From Strategy to Change
By: Sandra Wood, Executive Director or CKCA
Trevor Chaulk is the president of Chaulk Woodworking located in Minden, Ontario with a population of over 6,000. It’s a pristine place to have a business and where a great work-life balance can be had.
Trevor started the company in 2009 and incorporated it in 2016. With 95% or more focused on the residential homeowner, the business is now merging into a contractor incentive program with a goal of selling 10-15% of the business this year to contractors. Growing from 94 kitchens produced in 2021, Chaulk is now producing 97 kitchens plus he’s working on a dealer network with a goal to create three to five percent of sales. Both dealer and contractor programs were launched to create more market shares and have contractors buy from Chaulk Woodworking instead of local lumber yards. As Chaulk says “Contractors can install their own which allows us to free up the already short supply of installers. By doing this, it increases our focus on becoming a manufacturer and increases production volumes.”
A Clearly Defined Goal
Chaulk was clear from when the business began that he wanted it to become the largest cabinet manufacturer in the area. Today, Chaulk is proud that he has achieved this with only one to two smaller shops locally still in operation when there used to be ten other smaller craftsman-style companies.
Strategy Change Required
Chaulk faces the same business challenges as others in the industry and perhaps even more acute being in a small town, i.e. finding skilled or semi-skilled workers is no easy task and increasing costs to train. But this hasn’t stopped the company from recognizing a strategy change was required. “We used to focus on primarily mid to high level cabinetry, but have realized that based on our area and skill sets, we are best suited for low to mid level which we can produce quickly, accurately and profitably by using the processes and technology we implemented,” said Chaulk. He added that “seasonal swings used to be very predictable over the years, but since COVID, it is constantly shifting and unpredictable when it comes to our sales/installation cycles.”
But while there are challenges, Chaulk is first to tell you (with a smile on his face) that “benefits include, for the most part, if you create a great product and offer competitive pricing and above all great service, you create a high level of repetitive referral and you get to know a lot of people in your area. There’s a lack of direct competition in our area, we are now the only custom cabinetry shop around. The drive to work is always a dream as there is little to no traffic and you get to see wildlife
and the beautiful nature here.”
Becoming A Household Name
Chaulk knows its community very well. There is a lack of growth opportunities and no industrial areas that can house a large manufacturer. With a depleting workforce, the company is working on alternative ideas that can allow the company to grow.
“This area has been very good to us and we do not take that for granted,” said Chaulk. With local and some cottage markets, the business receives referrals, but admits there are still a lot of people who drive by and don’t know that Chaulk is there.
“Our goal with our recent rebrand is to become the household name for cabinetry-related design and purchases,” explained Chaulk. As a community business, Chaulk has deep roots and is involved in charitable and fundraising efforts.
Learn, Adapt, Focus
Chaulk admits that in all his years in the industry, he has learned that there is still a lot to learn. He has found that some of his best ideas and growth came when he got out of his shop attending CKCA events. Connecting to a community of like-minded helped him realize he’s not alone and that he has a community he can reach out to.
The company has also experienced some major struggles with floods, skills training, employee turnover, and being an under-funded company. But the main success has come from Chaulk’s ability to adapt to change, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. “We had to learn over the years what really works as opposed to what I wanted from this
company. We have standardized custom cabinetry and it has been beneficial to the overall success of trying to keep things simple in a very custom world of cabinetry. We are continuing to focus on growth, but this time around, we are focusing on stable growth.” Chaulk is introducing product lines that are very fast to quote, design, manufacture, and deliver while maintaining profitability. The products do not deviate from what is working which will allow the business to become fully self-funded in the next year or so.
When Trevor Chaulk looks back, he admits that while they’ve been very busy and growing, they were not as profitable. He felt the company lacked clarity around its brand and even what they did with their showroom in a neighbouring town to get more market share. By creating a new brand, it allows Chaulk to become a household name through simplicity in a very complex industry. The name is intended to create curiosity and make people pay attention. As Chaulk gets deeper
into the rebrand, it will introduce an e-commerce platform and new products that can be purchased without the aid of design. A longer-term goal is to widen the reach to a national level of sales/manufacturing.
Technology To Competitiveness
With a background in the automotive tool and die industry, Chaulk believes that the entire industry has to advance faster in tech, systems, machinery, and overall customer experiences. For his own company, he says “I would love to see us moving to another facility so we can become an industry leader.” But he echoes the same views as so many companies—that the industry needs to attract good people to work and to create faster and more accurate products to compete with
increasing imported cabinets.
Securing A Future for Chaulk and
Chaulk knows that many people do not want to get into the industry as business owners because of the large investment of time, money and above all, patience. However, he is working on a business opportunity that could fix the problem and encourage more people back into the
industry to become future business leaders for the industry.
First, Chaulk is working on a rural manufacturing benefit summary that
promotes working in rural areas away from the overcrowding of large urban centres. Secondly, the company has seen mass production go up alongside handcraft woodworking, both competing for the same business. “There is no financial market that we are competing within, we have been selling projects and jobs for so many years, but now we must look at what we do—we manufacture and sell a PRODUCT!” Chaulk adds. “The pricing structures are more based from shop expense/material structure, instead of a product competitive structure.”
What that means is that Chaulk feels that the industry is under-serviced and under- recognized. He adds “We are a fully/semi custom industry where people can have anything made. We are a trade of craftspeople working in a job/project world, we need to focus on a national system to create more unity and recognition in our industry. If we change the terminology and create a more product-term industry, we will be viewed
as a larger power to compete and reduce the offshore issues that undermine our industry. We can accomplish this through better training on efficiency, systems and technology practices.”
Chaulk makes time to sit on the Board of the CKCA. He also wants to see a younger generation get to know this industry to ensure its future and believes that CKCA can be more than just an association, it can be an industry partner to ensure greater focus on inspiring and training youth.
“I am most proud of creating a vision and seeing it come to life, both in cabinetry and company/employee successes,” Chaulk continues. “Working as a team, I believe, is the most rewarding. There are a great deal of opportunities that come to fruition for people who have desire and work hard. I am a strong advocate for youth and even second career programs and encourage everyone who may be interested, to at
least it a try!”
Sandra Wood is the Executive Director of the Canadian Kitchen Cabinet Association. Her experience in the association world has spanned almost 30 years. Sandra has been in her current role for 6 years and continues to enjoy the challenges and, most importantly, the people in the industry.