Refocusing pays off: Eyewood grows despite the times

TRAVERSE CITY – Rather than focus on the state's bumpy economy, local business owner Randy Howard prefers an approach that's produced impressive results for his 14-year-old company: "Work harder and smarter."

"It's not all gloom and doom," says Howard, who along with his wife Carol operate Interlochen-based cabinetry manufacturer Eyewood Design Inc. "There is hope out there, there's stuff happening in Michigan, there are jobs out there."

Indeed, Eyewood Design continues to grow its business despite the down economy. The company, which started in 1994 out of the Howards' garage, grew 30 percent between 2005 and 2006, and 35 percent from 2006 to 2007, Howard says. Today, the business operates two shifts, employing 44 people. Construction is underway on an 8,000 square-foot fulfillment building that will be used primarily for staging finished goods prior to shipment.

"We're looking to continue to grow," says Howard, adding that the company has, on average, hired one person a month for the past two years. "We just bought the two acres next to us fronting U.S. 31."

Eyewood Design's success is due in large part to the company's willingness to adapt to change, Howard says. This was a hard lesson learned several years into operating their business, which the couple started as a residential kitchen and bath manufacturer. The emphasis was on building and selling only what the company produced locally.

"We had a few rough years awhile back – the economy was changing and we didn't react quickly enough," he says.

This led the company to shift gears and "focus on core efficiencies," Howard says. The result: while residential cabinets made up 75 percent of business eight to 10 years ago, Eyewood's clients are now 95 percent commercial, including banks and credit unions, libraries, beauty salons, wineries and assisted-living facilities and hospitals.

Recognizing a growing need for cabinetry within the medical community, Eyewood Design placed a higher emphasis on this market segment.

"We real aggressively went after that business," he says, adding that now the majority of the company's commercial customers, both local and throughout the Midwest, are in the medical field. Eyewood's goal, Howard says, "is to provide world-class products and services from local to national and global markets."

Another secret to success, Howard says, is a continued dedication to visiting and meeting with owners and contractors face-to-face. Howard feels strongly about putting faces to names and establishing strong working relationships.

"We want customers to know we are in this for the long haul," says Howard, who has his own cell phone number posted on Eyewood Design's web site at www.eyewood.com.

"If I'm vertical, I answer the phone."

Thankful to those who support the local economy, Howard says Eyewood Design remains committed to its relationships with the local construction community.

"We still do kitchens locally and work with builders," he says. "We have a design studio on Woodmere, which we've had for eight years … We are very grateful for the success we have had over the last 15 years, and thank all of our customers, clients, vendors, suppliers and staff for all of the support." BN

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