Talon Millwork, Beamsville, Ont.

talon 2Done right, every time

If you’re an architectural millworker, this has already happened to you. You got underbid on an important job — a school, a clinic or an office — only to be called months later because your competitor has not completed the job as agreed. Plywood has been replaced with particle board, agreed-upon hardware replaced with cheap substitutes and specified jointure has been downgraded and covered up.

talon 1In most cases, these discoveries have come to light with no time left for correction. The school or restaurant is about to open, machinery or appliances have been installed and your should-have-been client is angry. Very angry.
According to Dylan Kinch, owner of Beamsville, Ont.,-based Talon Millwork, the client by this time is not interested in the money. He already knows he should have gone with you in the first place, and he knows it’s going to cost. The problem is, there is much to fix and no time, with customer satisfaction hanging in the balance.
For Kinch, the absence of quality millwork was not something he ran into after he started in business. It was the reason he is there.
Kinch’s father was a contractor in southern Ontario during the ‘80s, and was involved in building for the Kelsey’s restaurant chain. However, it was not long until he discovered he was not getting the quality of millwork he was contracting for. He was discovering the downgrades in hidden places, such as in the knee walls.
On a suggestion from his father in 1987, Kinch started Talon in a two-car garage in Hamilton, which he soon outgrew and landed in his 9,500 square-foot facility in Beamsville, currently with 11 employees.
When you are marketing quality, you need to walk the way you talk, so Kinch has found himself focusing mainly on using domestic product, and selling mainly into the domestic market. He feels this strategy, by luck, saved Talon from much of the pressure applied to other Canadian wood industry sectors by the recent recession.
With a bit more luck, says Kinch, they found some government money that helped ease the pinch during the recession, and they did not have to lay off any employees. According to Kinch, his shop has a very low turnover, having recently lost only one employee, and that was to retirement. Kinch has experience in trying to find and hold good workers. “It’s hard to find a true cabinetmaker,” he says.
Situated in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe area around the west end of Lake Ontario, Kinch finds the labour rate another obstacle to labour relations for several reasons. “For one,” Kinch says, “we are in the bid process. If our bid is higher than the next, we lose, and we can’t pay union labour $24 to $26 per hour.”
Another reason labour is a problem is the “one-man band.” According to Kinch, it is all too common across Canada for people to have a bit of property and a barn out back, so they get into architectural millwork, underbidding jobs and creating the problems described above. “I lose $25,000 to $30,000 a year to part-timers,” Kinch says. “If Blum slides cost $12 and Chinese slides cost $4, and if there are 5,000 slides in a hospital, you can see what happens to a bidder that sticks with the specs.”
In pursuit of answers, Kinch found himself six years ago at a meeting of the Architectural Woodwork Manufacturers Association of Canada. He was finding that nothing was defined in the bidding process. “Everyone quotes the (Architectural Woodwork Standards) manual,” Kinch says, “but they don’t know there is an association that goes with it. Nothing was being defined in the bidding and there was frustration with the bidding process.”
Kinch soon found out what happens in associations when you raise your hand for input, and in a year he found himself on the board. Now, after five years of intensive work and meetings, he has found himself in the president’s chair.
He is also the first to say there is little glory in sitting there. In fact, he is the strike point for complaints against the industry. According to Kinch, “Architects say this industry is the one they have the most headaches with.”
According to Kinch, having standards is not sufficient. You need to use them, understand them and enforce them. You also have to abide by them, so when you are working off architectural drawings and you see plywood specified, you can’t cheat. “Being a member of AWMAC is more expensive,” he says.
In addition to his association work, Kinch is teaching two nights a week at Niagara College, and he is hoping Niagara and other schools will soon start helping Canada’s woodworkers find quality workers.
Niagara, especially, will bear some watching, says Kinch. It opened up a cabinet shop last year, and is putting up a new building, strictly for cabinetmakers.
While Kinch is optimistic about the success of the Niagara program, he also cautions that simply having a certificate will soon not be enough. “Just going to get a certificate from the cabinet programs does not guarantee an increase in pay,” Kinch says. “It’s a gateway to experience, and experience creates the career.”

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