.
The South Florida market is one of the more adventurous and fashion-forward in terms of design, providing EuroCraft a rare opportunity to bring some of the industry’s hottest materials to the masses.
“In this business, you establish relationships with manufacturers because they want to produce products dealers are happy with. It’s a two-way street,” Adam Canter said.
Influenced by intrepid material suppliers, dedicated distributors, dealer demand and Distinctive Kitchens’ work designing model interiors for production homebuilders, EuroCraft’s collections reflect the region’s distinctive style.
“There is a strong preference for plywood here,” Jeff Canter said. “Personally, I don’t think it is a superior product to particleboard, but a lot of people here associate particleboard with noxious Chinese imports and consider plywood a must for ‘wood construction.’ Yet using imported plywood is a train wreck -- it’s not consistent and looks horrible.’’
All of EuroCraft’s boxes are built from Columbia Forest Products’ PureBond plywood. This, of course, creates interesting challenges for specialty laminations. (See High Quality Customization.)
“We don’t cut corners on quality,” Jeff Canter said. “Our plywood is all domestic, and our hardware is all Blum. It’s superior quality and has a lifetime warranty.”
EuroCraft door and drawer front product lines represent some of the best manufacturers in the business. Reconstituted veneer slab doors from Northern Contours offer an exotic aesthetic. Textured TFL from Funder, Tafisa and Roseburg makes for beautiful doors at an accessible price point, while Cleaf’s structured surface product is impressive.A local company, Doormark, membrane presses the RTF doors featured in the pre-assembled closet line that EuroCraft provides dealers. High gloss is hot and still gaining in popularity, driving suppliers such as Premier EuroCase to continually develop new products.
A line of waterproof cabinets made from marine boatboard, teak or cypress reflects the region’s affinity for outdoor living spaces. Classic options such as wood and paint are available from industry giants Conestoga and Valley Custom Door, as well as several intriguing lines that are changing the way consumers view laminates. (See Alternative Materials Hit the Big Time.)
The Canter family built their business slowly and methodically, combining intimate knowledge of cabinet design, sales and installation with flexible and scalable production. “We’ve been in business for a long time and have great suppliers,” Adam Canter said. “Everyone is very in tune with the latest and greatest. When we see new products and possibilities, we are able to implement them into our line as a standard offering and quickly bring them to market.”