Respect people and they’ll respect you — and your business
“I just want to treat others the way I would want to be treated, too.” This basic restatement of the golden rule is a sentiment that has sustained Brian Marshall of Marshall’s Custom Cabinetry in Ancaster, Ont., through the growing pains — and now the success — of owning a small professional cabinet shop.
This approach of getting along to get ahead was first put to the test for Marshall while growing up on the farm in Ancaster. He says, “It was becoming apparent that there maybe wasn’t enough room as farmers for both my brother and myself. So, instead of engaging in an ongoing family tussle, I decided to step aside and look for something else.”
That something else was working with wood. Having taken a one-year course in the field at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ont., during the ‘90s, Marshall then took his skills to a shop in the area. Yet again, his easy-going approach to life was put to the test. Marshall explains, “I never experienced something like it before. My boss was constantly looking over my shoulder, criticizing my every move. It wasn’t for me.”
In other words, Marshall would never treat someone like that, so he couldn’t tolerate being treated that way, either. He decided he needed more control over his own working environment, which is when he decided to set up shop for himself.
“So I went back to my father’s farm, but instead of farming, I used one of the buildings, and that’s where I started my business,” Marshall explains. He continues, “And we’re still in this building right now. I think family is a big part of making it in this industry. Their support can be crucial.”
As an example of such family support, Marshall practically leaps out of his chair in mentioning his wife, Jacqueline, without whom Marshall firmly believes he would not be in business today. He says, “I don’t care who you are, if you don’t have the support from your most significant other, something is going to give. If your family falls apart, what’s even the point of having a business?”
According to Marshall, this family support allowed him to tackle 2012 in a way that has made it the most successful year of his business — and might well be the point at which he can stop worrying about success or failure. Although not yet ready to sit on his laurels, Marshall says, “Our business is in a pretty good spot now. All that work and effort have been rewarded.”
Marshall cites two significant investment decisions as the foundation for his breakthrough year. First, he bought a CNC machine from a local Canadian manufacturer (AXYS). This has eased his personal workload considerably. Second, he hired someone he now proudly refers to as his “right-hand man,” 22-year-old Kirk Blackadar, who has also helped ease Marshall’s workload — making the business a two-man operation now — while also allowing Marshall to practice his makeshift golden rule.
Specifically, they treat each other like they’d want to be treated themselves — as business associates and friends. Marshall elaborates, “I first brought in a couple of women from a government-sponsored program, but they were too green. In the meantime, Kirk kept bothering me about a job via e-mail, so I finally brought him in. He definitely ended up being the right guy.”
Marshall continues, “We just hit it off right off the bat. We get along great. Kirk also has the skills so that I can feel confident in leaving him alone in the shop. There is so much I have to do outside the shop, so Kirk has progressed to the point where he makes decisions on his own, talks to clients, and all of that. So far, he has been an invaluable addition to my business.”
Indeed, Blackadar might well serve as a poster child for the kind of young person that is attracted to the wood trade. Asked why he’s in this industry, Blackadar responds, “I just love the creativity. There is always a job out there if I need one. The money is pretty good. I loved the woodworking program I enrolled in at Humber College [in Toronto, Ont.] While other students were worried about their computers and their desks, I couldn’t wait to get into the shop and do my thing. Thankfully, I’m in a job now where I’m in the shop and contributing in a meaningful way.”
Marshall cites his philosophy of getting along with people as a key to his success. As he sees it, “You definitely get rewarded if you treat people like you want to be treated. My customers see that I often care about the details of their products — sometimes more than they do — and they thank me for it. I see them around town all the time, and the rapport I have with my customers is great. I think it’s why they tell their friends, and why they keep coming back themselves.”
In fact, Marshall believes that his steady, easy-going, one-step-at-a-time approach to business and life is what has allowed him to survive during tough times. He says, “You know, I used to be insecure about being a small operation. But I saw what happened to the big guys after the recession. You lose touch with your customer base if you get too big, too fast. That’s not going to happen with me.”
Yet this cautious approach should not be mistaken for complacency. Marshall has slowly started to look for another location for his shop. He insists of wanting to buy it and own it. According to Marshall, “I think it’s very important not to over-extend oneself financially. If I actually own my own building, I’m less exposed to any downturn; I’m less exposed to creditors and the sort. I’m more in control of my own destiny.”
Being in control of his own destiny, and the way people are treated in his business and his life, has guided Marshall all along — from working on his father’s farm to making it on his own in the wood business. In other words, getting along has allowed Marshall to succeed while also being able to live with himself. Not everyone can say the same, can they?