By Mike Vieira | Jun 13, 2022
Now President of Cimino's Cabinet Doors, Chris's background as a homebuilder originally led him to open a cabinet shop in 1978 to supply other builders before his focus changed a bit.
"There are lots of cabinet shops out there that make their own cabinet doors," says Chris. "But they don't make very many styles because they just don't have the equipment. I got completely out of the cabinet business and went to strictly making doors in 1983."
Now Cimino's supplies cabinet makers throughout Northern California with a variety of door and drawer front choices to meet the specific needs of their clients. Chris estimates that about two-thirds of his work goes into new buildings, while about one-third goes to remodels. The fast turnaround the company offers is important to keeping the customers happy. As he says, "When they call me, they need it now."
Chris's wife, Lisa, has been the company's vice president since 1998. Together, they have expanded the business's customer base and made their operations more efficient. Though the company once had more than double the number of its current employees, the couple decided to reduce that figure around 2008.
"We like to keep it under 50 to avoid all the government regulations with insurance and the like that come when you're over that," Chris says. "I'm always trying to figure out how to make more doors with the same number of people."
Automation with sophisticated, computerized equipment to cut and shape raw lumber has indeed allowed Cimino's Cabinet Doors to increase production with fewer workers -- and to keep those workers safe from any potential harmful effects from the 10,000 pounds of sawdust created every day in the process. Chris estimates it would cost about $10 million today to purchase all the saws, mills, vacuums, and other equipment they use for manufacturing, making it an expensive niche for others to enter.
With the economic climate over the last year, costs have doubled for the raw lumber the company uses for its products. In addition to the burden of rising fuel costs, this has required Cimino's to raise prices for their own customers. Naturally, those increased operating costs are something that competitors have to deal with as well, so Cimino's has been able to keep their client base and continue adding new business through the efforts of its sales force in the field.
Key to efficiency, quality, and fast turnaround are the company's workers, and many of them have been there 25 to 35 years. "I like to hire people that we can teach our way, rather than already skilled workers," says Chris. "Maybe one out of 20 we might keep because it's hard to find people that really want to work."
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the company's business went down by about 30 percent, and it presented unique challenges for the workers as well.
"The city of Hollister said that they would shut us down if we had any workers here over 65 years of age," Lisa explains. "Our oldest employee was 82 years old and has been with us since day one, so I sent him home. After the worst of the pandemic was over, his wife didn't want him to come back to work. She wanted him to retire, but we have three generations working for us, and we love them. They're like our family. I felt a very big responsibility to them not to get our doors shut, and we were really blessed."
Chris and Lisa gathered all their bids and information about their contracts with cabinet makers doing work on medical facilities, homeless shelters, and the like to show their need to stay in operation during the COVID shutdowns. Business has now bounced back and moved substantially beyond the pre-pandemic numbers.
Challenges: Lisa has been running the show recently, as Chris is now recovering from back surgery. He is most focused on his own health in order to keep moving the business forward. He says, "I've worked really, really hard my whole life, and now I’m paying for it. I'm flat on my back right now, so my biggest challenge is getting back into the shop."
Opportunities: "If we were to expand anything, it would be a finished line," Chris says. "I'd like to offer a painted door, but that's about a half-million-dollar investment to do that. It has to be a sterile environment, and really almost a whole separate building, but I'm looking at it. We're also always looking at new door styles we can offer."
Needs: "I'm always trying to grow the business, and it's crazy how much business is out there," says Chris. "We've just got to keep up the quality and keep up with the market."