In the highly competitive world of kitchen cabinet manufacturing, Pacific Crest Industries, a family-owned business operating in Washington state, deviates from the norm in many refreshing ways. It seems odd to characterize one of the finest frameless semicustom cabinet manufacturers as honorable, yet it is Pacific Crest’s commitment to serving the greater good that drives its investment and innovation. CEO Steve Bell believes that the beginning of quality is culture and that business done well can make the world a better place.
“Clients are impressed with our beautiful product and our clean, high-tech operation, but our greatest asset is our people component, our intellectual equity, who we are and how we are driven,” says John Brush CKD, CBD and director of marketing for Pacific Crest. “At Pacific Crest we have a set of core values that drives our business and keeps us focused. They are: respect, responsibility, integrity, stewardship and excellence. And they come into play in everything we do, the vendors we choose, the dealers we want to work with and the people we hire. The key is sticking to those core values. It is a component of our business that draws people to us and makes them want to do business with us.” For most end users, framed or frameless construction doesn’t matter, they just like the look. Ultimately people align with people who they can connect to.
Frameless construction requires Pacific Crest to manufacture within tighter tolerances than the face-framed alternative. But it also allows for practically limitless finish options because there is no gap between doors to account for. Pacific Crest’s door front offering will please any materialista: stained and painted wood, Brookside engineered veneer over edgebanded slabs, striated HPL designs from Wilsonart or Formica, high gloss in ABS or thermofoil over MDF from Northern Contours, and an imported thermally structured laminate pressed with dramatic texture fused to particleboard. Pacific Crest even offers Lumicor translucent panel inserts in addition to traditional acid-etched glass.
Pacific Crest offers three product lines of fully assembled cabinets, Bellmont, Amero and Bellmont 1600, all of which go to market via a distribution network of about 200 independent kitchen dealers nationwide. The versatility afforded by frameless construction means that Pacific Crest does traditional, transitional and modern styling well and is able to offer their products across several different price points. “Full-access construction is gaining traction and growing as we come out of this recession,” says Bell. “I think there is a renewed interest as space becomes a more important element of design. Right now it is really pretty amazing. Our business is actually growing again, in large part because of the products we build.”
Bell got his start in the 1980s building a face-framed product for kitchen remodels in his small shop. “I was reading all these trade magazines and it certainly looked to me like the frameless cabinet was going to take over the world. And I wanted to be on that ride,” says Bell. “I didn’t have enough room in my shop to do both types of products, so in late 1986, early 1987 I went cold turkey into frameless. I bought a little edgebanding machine, a sliding table saw and a 23-spindle Ritter line boring machine. I learned about the 32 mm system and started building a frameless cabinet. That is all we have done since then.”
Kitchen cabinetry is an extremely precarious business in today’s marketplace. “The industry has shrunk by almost 70 percent in the last four years, it has been a world changer for sure,” says Bell. Part of what allows Pacific Crest to remain competitive is respect for one of the fundamental concepts in economics, that markets are not created, they are served. To do this Bell and his team devote a good deal of effort to understanding both the kitchen cabinet industry in general and the needs of end users.
Bell has a simple schematic that he uses for explaining the North American kitchen cabinet market and Pacific Crest’s place within it. Think of a triangle with three horizontal lines. The top bit is custom. The mid-section is semi-custom, and the bottom is stock. According to KCMA statistics the semi-custom segment is the only segment that had any growth last year. Overall the entire industry shrank another 4 percent in 2010. Semi-custom remained even while both stock and custom lost ground. “The breadth denotes the volume of these segments in the last three or four years,” explains Bell. “The highest-end custom cabinet market has been decimated, almost literally, off more than 70 percent. All those guys who are still surviving are trying to move downward in price and scope to get into that semi-custom middle area, where we are. Now at the bottom you have all the stock manufacturers, who are getting eaten alive by the Chinese imports, and they are all trying to come up.”
In recent history, frameless cabinetry has made up roughly 12 percent of the overall market, and according to Brush that number is steadily growing. The increase of framed products offering “full overlay” doors with specialty hardware to achieve the look of frameless construction supports this observation. So what is driving consumer kitchen trends? After 25 years in the world of fashion and design, Brush has some good insights into what is influencing current buying decisions. “Look at the change in demographics. The largest part of expendable income is still baby boomers remodeling, but that is declining. A lot of the baby boomers have seen their retirement funds slip away, so they are more likely to spend $20,000 than $100,000. And baby boomers have been the mainstay of this mid-upper price range for the industry,” explains Brush. “Now we are looking at generations X and Y. They are driven differently. Gen X and Gen Y are driven by the look of a cabinet. They aren’t so into details like handcrafted dovetails in drawers. Instead they are heavily influenced by technology and more open to engineered aesthetics. Think urban loft, stainless steel, horizontal wood grain, high gloss, metal edgebanding. It is important to respect what is culturally generationally relevant, that flows all the way through styles and finishes to price. And price drives construction and materials.”
It is important to respect what is culturally generationally relevant, that flows all the way through styles and finishes to price. And price drives construction and materials.
In February of 2011 Pacific Crest launched its new Bellmont 1600 line to respond to the void in the transitional and contemporary side of the value stream. “With our 25 years of experience building only frameless cabinets, we looked for opportunities within our body of knowledge to figure out how to build a full access cabinet for less money, and offer a product that looks like luxury,” says Bell. “And we think we hit it out of the park.” By making minor modifications and offering a limited set of standard finishes, Pacific Crest was able to make great looking cabinets more affordable. Bellmont 1600 complements Pacific Crest’s other offerings. The flagship line, Bellmont Cabinetry, provides full custom flexibility while the Amero Cabinet Collection brings great selection and superb quality when full-custom isn’t required. High-quality Salice hinges are used throughout all of Pacific Crest’s products as are Blum tilt-ups, lift-ups and glides.
There used to be basically two models of cabinet manufacturers, the stock operations that build to inventory, and the just in time producers. “Part of the secret of our success is we are blurring those lines with technology,” says Bell. “It is not necessary to build thousands of parts to get the economy of scale when you have machinery that can build every part exactly accurate.”
The quality of a frameless cabinet depends on two things; box alignment and edgebanding. “I think it is the degree of precision that makes the difference,” says Bell. “In face framed cabinetry everything hides behind the face frame. Frameless requires every cut to be absolutely chip free because the panel being cut is what will be seen. The edgebanding has to be absolutely precise. The matching has to be 100 percent dead on or else boxes don’t align and you have irregularities and out of square boxes. That is why it is rare to see anybody who does both frame and frameless and does either of them well.”
Pacific Crest builds carcasses in-house out of Birch plywood finished with a UV coating and TFM or vinyl over particleboard. They also offer a NAF “eco-box” that is made from 100-percent recycled content. Several different board suppliers serve Pacific Crest, including Collins, Roseburg, Boise Cascade and Timber Products. “Everything we use in our plant is CARB II compliant and meets the EPP specification,” says Brush. Pacific Crest uses outsourced door suppliers for miter-cornered doors and thermoformed door fronts, but processes most of its five-piece doors, along with all dovetailing and flat-panel options in-house, including wood and painted products that are made from 100 percent MDF core.
Accountability throughout operations is achieved through Pacific Crest’s Insight ERP that interfaces with 20/20 design software. “We are in the process of integrating a 20/20 platform that goes from dealer/ designer all the way through, generating bill of materials, purchase orders for outsourced components, optimization and assembly, all the way through to packaging which reads a barcode and builds boxes on demand,” says Bell. Beyond convenience, this new system will enable Pacific Crest use resources more efficiently. And if there is one driving factor behind Pacific Crest’s operations, it is social responsibility.
“For us sustainability is a part of who we are. We have a holistic approach that isn’t just about the responsible materials we source, it is about the way we live our lives,” says Bell. “We recycle everything than can be recycled, our trash, our finishing materials, even the very air that goes into our building that circulates. All of our lighting is high efficiency and used in conjunction with natural light. Plus we have variable frequency drive motors on our dust collectors.” But Pacific Crest does a lot more than just manufacture responsibly.
Despite Steven Bell’s finely honed business prowess, his intention is not to take over the world. In fact, it is to help it. “We’re involved in a lot of community and humanitarian efforts, giving back to the community and giving back to the world at large. In fact, our primary motivation for being in business is to make the world a better place,” says Bell.
And he means it. A peek at the news portion of Pacific Crest’s website reveals a list of philanthropic efforts and awards too long to list here. One global example is the company’s adoption of a village in El Salvador through Argos International, an organization that developed a successful model for helping people break the cycle of poverty. Pacific Crest also devotes time and resources to local efforts such as Habitat for Humanity. Though Bell will speak passionately and in great detail about Pacific Crest, or the humanitarian programs he is passionate about, he probably won’t mention the many awards he has received, including the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Besides building great cabinets, Pacific Crest promotes a culture based on respect, responsibility, integrity, stewardship and excellence. “We learn from others, they learn from us,” says Bell, “and together we grow.“
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