Finishing quality, business savvy keeps production rolling
Social networking doesn’t always lead to a successful business partnership, but it never hurts. For Mike Hayes and Cameron Oldershaw, their meeting through mutual friends over 15 years ago eventually led to just that.
The two are now co-owners, along with a silent investor, of a 15,000 square foot facility in Barrie, Ont. North Shore Goods and Finishing specializes in extensive production and custom finishing services, the manufacture of dovetail drawer boxes and commercial fixturing.
The origin of the business dates back to 2009 when Oldershaw was part of an asset buyout of a local refinisher and helped to launch what became North Shore from an 1,800 square-foot shop. The next stop occupied 10,000 square feet, according to Oldershaw, before the move to the current location in 2015.
Hayes joined North Shore in 2014 after several years in Toronto pursuing management and marketing opportunities after studying those subjects at Georgian College in Barrie. Starting at a marketing agency straight out of school, Hayes gravitated to the bar industry. Eventually, “I wanted to do something new,” he says, and moved back to Barrie. “I now had a chance to work with him (Oldershaw) and do a bunch of the custom finishing in the booth. I was on board and my role has steadily escalated since then.”
Both admit that the company was growing at an “alarming rate” around the time that Hayes joined. “During my first year,” says Hayes, “there was already talk of ‘where do we go next.’ Where is the next location?”
Oldershaw agrees, and adds, “If we get bigger than that, maybe it is time to look at a line. Maybe it is time to bump up the technology.”
North Shore now provides large-scale production runs of stain, paint and clear-coat applications. An automated flat-line equipment allows production capacity to exceed 1,000 cabinet door pieces per day, or 8,000 square feet of sheet stock and millwork. Custom finishing and refinishing are conducted in its 20 by 30 foot fully enclosed spray booth, creating a space for RandD, according to Oldershaw. “We’re always looking for better products — coatings, paints, processes — to suit our customers’ needs.”
The custom finishing team offers up any colour of stain or paint or clear coat application that is needed, and add-ons like glaze and distressing to cabinet doors, mill work, custom furniture and any other wood-based product the client has. The combined services at North Shore ensures a colour match on all components of a project, and the company welcomes any and all sizes of finishing jobs.
All of its operations employ 13 people.
Like most shops, attracting quality staff that sticks with the business is a challenge, but the company has been lucky recruiting carpentry and cabinet making students from nearby Georgian College. “You talk to 10 people and can’t find a single person,” says Hayes. “The weird side of the job filling process is the complaints from people who don’t have jobs and are looking for jobs. Then you offer the job, but the applicants are just not matching up. You shoot for experience, but that is a complete hit or miss.”
For the last couple of years, North Shore has always had some sort of co-op program going with local high schools, whether or not the person stays, according to Hayes. “We now have one co-op student who will work through the summer.”
The location of its current facility puts it adjacent to its largest client, which constructed a private road to inexpensively truck products back and forth. North Shore’s building was once an Erb logistics depot, and still functions as parking lot for Erb 18-wheeler transports.
A veteran finisher, Oldershaw understands that there are stringent regulations to be met when it comes to operating and storing spray equipment and materials. “There are fire codes and Ministry of the Environment rules — all spray shops have to be up to code,” he says. North Shore hired a fire code architect consultant to ensure their facility met safety regulations, he added.
The company also produces postcatalyzed lacquered finished dovetail drawer boxes, with notching options to accommodate industry standard under-mount-slides. Additional options include custom logo burning, supply and installation of undermount select slide clips and supply of select under-mount slides.
North Shore offers custom logo branding for the boxes, made to the client’s specifications, including the size, design and logo. Logos, graphics and fonts can all be added to the design, clients pay for the brand and the company stamps drawers free of additional charge.
According to Hayes, the existing customers that Oldershaw brought with him in the company’s early days helped North Shore get started. Then the task became to build up the client base using the good references that came from those customers.
“We are kind of getting heavier into the social media side of things now,” says Hayes. “That is picking some things up.” He notes the company uses Instagram the most, backed up by Facebook.” I don’t really use Twitter for anything — I don’t think that would help us. Everything about our business is helped by having pictures involved with it.” North Shore is receiving a lot of compliments now that it is boosting its social media profile. “With Instagram people like to see finished things — tables and kitchens or whatever,” says Hayes. “So, we try to put up a bit of work as we’re doing it. We also put up the finished product too, because that is where you get your biggest hits. People say, ‘look at that table.’” Hayes has noticed that there are a lot of live edge products on Instagram right now.
On Instagram, North Shore attracts a lot of people in the business, such as designers. “When you are using a lot of the hashtags on Instagram,” says Hayes, “designers are checking stuff out, as well as cabinet makers — big ones.
“And a lot of it has been word of mouth over the years. But there is only so much we can do in a day (on promotion).”
The decision to invest in flat line technology came from the company’s biggest client. “We can now do things a lot of people can’t do by just using a spray booth,” says Hayes. The client sells cabinets to Timber-Mart, Home Hardware and “slew of independent dealers.”
The company’s drawer box operations account for 20 percent of revenues, depending on the time of year, helping to smooth out the seasonal nature of sales at North Shore. Orders are often for around 25 drawers, or for the average kitchen, according to Hayes. “Drawer box clients are generally cabinet makers.”
North Shore dabbled in building custom cabinetry at one point, but concluded the effort wasn’t worth conflicting with its client base and financially it was a wash. “We gave custom cabinetry a go — which didn’t really work out for us,” says Oldershaw. “We just tried everything that would complement anything we did — except for being a full-blown cabinet shop, because that is where our customers come from.”
When products are required for exteriors, such as the doors it finishes for a production customer, the business takes a back seat to climate. “If you’re in California that is straight shot year-round (for builders). When you are in Canada, who wants to yank their front door off their house February 1? Their business drops off big time on that.”
A diverse client base is always a good thing for businesses in any sector that is tied to seasonal fluctuations. Hayes notes that other custom projects materialize during the cold months in Canada, “because some people like to get kitchens done during the winter and out of the way, so they are not dealing with it during the summer,” he says. “Basically, it’s like ‘OK I don’t want to rip my front door off when its minus 30 degrees C. But I don’t mind having some guys bring in some stuff and put in some new cabinets here.’
“Then, the scenario kind of flips to the other side when you get into the summer. Maybe somebody doesn’t want to rip their kitchen out during the summer because the family is on vacation. But that is when you are going to do all of your exterior doors.”
Canadian weather also affects production at North Shore in other ways. “Overwhelming heat and humidity will shut us down,” says Hayes.
“Being overly cold and dry is a problem with all of the paints. We have to avoid certain situations, so we don’t have any failures.”
Through all the growth North Shore has experienced, the partnership between Hayes and Oldershaw remains strong to this day. “Our agreement from the beginning was what happens in here remains in here,” says Hayes.
“What happens outside stays outside. It has worked out pretty good so far.”