Outside the box
Cabinetmakers build business well beyond former confines
Sam MacNeill wasn’t sure about the exact year he and his longtime business partner, Scott Bechhold, started Oak Ridge Cabinets. When posed the question during a recent interview, he guessed, maybe 1989?
A nearby office worker corrected him. “It was 1981,” she said.
Either way, it’s been a long time, and a lot has changed since the early days. The bulk of the business remains residential cabinetry, although MacNeill, 60, likes to say, ‘If it’s made out of wood, we can make it.’
“We’ve made everything from urns to full wine cellars,” he added.
As younger men, MacNeill and Bechhold worked for the same cabinetmaker and took odd jobs, working out of garages and barns, before starting the business together. (MacNeill had a stint as a student at Chico State, but college wasn’t really for him.) In hindsight, MacNeill said he should have taken some business classes “instead of learning from the school of hard knocks.” Every step of growing the operation was trial and error, and there were blunders. On one occasion, they got visited by the IRS for having some deficiencies as accountants.
“We learned pretty quickly that you need to surround yourself with the experts,” MacNeill said.
Other aspects have changed as well. For one, there’s family involved. MacNeill and Bechhold both have sons who have roles with Oak Ridge. (Shawn MacNeill is a production manager, and Scott Bechhold works in sales.) And MacNeill mostly handles the business stuff now, rather than working in the shop.
“My son won’t let me out there,” he said, laughing. “They have their way of doing it, and I have to say it’s an improvement. [Shawn] understands the technology and we rely on him. He tells us when we need to buy a new piece of machinery and has good documentation of what the return will be.”
Oak Ridge has 26 employees and grosses about $3.5 million of annual profit. They’ve installed cabinets as far afield as Southern California, Nevada and Oregon, but mostly operate in the North State, the Bay Area and Lake Tahoe/Truckee. About five years ago, they started an e-commerce website, fastcabinetdoors.com, which ships around the country at an increasing clip. In January of last year, the site sold $24,000; last month, it sold more than $190,000.
“It’s been continuous growth,” MacNeill said.
Indeed, Oak Ridge’s manufacturing facility on the Midway has been physically expanded five times over the years. Inside, workers on the assembly line feed panels into precise, computer-programmed saws, spray the woodwork and install hardware. The space is covered with sawdust and smells strongly of freshly cut wood. Sometimes, it all makes MacNeill reflect on the last 30 years (or so).
“When I’m locking up the shop and happen to be the last one out, it’s just like, ‘How did we get here?’”