Brendan Mathews quit the corporate rat race and discovered a fulfilling career making custom cabinets.
Growing up, the closest master cabinetmaker Brendan Mathews thought he would ever come to being a woodworker was wielding a baseball bat.
“Like half of little boys in the U.S. I thought I was going to be a baseball player,” Mathews says with a laugh. “I felt competent and reasonably skilled but I never thought I had a natural aptitude for woodworking.”
By leveraging his inner drive and continuous pursuit of self-improvement, Mathews has not only succeeded as a professional custom cabinetmaker, he has enjoyed the opportunity to teach the next generation of cabinetmakers. Mathews owns Foothill Cabinetworks in Vista, CA, and moonlights as an instructor of the two-semester Production Cabinetmaking at nearby Palomar College.
“Most of what I tell my students who are interested in making a living as woodworkers is based on what I have learned,” Mathews says. “If you have the persistence and willingness to always improve and the abilities to self-direct and communicate well, then you can find success. I honestly didn’t feel like I had a natural born skill, but what I do have is persistence, discipline and a willingness to work. I learned to cultivate the skills of being a good woodworker and knowing what makes good design.”
Soul Search Leads to Career Change
Mathews didn’t take up woodworking until his mid-30s when he grew increasingly “frustrated” with his job as a middle manager for a retail company. “I couldn’t see doing that for the rest of my life. It really wasn’t a monetary issue. It was more of a personal decision to take control of my life and find something that made me feel satisfied.”
His desire to find a new career path led him to enroll at Palomar College in 1985, Mathews says, “My first thought was to get into the fire department. Then, when I started taking fire science classes, I became more aware of the woodworking courses that the college offered. For two years I studied both woodworking and fire science. Ultimately, I went in the direction of woodworking because there seemed to be more avenues available to me at the time.”
Mathews honed his woodworking skills by working for several area shops. In 1996, he launched Foothill Cabinetworks in the daylight basement of his home. Soon after, Palomar College reached out to him about instructing a woodworking course.
“I agreed to teach because I saw it as an interesting opportunity,” Mathews says. “When I was in my third or fourth year of teaching woodworking courses, I was asked to teach the Production Cabinetmaking class. I’ve been teaching that class ever since.”
Software Essential to Business Model
While Mathews has the skills to build high-end custom cabinets from scratch, he has developed a business model that leans heavily on outsourcing components, including drawer boxes, cabinet doors, mouldings, carvings and custom-sized panels.
“I was fortunate to live in a house built into a slope that had a basement big enough for me to start my own business. As I got established, I looked at moving into an industrial space but realized that I didn’t need a big manufacturing plant to be successful. I just needed to have access to vendors that have those factories.”
By developing a supply chain of reliable component specialists, Mathews has been able to focus on the design, sales, assembly and installation of kitchen and bath cabinets, media centers, closets and other residential interior products. “I assimilate all of the different parts needed to assemble a job. If a part is too complex to job out, we’ll make it ourselves.”
A key ingredient of Mathews’ business recipe to help manage projects is KCD Software.
“Early on I learned that I needed a design program to help with both designing and selling to potential clients. I could not operate this type of business without having that level of proficiency and for me KCD was the best one. I knew that KCD was created by somebody who was initially a cabinetmaker. I think that’s why the way the program works is more intuitive than others I looked at.”
Mathews has used KCD Software for 20 years and has first-hand appreciation for the improvements made in each software update along the way.
“I find that my customers love the 3D modeling,” Mathews says. “Being able to show them exactly what they’ll be getting really makes the sales process so much better. I like when my design sessions with customers are interactive. Based on our initial consultation I will create a design. Then we can look at it together and they can suggest changes in colors to not only the cabinets, but flooring, walls, back splashes and even lighting. I think one of the things customers most appreciate about my services is that they get really good design input overall and not just for the cabinetry.”
Once a customer has signed off on a design, Mathews says KCD Software generates an assembly sheet and a list of all of the hardware and materials to complete the job.
“I do not own a CNC machine, but I have a relationship with Dan Dresner Cabinetry, who does. I basically email him the KCD design file and he mills all of the parts for me. When they’re ready, I pick them up.”
Yet, another way KCD Software serves Mathews’ project management needs, is sharing the elevations with subcontractors to facilitate installation. “I can give the elevations and plan views to the electrician so that he knows exactly where all of the lighting should go or where electrical service for the refrigerator or oven needs to be. The same goes for plumbing. It makes it easier for me to communicate with other people that are involved with job and makes the process that much smoother for the customer.”
Mathews stresses that developing strong communication skills is paramount for keeping customers satisfied.
“I care about what I’m doing for my customers. I want them to have great products and great design,” Mathews says. “I think teaching has made me a better communicator. I always tell my students, whatever you do, don’t leave unhappy people behind. A good reputation is hard to acquire and a bad reputation is hard to get rid of.”
For more information about Foothill Cabinetworks, visit their website at www.foothillcabinetworks.com or phone 760.941.7139. For more information about how KCD Software can streamline your business, please give us a call at 508-760-1140.