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Considered New England’s premiere custom millwork and cabinetry maker today, Landmark Finish transforms homes and businesses with one-of-a-kind solutions. But when the high-end home market sank in 2008, owners Stewart and Deanna Junge were forced with a harsh decision – close up shop or reinvent their business.
Founded by Stewart Junge in 2001, Landmark Finish provided finish carpentry and millwork for the high-end residential construction market, which quickly dried up when the housing market crashed seven years later. With a two-year-old son at home, a new baby on the way and a newly acquired 16,000-square-foot manufacturing location in need of substantial renovation, the husband and wife team decided to double down on their business. They built out a commercial portfolio over the next several years in the corporate, education, healthcare, municipal and retail sectors. The couple also invested in state-of-the-art Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machinery and software along the way, which transformed how Landmark Finish fabricates its custom cabinetry, countertops and millwork.
Their bet continues to pay off, opening doors to new opportunities. Based in Andover, Massachusetts, the shop is involved in prototyping and manufacturing high-quality products for small businesses and CNC machining parts for other shops throughout New England. Landmark Finish has successfully re-entered the residential market, adding custom closets to the product line and earning Northshore Home Magazine’s Best of North Shore Reader’s Choice award in 2018. The Junges partner with community organizations and local vocational schools to actively promote the trades as a desirable career path and train a new generation of workers in custom millwork and cabinetry.
SBT: What inspired you to start your own custom millwork and cabinetry shop, Stewart?
Stewart Junge: I like making things. I enjoy the challenge of figuring things out and solving people’s problems. I started out as a finish carpenter and when the market crashed in 2008 we changed our focus to commercial cabinetry to keep the business afloat.
SBT: What are some common misconceptions people have about custom cabinetry?
Deanna Junge: The biggest misconception about using a custom cabinet shop is that it will be expensive. We’ve worked with both the commercial and residential markets. We have our hands on a lot of different materials. We know homeowners are not going to go for certain materials but sometimes we have to educate them about what they want and what works with their budget. That’s when we start talking about different materials. But materials that are out of one customer’s budget doesn’t mean the same materials are out of everybody’s budget. We’re able to fine tune and suggest value engineering in different materials to still achieve what a client is looking for aesthetically and financially.
We also often hear nightmare stories about kitchen renovations that never ended. The project has to be properly planned. When people are without their kitchen, they’re making all sorts of accommodations in their life. They can’t cook, they can’t do the dishes. When we go into somebody’s home we know we need to win their trust. We know a kitchen renovation doesn’t need to be a nightmare. It can go smooth when you plan for it properly. We schedule enough time on our end to make the cabinetry so it’s ready when our clients’ general contractors are ready for it. It doesn’t have to be a three- or four-month project when it’s planned properly.
SBT: What’s the most important question homeowners should ask when considering custom cabinetry versus stock?
Stewart Junge: Ask how long a company has been in business and make sure that if there is a warranty issue down the road, the company will be there to stand behind the product.
Deanna Junge: We also often talk about our experience working with various materials so we can offer different things that stores and other shops don’t. One of our clients has young children so she was concerned about durability. We talk about the quality of the hardware and the quality of the materials we use, which helps clients feel confident about what they’re investing in.
Some people want something traditional that’s not going to go out of style and other people want the latest trends. We always try to stay current on trends. We attend trade shows whenever we can. We read trade magazines. So asking questions about longevity, quality of materials and trends will help you know whether you’re in good, trustworthy hands.
SBT: Is there a lesson that you learned early on that still impacts what you’re doing today?
Stewart Junge: Quality can’t be compromised. Do a job correctly and exceed expectations. Make the nicest things you can for the client.
SBT: How does that approach help your clients?
Deanna Junge: Somebody may be new to a home and they’re renovating a kitchen, for example. It may not have the flow that our client wants or needs. Ergonomics are important in a kitchen. You’re looking for a natural flow while you’re cooking, doing dishes, loading the dishwasher and making sure that accessories are in the right position. It’s making the space functional so you can move around and get your job done efficiently and comfortably in addition to making it look nice.
We always get into the space for the initial consultation so we can see it first, then we start an interview process to find out which existing features they like and which ones they want to change. We discuss budget and timeline before getting into the details like materials and layout. Then we can produce shop drawings and look at things from a visual standpoint on paper and move things around if necessary.
SBT: What sets Landmark Finish apart from other cabinet shops?
Deanna Junge: Most cabinetry shops are selling things made by other people. When a customer comes to us they are getting cabinets we create for them. We understand that it’s personal when someone lets us into their home and allows us to be a part of their project. That’s why we treat every project like it’s our own and we strive to exceed expectations. We also have a unique space of our own. Our show room and manufacturing facility is in an historic mill building, a space that was vacant for many years that we brought back to life. When clients come to the showroom, we always give them the tour so they can see our work in progress.
SBT: What are some of the ways Landmark Finish has innovated the cabinet-making process?
Stewart Junge: We have to focus on technology, software and machines. It’s easier to train someone to operate a machine, but it takes time to train someone on the skill and art of making things, especially if they do not have the natural aptitude.
Deanna Junge: We’re working with local schools like Greater Lawrence Tech to take on co-op students to help train the next generation workforce. Five years ago, when we were having trouble finding help, it seemed like a lot of the vocational schools were not focusing on woodworking anymore. Stewart met people from different shops and colleagues in the industry, and collectively, they’re making the general public more aware of this gap in the workplace. Many vocational schools teach carpentry but not specifically cabinetmaking, so we started investing in automating our shop about six years ago. Everything on our CNC router is computer programmed, so that takes out much of the potential human error compared to someone running a table saw and other traditional woodworking equipment, for example.
Stewart Junge: We’ve had to “de-skill” our fabrication process and shift the training to properly operating the machines.
Deanna Junge: Ornate design is not in demand right now either. Clean lines are the design trend and that doesn’t necessarily require woodworking experience. We’re looking for workers who have common sense, some basic skills and a strong work ethic. Someone reliable and career-minded, who has some basic hand tool and worksite safety skills, and is eager to grow with the company makes a great fit for us.
SBT : How are you handling the current decline of career-minded workers in the trades?
Stewart Junge: It’s unfortunate, but it seems in the last few years that many people in this field are looking for a short-term “gig” position. We don’t see many people looking for careers so we’ve altered our business to accommodate that by simplifying what we do and making the work easier.
Deanna Junge: The manufacturing industry still has a negative stigma with many students still being told that manufacturing is not a good career option. That’s why we have this shortage of workers. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and other states across the country are starting to put money into promoting manufacturing careers so the message is starting to change. We’re seeing more articles about how pursuing careers in manufacturing and the trades is a smart decision. Metal workers, crane operators and other manufacturing workers are making more money than people who go to college in some cases. There is a benefit to pursuing trade careers now because it’s a niche that needs people.
SBT: Landmark Finish is a family-owned business. How do you see your work impacting your sons?
Our kids are in the shop all the time and they’ve started making and selling butcher block cutting boards out of our solid wood scraps from the shop. They spend time watching makers on YouTube. They follow metal workers and woodworkers so there is this movement happening in the younger generation around making things with your hands. We encourage our children and actively participate in opportunities to raise awareness around this. For us, that means working with local schools and getting involved in community groups that are bringing awareness to the cause.
Founded in 2001, Landmark Finish is a family- and veteran-owned custom millwork and cabinetry company that makes all its wood and laminate cabinetry, custom closets and countertops for corporate, education, healthcare, municipal, retail and residences in its Andover headquarters. To learn more, visit Landmark Finish.
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