By Dan Sanchez | Oct 23, 2018
Custom woodwork, cabinetry, and furniture
Industry: Built Environment
Products: Custom woodwork, cabinetry, and furniture
Ragusa and Koppenhaver began working together at a vintage cabinetry company. When Ragusa went off on his own and started a shop, "Kelsey and I kept in touch, and when I needed a partner, he came on board and we started Heritage Woodworks, Inc.," says Ragusa.
The company works with local designers and architects to create pieces for custom homes. "Some builders want intricate designs but don't know how to implement them, so we come up with ideas and do all the drafting," Ragusa explains.
Heritage's specialties extend from complete multi-unit kitchens for upscale apartments and condos to cabinetry to finish carpentry and remodeling. But it's the company's unique combination of artisan craftsmanship and modern technology that sets the company apart.
"We take it back to the old-school, things that are hard to find these days," says Koppenhaver. "We hand-make or machine all of our own products in our shop. Everything is made here and we have a traditional woodworking philosophy. We see value in making things locally and not buying pieces from overseas."
In order to maintain this manufacturing philosophy, Ragusa and Koppenhaver seek out craftsmen and fabricators to finish various projects on time, and with the quality they envision from the start. "We have guys that are really skilled artisans in every aspect of what we do," says Koppenhaver. "We have some that are great at installations, while Jon-Paul is in charge of the fabrication in-house."
Although Heritage uses artisan techniques, the directors have seen the need to implement modern technology where it can benefit production. "I grew up watching Norm Abram on the television show, The New Yankee Workshop," says Ragusa. "The old-world ways were fascinating, but I realize now we need to keep up with new technologies. We're set up both ways, where we can carve by hand, but we also have a 4'x10' CNC machine for casework and custom panels."
While California's housing market is cyclical, the demand for Heritage's work has been relatively steady. "We're reliant on a good housing market and it affects us," says Koppenhaver. "But people want to live here in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas, so we have a more stable and thriving housing economy here. We've seemed to be a bit insulated from the fluctuations that occur in other areas, but since 2007 this sector of the economy has been strong. We were able to start our corporation in a down economy, and yet we carved out our niche."
Part of the success is in building the right relationships. "Working closely with developers and architects, we've built strong relationships that have kept us busy," says Ragusa. "There are always commercial apartments and multi-unit kitchens that are going up, even when construction takes a downturn. We also make individual furniture pieces, too, so there's always something that keeps us and our workers busy."
Challenges: The CNC learning curve. "We've always done everything with hand tools, but wae brought in new computer-controlled equipment," says Ragusa. "The digital aspect is a bit of a challenge, but we are overcoming it."
Competition from inexpensive imports is another challenge. "There's also the mentality that things are coming from overseas and were challenged to compete against that," says Koppenhaver. "We can't compete with something that's made less expensively, and it is hard to change the mindset of people, especially with furniture. The cost is much lower. Keeping our cost low enough to compete is challenging."
Opportunities: "There seems to be a housing shortage here in Los Angeles with a lot of homeless," says Koppenhaver. "We would like to get involved with changing that somehow. We don't know specifically yet, but as we work with creating multi-unit kitchens for apartments, there are some efficiencies and there should be a way to build more low-cost homeless shelters. Apartments in L.A. cost $,2000 to $3,000 a month. Not everyone can afford that."
Needs: "We're always looking for the skilled craftsman," says Ragusa.
"There definitely seems to be a lack of youth coming into the field of building things," adds Koppenhaver. "There's an aging population of experienced artisans. With the technology and environment that's out there right now, there's a lack of emphasis on using your hands and making something."