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Family-owned English Cabinet Shop specializes in 'commercial case work'

January 5th, 2012 9:27 am by Staff Report

Family-owned English Cabinet Shop specializes in 'commercial case work'

English Cabinet Shop has been able to weather the outside competition, mainly because of the quality of their work and the company's reputation.

English Cabinet Shop is a modern production facility for manufacturing commercial cabinets, said Randall English.

"We are much more than just a small hole in the wall cabinet shop that makes cabinets on the side. And that’s hard for people to understand without seeing our production facility," Randall explained. In fact, English Cabinet Shop has the region’s only CNC router capable of processing 35 sheets of material a day.

English Cabinet Shop started out small, with Randall, and his brother, Kenneth, going into business with their father, Charles, in 1984. Charles had been a residential homebuilder for 28 years when the high interest rates hit in the 1980s. When it was no longer feasible for Charles to remain in the construction business, he took a position teaching building trades at Kingsport’s Dobyns-Bennett High School.

When the high school decided to end the building program, Charles, Randall and Kenneth decided to give commercial building a try. Jean English, matriarch of the family, joined her husband and sons to run the office operations.

Their first commercial project was at the now-defunct Lincoln State Savings & Loan on Stone Drive. Pretty soon, they started picking up more and more commercial business and incorporated in 1984 as English Cabinet Shop.

Today, English Cabinet Shop specializes in "commercial case work," performed mainly for medical offices and schools. And they have a long list of repeat customers like Wellmont, Holston Medical Group and Dobyns-Bennett High School.

As members of the General Association of Contractors, English Cabinet Shop works with the majority of major contractors within the Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. They traditionally work within a 100-mile radius of their Memorial Boulevard shop.

There have been times, however, when the crew would travel around the country working with a specific contractor or architect.

"Dad blew up the truck coming back from Louisiana one time. Mom kept saying the truck sounded funny, but Dad just kept driving until the truck blew up," Randall laughed. Charles added, "That was on Christmas day one year."

Like most contractors or sub-contractors, the family has faced their share of challenges.

"Early on, one of the biggest challenges was keeping skilled workers," Randall said. "We have had some very talented craftsmen move into the region. They would work a while, then get homesick and leave. It’s hard to replace folks like that," Randall said.

Most recently, the biggest challenge has been outside competition. Even during the recession, commercial building has remained steady in the region. This created a large influx of outside competition from places like Hampton Roads, Va., and Nashville, Tenn., where commercial work has essentially stopped.

English Cabinet Shop has been able to weather the outside competition, mainly because of the quality of their work and the company’s reputation.

"We try to be fair and honest with our customers," Randall said. When times are tight though, being a family-owned operation has helped the company stay in business. "When things get tough, and we have to make sacrifices on our own part, we do that."

Their brother, Rob, recently joined the family-owned business. When asked if the next generation of English children would join the family business, both Randall and Charles laughed.

"Most of the children are too young right now to even think about that," Randall said. Rob has two daughters, ages 21 and 22, but their grandfather jokingly said "they are probably too girly" for this work.

The girls both worked at the shop during their teenage years. Their grandfather proudly added that the girls drove 20,000 dowels by hand one summer.

"I’d say that probably did them in," Charles laughed.

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