Pilon Kitchens, Campbell’s Bay, Que.

Plan for success

In a small shop, every inch is precious, and order is the key to success.

In a small shop, every inch is precious, and order is the key to success.

We should all have such problems …. According to Gerard Pilon, partner and production manager in Campbell’s Bay, Que.,-based Pilon Kitchens, “We have plenty of work – too much work, and it looks like we will never run out of work.” This situation has driven Pilon to bring on his nephew, Tim Shea, as a partner in the business, take delivery on production machinery during an international industry downturn and order an expansion of the facility.

Campbell’s Bay is in the county of Pontiac in western Quebec: an area of rolling hills, forests and farmland bordered on the west by the Ottawa River. The county is very friendly to Anglophones, with English as the language most often spoken at home by 64.8 percent of the population. Of the total population, 41.6 percent knows only English, 6.6 percent knows only French, and 51.8 percent is bilingual.

Pilon Kitchens, according to Shea, is 100 percent bilingual, which he counts as a major benefit in expanding the company’s markets beyond the borders of Quebec into Ontario. Not only are the owners/salesmen bilingual, but if a customer calls to ask an assembly or finishing question, he or she can get a direct answer.

When you walk into the small shop, you get the immediate sense of professionalism behind the system. Although the space is small, it is strictly managed and kept clean. “There is a place for everything, and everything is in its place.”

Guards, fences, dust collection and safety glasses indicate a system functioning under supervision.

Guards, fences, dust collection and safety glasses indicate a system functioning under supervision.

According to Pilon, in 1982 he was surveying the career landscape and decided there were unlimited possibilities in cabinetmaking. In Quebec, you need a license to be a cabinetmaker, so he looked at Algonquin College. At the time, there was a five-year wait for a slot in the school. However, it was a Thursday night when Pilon decided, and fate was smiling. The official start of classes was Monday, and there were two no-shows. Pilon decided on Thursday, and on Monday he was in class.

Following his graduation, Pilon worked around gaining the experience he needed to advance himself into ownership, and in ’96 he was on his own. He started with commercial work, including store fixtures and institutional cabinetry, but soon looked toward residential kitchens and vanities. “In commercial,” Pilon says, “they give you the work, but they don’t give you the time.” Now, Pilon says, they do small, custom renovation, as some new construction work for a small group of loyal contractors.

One thing that really advanced his business, Pilon says, is taking a course after Algonquin in CAD. “The secret of cabinetmaking,” he says, “is drawing. If you can draw, you can build.”

Following that philosophy, Pilon got a high-end design program from 20-20 involved in his sales presentation. He is working, he says, on getting the sale design tool talking to the production software so a sales contract can also produce a cutlist, but he says it is not yet there.

Sales in the company’s 100-mile-radius marketing region were increasing at this time in 2009, so the company ordered a new, Homag CNC router at the WMS show that year, and it was installed in June of 2010 – a time period not known for its delivery of high-end production machinery. Pilon also bought a new, Holz-Her edgebander to keep up with the output from the CNC, and Pilon and Shea have never looked back.

Like most shops, Pilon Kitchens outsources its countertops. Since the company provides service to the entire market spectrum in its region, Shea says their countertop deliveries ware about 50:50; low end:high end; postformed and granite.

Gerard Pilon (left) and Mike Shea are looking for ways to expand without expanding

Gerard Pilon (left) and Mike Shea are looking for ways to expand without expanding

While Pilon oversees production, Shea is on the road selling. According to Shea, they are looking for dealers and looking to expand. Already, the company is taking back the back half of its facility, which has been leased to a welding and fabricating shop, and is looking toward expanded production capacity, as well as an enhanced showroom.

Although Shea formally joined his uncle only two years ago, he brought with him several years of experience as a sales rep for wood-products supplier Robert Bury in the region, and so has had a chance to see production from every angle, in addition to having a deeper-than-average command of woods, laminates and finishes.

Wheeling out of town headed south, you pass the new Centre de formation professionnelle d’Ébénisterie cabinet school. In fact, it is both new and old. It is new because it has only had two groups of students go through its cabinetry course. It is old because the current group is also the last. The government, in its wisdom, has decided there is no future for the wood industry in Quebec. Less than 500 meters away, Pilon is saying, “My shop is too small. We expand, and it’s still too small.”

It looks like Pilon won’t be facing any government-funded competition in the near future. It also looks like he will be with the rest of the industry asking for skilled workers to help him fill his orders.

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