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Where values matter

Established in 2007, Merrill Woodworking and Design in Rigby, Idaho, features a lineup of state-of-the-art machinery, allowing the company to offer a range of cabinetry styles for clients throughout Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Montana.

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Having lived in the rural area all their lives, owner Kent Merrill and his son Kris know integrity is worth its weight in gold when it comes to getting and keeping clients. The company’s longstanding reputation in the community has helped it sustain the toughest economic times while competitors have gone under. In addition to standing by their products and services, Merrill says one of his key attributes is being honest with clients.

“We always try to take care of everybody, take care of every customer, stay ahead of schedule and stay on top. We know not to make promises you can’t keep. If you can’t follow through, it will hurt you. Don’t just tell people what they want to hear. The truth is better,” says Merrill.

Being able to keep a proper balance on what to offer clients is equally important. Merrill believes clients have a certain expectation about what the company should bring to the table when it comes to discussing a commission.

The shop's portfolio includes this kitchen with raised seating.

“Sometimes [shops] don’t change with the needs of their clients with new products. We always offer new products. We always offer the latest inventions, which include drawer slides, drawer boxes and dovetailed drawers.”

Successful start

Though he only formed his company five years ago, Merrill had about three decades of woodworking experience prior to opening his own shop. He was first introduced to the trade at age 17 during a woodworking shop class at Rigby High School. The basic skills he learned there immediately led to an after-school job at his future father-in-law’s shop, Upper Valley Cabinet, also located in Rigby.

Kris and Kent Merrill Principals of: Merrill Woodworking and Design Location: Rigby, Idaho Number of Employees: 9 Shop size: 10,000 sq. ft. About: A family-run custom cabinet shop that serves the residential and commercial markets in southeastern Idaho.

“He asked me to come to work. He was busy and had just barely started up the shop. I started there, graduated and got married that same year. I just hung around and the next thing I knew I was in charge of installing and finishing.”

Merrill worked his way up so quickly that within several years, he and his brother-in-law decided to purchase the business from his father-in-law. The partnership lasted for roughly 25 years, until Merrill parted from the company, which is still in business, and formed his own shop.

“Our kids grew up, times changed and we both had a different outlook on things. I built this building with my son Kris and we started here in July 2007.”

Diverse clienteles

Clients from both residential and commercial sectors are generally located within a 100-mile radius of the shop. The service area covers a vast range of the mountainous region, going east towards Jackson Hole, Wyo., north towards Yellowstone, Mont., and south towards Salt Lake City.

There is an even split between residential clients who contact the business directly for home renovations and commercial clients obtained through general contractors. Merrill says he prefers commercial work because the major decisions have already been made, meaning the clients have selected the materials, colors and designs they want. When everything is specified before the job goes to a general contractor, he says projects run a lot smoother.

Commercial work generated through builders includes work for local businesses, churches and schools. Merrill easily prefers these over residential jobs.

“I’ve had some contractors stay with me for 25 years. They never got a set of cabinets from anyone else and I still maintain those relationships today. Since I’ve started this business, because of our modern machinery, we do a lot more commercial work now.”

The shop's portfolio includes this home office with an in-house antiqued glaze finish.

In the residential sector, there is a 50/50 split between remodeling jobs and new construction. Merrill says remodeling is the company’s niche because it works with a number of restoration companies. Though most jobs come by way of referrals, the company does a fair amount of advertising just to keep its name out there with local television and newspaper ads.

“We’re one of the few woodworking shops around here that does advertising. It’s just about name recognition. The cost you put out doesn’t come back immediately, but it sticks in their mind as to who to call when they want work done.”

Styles and services

The scope of services includes kitchen cabinets (frameless and face frame), entertainment centers and millwork packages. All finishing is done in house.

“We offer quite a few different styles. There’s a trend coming back more towards the white cabinetry. For this we use a crème-colored toner that we cover the wood with, we burn off the edges and then we glaze over top of that to give it that antique look. Another trend is a kitchen island in a darker shade with light cabinets. Everyone wants it all.”

Popular material choices include cherry, maple, oak, walnut, hickory and cedar, as well as several variations of alder.

“Rustic or knotty alder is huge. It comes out of Oregon and Washington. It stains uniformly light or dark whereas the rustic maples have a lot of color differences. Some like clear alder with no knots also.”

Merrill meets with clients and prepares the initial designs and bids. Kris manages the shop floor and helps with some of the most essential tasks.

A contemporary kitchen and a built-in are all in a day's work for Merrill Woodworking and Design.

“I hand-sketch and then send it to my son Kris to do the computerized drawings. His drawings are exact and precise. He shows the customer a digital version. This is not only good for the sales portion of our business, it’s a must for accuracy and makes sure the customer is on the same page. I sign off or send an email asking for confirmation, and then if there’s a problem there’s a record of their approval. It eliminates a lot of problems … a lot of problems.”

Merrill keeps his shop equipped with up-to-date machinery. He purchased everything new when the 10,000-sq.-ft. shop and showroom was first built. The equipment includes a Weeke BHP 200 CNC router, Brandt Optimat edgebander, Altendorf sliding table saw, SCMI wide belt sander, SawStop table saw, Unique door machine, Weinig Unimat molder, JLT panel and door clamps, and a Castle pocket screw machine.

Expansion possible

Merrill and his son are very interested in growing the business in the next five years and would like to steer the company toward more commercial work.

“On the commercial end, the more bids you put out to the general contractors, the more work you receive. It builds on itself. We could handle more employees in the shop. We have lots of room here.”

He also wants to continue updating the shop’s machinery to continue providing the best products possible. He says the only downside to using the most sophisticated and top-of-the-line equipment is that it can be difficult to deal with customers overly concerned with price.

“In today’s economy, it’s not like the customers can’t find a cabinet shop. They want to get three and four bids out to get the best deal. In our area, there are a lot of small shops, building things with table saws in their shed instead of CNCs and nice edgebanders and things like that. Those guys base their product prices on their low overhead. We need to make our price match our product and it’s frustrating when you know you build the best product and give the best service and people want the lowest price.”

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A contemporary kitchen and a built-in are all in a day's work for Merrill Woodworking and Design.

But there is no client shortage at this time. Merrill says the shop often has more work than it can handle and again attributes this to his reputation. There is currently a six-week backlog and business has improved greatly compared since last year.

“We’re definitely still feeling the effects of the economy. We have been since 2008. Our best year was in 2007 and then the economy went bad. It was tough for a long time. I was fortunate to have been able to keep our whole crew. Many of the other shops went down to a one-man crew. But having our name out for many years has helped us.”

Contact: Merrill Cabinets, Woodworking and Design, 659 N. 4128 East, Rigby, ID 83442. Tel: (208) 745-7320.

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue.

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