New owners take Miller Cabinet forward
By Fran Odyniec
There’s a computer command called restart. Click on it, in most cases the screen goes dark, and then the end-user gets a fresh start with a clear window.
Something similar happened to the Miller Cabinet Company in Plain City.
In the first half of 2012, the 67-year-old company with a reputation for first quality cabinetry and free-standing furniture, fell upon hard financial times which led to a bankruptcy filing.
Four longtime employees, Lonnie Beachy, Marlin Coblentz, Carl Miller, and Walter Campbell, decided to pool their talents and rescued the company. The talent seemed to be there for such an undertaking. Beachy heads marketing and sales and has been with the company for 40 years; Coblentz has run finishing and installation for 27 years; Miller has been the production supervisor for 25 years; and Campbell has handled accounting and scheduling for 16 years.
With the help of the Richwood Banking Company office in Plain City, they secured a line of credit and righted the sinking ship with a new private corporation.
When asked if they knew what they were getting themselves into, the new owners to a man answered, “Yup, to a great extent.”
“We are all confident in our departments,” Beachy said. “We know the business so the idea of owning the company didn’t scare us.”
Counting the four owners, Miller Cabinet Company has 20 employees on the payroll.
“It was a critical point,” said Marlin Coblentz. “We had been supervisors.”
“We did not expect any surprises,” said Walter Campbell, “but we knew once we were running there would be pressures. Quality is first nature and has been ingrained in all of us.”
Of utmost important to the four owners was keeping Miller’s customer base and its employees.
“Some of us have been here so long, this has become our second home,” Beachy said.
Nice thinking but in business terms there had better be something for the residents to do.
When bankruptcy was declared, customers lost deposits they had put down on their orders, thus placing Miller’s customer base and its reputation in serious jeopardy.
When the new owners clicked the restart button, they reached out to those seemingly lost customers (about 25 in number) and made somewhat of a startling decision.
“We are honoring every contract in spite of the loss of those deposits,” said Beachy. “We knew it was the moral and right thing to do. It was imperative that we do that.”
There is also the influences of the Mennonite faith that the owners share.
“God will bless our business if we do the right thing,” Beachy said.
With those “lost” cabinet orders 75 percent completed, the new owners had somewhat of a head start when they reopened the doors on May 30.
Reinforcing its commitment to product quality and customer service, the revitalized company continues to treat each order on a customized basis. Its target market includes homeowners, interior designers, and contractors.
“This is where we are different from the competition,” Beachy pointed out. “It’s full service in that we sit and walk through everything with the customer including a home visit. Contractors of new homes bring in their designers. A housewife or homeowner will bring in an interior designer or their own contractor. We work in tandem with them.”
Three designers, using computer design programs, work with the customer’s specifications to develop 3-D renderings for review and approval.
As part of Miller’s quality standards, customers can choose only from natural woods which include cherry, maple, birch, oak, black walnut, and white ash. Five cabinetry designs are available: traditional overlay, inset with bead, inset without bead, European (full overlay) styling, and frameless melamine/thermoil design.
“Press wood is not in keeping with out image,” said Beachy. “Our lumber comes through brokers who source Canada, Pennsylvania, the Northwest and the South.”
While others in the industry rely on box or unit cabinetry, a hallmark of Miller Cabinets is its one-piece construction from wall corner to wall corner. Instead of adjoining boxes which come in 12-, 15, 18-, or 21-inch increments, one-piece construction results in one, fully integrated cabinet. This creates a seamless appearance across the surface of the product. Mortise and tenon face frame jointery is also part of the production process.
“We are able to get measurements that come within 1/16 of an inch,” explained J.D. Grose, one of Miller’s three computer designers.
“That allows for a true setting for the cabinet without the need for filler,” added Marcia Walker, another computer designer.
After wood selection and approvals, the design goes to the state-of-the art Computer Numerically Controlled milling machine which proceeds to cut the design from the selected wood.
Then a marriage between high tech and craftsmanship comes into play.
Skilled craftsmen carefully plane, sand, align, and assemble the parts. The unfinished product may be a master bath vanity, a bookcase, kitchen cabinetry, an entertainment center, or a customized storage project. It then arrives at the glazing and staining department. At any given time, there are as many as a dozen jobs in production.
Miller considers glazing and staining as specialty work, and it is all done by hand.
“Hand-glazing is a thing of the past for most companies,” said Beachy. “There are certain stroke techniques involved.”
“They do one piece at a time to assure there is consistency,” continued Beachy, referring to Miller’s glazers and stainers. “A glazer may have a stroke that is a little heavier or a little lighter than another. These are called signature strokes.”
Once a job is ready for delivery, a Miller installer crew goes out with it.
“Our installation guys are craftsman,” said Beachy, underscoring the need for custom installation that is in keeping with Miller’s quality standards from start to finish. “We have the right equipment and the right hands.”
All this attention to detail and reliance on high technology may seem daunting to the homeowner when it comes to developing a budget.
“There is a serious misconception that people can’t afford us,” Beachy said.
But there is a reason why Miller can be competitive. Customers bring their budgets to Miller and literally deal directly with the designers and the production line.
“There is no middle person,” said Beachy, “and we know the budget we need to work with. That’s why we can be competitive with high quality.”
“Our target market is Columbus and its rural areas,” Beachy continued. “The Columbus area is tremendous for remodeling.”
But awareness of Miller’s 67-year reputation doesn’t begin and end in Central Ohio. The company also services customers in Michigan and Indiana and as far away as New Jersey, New York, Florida, and even the Cayman Islands.
The four owners of the company, now that they have ultimate responsibility for its future, are not satisfied to rest on past laurels.
“We look at things a little differently,” said Coblentz. “Maybe a little bit more as a supervisor versus an owner. If somebody slackens, you get on them sooner.”
“It’s more exciting,” agreed Beachy, “to see a unit go out.”
Applying Coblentz’s comment to the future, Carl Miller said, “How can we improve our product? We’ll need to look at more efficiencies.”
Beachy summed up ownership’s feelings about the future.
“We do not want to lose the hands-on family feel,” he said, “and still be efficient and stay on top of trends.”
As long as the Miller Cabinet Company remains at its location at 6217 Converse-Huff Road bordered on two side by a cornfield and a soybean field with an old house for its headquarters and showroom snuggled across the driveway from a plant that resembles more of a barn than a factory, and remains committed to quality in its craftsmanship, there should be a better than fair chance that the family feel will continue to go out with each unit.
Miller Cabinet Company can be reached at 1-800-983-6455; showroom hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; click on www.millercabinet.com.