Just outside of Victoria, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island, Harbour City Kitchens makes some of the highest quality custom cabinets found anywhere. Also, the company's value line of DIY cash-and-carry cabinets rivals the big box stores. And actually, Harbour City is quite successful in that middle semi-custom kitchen market as well. "Our biggest advantage is agility.
We can cater to any market," says Lindsay Pattison, Operations Manager for Harbour City Kitchens. Certainly the company's continual investment in technology makes for versatile production. But Harbour City's innovation is also due in part to what it won't produce, which is essentially anything destined to be installed outside of the southern half of Vancouver Island. Efficiencies in automation and logistics, combined with the advantage of being a long-held locally owned business in a micro-market, contribute to Harbour City Kitchens' perpetual success. In its 55,000 square-foot workshop, the company produces about 2000 units of kitchen, bath and home storage case goods per year, from condo developments to custom homes.
Harbour City Kitchens serves a micro-economy that is based primarily on high-technology enterprise, environmentally focused tourism, local sustainability and the arts. In fact, Victoria is on track to be home to the first Platinum LEED community in the world, and is committed to being carbon neutral by the end of 2012. It stands to reason that Harbour City, a third-generation family-owned business, reflects these values.
Being able to cater to any price point in this limited market serves Harbour City well because of another interesting fact that is relatively unique to the area. "We have a very high housing market right now," says Pattison. "It is very expensive to get into the housing market here, so things like renovations are definitely becoming a lot more popular than new builds because it is just so expensive." Harbour City has long standing relationships with contractors, and good name recognition throughout the local community. And there is more to their operation than just kitchens. "We do any cabinetry, kitchens, bathrooms, closets, laundry rooms, built-ins, whatever the customer's interest is," says Pattison. "A lot of customers become repeat customers, doing different projects over time."
In order to provide such a wide range of products, Harbour City Kitchens has both solid wood and panel processing capabilities. "Nearly everything is made in house," says Craig Bryden, who is Harbour City's Production Manager and also an owner, along with brothers Tim and Scott Philipchalk. "On the wood side we make all the cabinet doors, dovetail drawers, butcher block counter tops, mouldings and millwork. We do buy some turned wood products, but everything is finished here. We also process TFM and plywood panels, occasionally purchasing high-gloss rigid thermofoil door and drawer fronts."
When it comes to materials, Harbour City's standard specifications reflect environmental responsibility, a value that is important to the both the company and the market it serves. For example, carcasses are made with NAUF MDF and particleboard. "It is not necessarily a demand, "says Pattison, "but it is another one of those things that becomes a perk." Harbour City regularly compares their products with those made from similar materials offered through the big box retailers to make sure they are price competitive. "Once you tell customers about the nature of the boxes, they are more interested. Often we have customers come in who are still shopping elsewhere, and it definitely gives us an advantage over the competition," says Pattison.
Distribution plays an important role in helping to navigate the ins and outs of the different environmental accreditations. "We spend time educating ourselves about how to get it done properly because there are a lot of rules involved. Especially with LEED projects," says Bryden. "We have preferred vendors, like Panolam, Newpro and Uniboard, but we are not really tied to one. We rely on our distributors, generally UCS or Hardwoods Specialty Products, to identify what materials meet the quality and environmental specifications, then choose suppliers based on logistics."
The company's agility gives customers more options when it comes to aesthetics. "Someone might come in and say, 'This is the look I want,' but it is way out of their budget. Well, we have products that can provide a similar look at a much lower price. It may not be exactly the same product, but we have many door styles, stain colors and options to go with," says Pattison. Harbour City tests out new materials and designs in the showroom, including the latest in hardware. "It is not just drawers and boxes anymore. People want more detailed organizational units, recycle units, spice racks, things like that," says Pattison. In addition to finely finished wood, textured TFM and veneer, the company is seeing increased interest in high-gloss thermofoil, particularly for accent work.
The combination of a limited distribution area and the capability to produce cabinets made from a variety of materials allows Harbour City Kitchens to be competitive across the market at virtually any price point. With cost taken out of the equation, customers in the greater Victoria area are more inclined to do business with a local company that is environmentally conscience, making Harbour City Kitchens a perfect match. Read on to learn more about Harbour City's recent investment in technology, which is moving them into position to be able to serve even more segments of their specific market, such as millwork and retail casework. And be sure to check out the details about the company's high-tech finishing operation in Finishing Matters.
Check out the The Technology Behind Harbour City Kitchens article
Check out the Harbour City Kitchens' Fine Finish article.
Complete a questionnaire to receive a complimentary 1-year subscription to Surface & Panel, the only magazine focused exclusively on the design, manufacture and marketing of panel-based furniture and casegoods.
fill out the questionnaire