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Where experience really counts

Frank Shatz, the 75-year-old owner of his namesake company, is bent over at the waste, working on a curved 25’ maple wall cap. He’s focused on the task for the better part of an hour, even while this magazine’s photographer and editor try their best to distract him. Following his lead, the shop’s other craftsmen stay busy, working independently or as a team on projects that require another set of hands. The crew is very accommodating, but with 17 jobs in the pipeline, stuff needs to get done.

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“My father still works physically every day,” says Frank’s son, Randy. “That is a huge part of the appeal to many of our customers because they’ve got this person with over 50 years of experience doing hands-on work. People are always taken aback when they learn that he is the founder/owner of the company because he really does fit in with other teammates and employees.”

Frank Shatz & Co. is an architectural woodworking and casework firm in Warrick, R.I., established in 1959, serving the commercial and residential markets. It has 14 employees, including a dedicated installation crew, a shop dog named Buddy, and Randy, who grew up in the shop, at the helm.

Although there are plenty of examples, two woodworkers running a fairly large woodworking business is not the norm and Randy sees that as an advantage.

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“I am familiar with other woodworking shops much larger than mine where the managers and owners of those organizations have no woodworking knowledge or experience, but they run successful companies that do woodworking. On the other hand, I think it’s huge if you have physically done what you’re bidding on as an estimator. You can accurately correlate the tasks and scheduling into the process and come up with a good estimate. If you’ve never done it before, it’s easy not to understand what goes into the price,” he says.

Strong from the start

The business started in Frank’s basement. In 1984, he built a 5,000-sq.-ft shop that quickly grew to 16,000 sq. ft. Panels are delivered at one end of the building, where it’s processed on the shop’s Biesse Rover B CNC with a 5’ x 12’ table, Omal insert dowl machine and Akron 246 edgebander. The material moves through the massive machine room on its way to the spray booth and shipping dock.

Randy runs the business from an upstairs office, where his duties include sales, estimating, management and purchasing.

“There’s a lot to do so I’m stepping in wherever,” he says. “I’m never in the shop these days, but that’s where I grew up. I probably have more of a comfort level here in the shop. I was on board as a three-year-old in the pickup truck helping with tools. I knew at 13 this was the path I was going to take in life. I went to a local vocational school and studied woodworking and cabinetry there. Upon graduation I came to work here.”

The company picked up a national clientele in the mid-1980s and does most its work for stores, medical facilities, banks, corporations, law firms and universities.

Warwick is about an hour away from Boston, about two hours from New York City, and smack dab in the middle of the high-end homes that dot the Rhode Island beaches.

“We serve all of New England and will go throughout the United States doing store fixtures for various retailers, such as Coach and J.C. Penney,” Randy says. “Essentially we take the work from wherever it comes from. So if you come to me as the owner of a property in Chicago wanting something done, I’m happy to fabricate, deliver it and send somebody to install it.”

The shop's extensive portfolio includes work for corporate offces and high-end homes.

Custom everything

The shops get its designs from architects and interior designers. There’s a current backlog of about 12 to 14 weeks and each job is unique.

“Nothing is stock in any way, shape or form,” Randy says. “All of our jobs are custom. We’re getting orders for high-end media cabinetry with custom details and finishes, home offices and libraries with elaborate ornamentation and kitchens and bathrooms. We do it all.”

Style preferences have clearly gravitated to more contemporary looks, according to Randy. Brass and glass are popular add-ons. Finishes are often distressed on maple and cherry. The company uses quite a bit of veneer and also works often with burls, ebony and mahogany. It also manufactures solid-surface countertops.

“Everything is a mix. The style ideas come from architects or designers. All of the things we do are already identified for us. We are responsible for finishing the actual aesthetics of the projects. I would love to have more interaction at the ground level with the design of the finish products because it would help more with the end product, especially with people working on a budget,” Randy says.

Frank Shatz, left, founded the company in 1959. His son, Randy, meets with customers and runs the business.

Staying successful

The company does well at attracting repeat clients and getting work on referrals.

“We’ve done a fair share of print and radio advertising,” Randy says. “Anybody in print advertising will tell you repetition is required, so you’re talking an annual campaign if you really want to gain business that way. Gaining clients, to me, is really all just a matter of networking properly.”

The shop has several ongoing challenges, according to Randy. “One thing that’s tough is finding that talented, experienced help and that person also having that old-school work ethic, especially if they’re a young person. Young people coming into this field today lack not just the skills, but the work ethic.

“The other challenge is trying to be profitable in a competitive environment when competition is driving the numbers down instead of up because they need the work and somehow underbid the project. We’re all driven by our competition.”

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The shop had to downsize during the Great Recession, but has returned to previous staffing levels. Randy has focused on updating the shop’s production machinery and wants to grow as opportunities allow.

“On a personal level, had I known 20 years ago I would be running a company with employees and be responsible for others, I probably would have gone to college or taken some kind of business courses.

“I never expected to go from physically working with my hands to wearing dress pants and dress shirts and managing others and meeting with clients. As silly as it sounds, it almost was like an overnight circumstance. I was working in the shop with two other guys, then I had to drop things to answer the phone and meet people for jobs that would take away from my daily functions. I definitely enjoy working with the customers so I make a point to keep learning as I go.”

Contact: Frank Shatz & Co., 61 Dewey Ave., Ste. D, Warwick, RI 02886. Tel: 401-739-1822.

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue.

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