By Margaret Jackson | Nov 13, 2015
Custom Cabinets and Hardware
"It has been an evolution through our 30 years," says Margery Johnson, who owns the company with her husband, Stan. "Every aspect of it has changed in terms of how technology integrates with how you use a table saw. The equipment and the process of manufacturing is integrated from [architectural] drafting . . . into a system that sends the messages to the machines to cut and drill the components. It's more cost-effective and precise."
The majority of JK Concepts' work is schools and hospitals. It also has worked on libraries, recreational centers, country clubs, commercial buildings, hotels, and retirement communities. The company fabricates and installs both custom and semi-production products. Most of its work is cabinetry, casework and architectural millwork. It also makes everything from boardroom tables for Fortune 500 companies to library furniture and customized narcotics cabinets.
A departure from JK Concepts' core business are the exhibits it creates for the National Park Service through its relationship with Denver-based architecture firm Roybal Corp. "It's just a smidge of our work," Margery says. "It's just one of those fun things."
JK's growth curve mirrors that of the industry. Over the last five years, demand for millwork has gradually rebounded from the slump it experienced during the recession. The $26 billion industry employs 104,757 people and has an annual growth rate of 5.3 percent, according to a market research report by IBISWorld.
Though the company's focus is on Colorado, with the bulk of its work in metro Denver, it makes products that are shipped all over the U.S. and is increasingly providing installation services outside of the state.
Margery joined her husband in the business in 1991 when the company incorporated and Kepford retired. Back then, it was unusual for a woman to run a company in a male-dominated industry.
"If I was at a trade show, people would wonder if I was lost," she recalls. "That is not the case today."
Challenges: Integrating technology and craftsmanship is one of the biggest challenges for JK Concepts. "Everyone has an image of this industry being very craft-oriented, but in a manufacturing capacity, you have to be able to integrate automation, computerization and technology," Margery says. "You have to figure out how all those interplay with manufacturing a custom, craft product."
The costs associated with the equipment, as well as training employees how to use it, also presents challenges. "People need to have effective training to understand how manufacturing integrates computerization and the value of handwork," Margery adds. "You have to have the ability to judge the quality of an end product where you're using some components fabricated by a machine that previously would have been done by hand."
Opportunities: With Denver's strong economy, commercial real estate development is booming, which is bringing a lot of opportunities for JK Concepts. That, coupled with the recession that forced many of the company's competitors out of business or change the nature of what they make, creating more business for the company. "There is a greater need than there is capacity in Colorado," Margery says.
Needs: For JK Concepts to grow, it needs to continue to attract and retain more good employees. "That's our biggest issue, just because the learning curve on our trade is long to be a skilled craftsman," Margery says. "The technology component of training takes years. You have to thoughtfully grow to make sure you have the quality, educated staff you need."