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Do-it-yourself kits were a 'must' for kitchen renovators.

Louise and Russell Buckingham admit that they spent most of 1991 worrying that their business would not survive the recession.

However, some creative thinking in 1990 helped keep Buckingham Custom Woodcraft of Sudbury alive during the spare-no-business pillaging of the 1991 recession, and in September the orders started to come in.

Buckingham Custom Woodcraft is a kitchen cabinet and woodworking supply outlet for people who want to renovate their kitchens and bathrooms.

In 1990 the Buckinghams introduced a do-it-yourself kitchen kit which provides all the design plans and assembled units to renovate a kitchen.

The couple say this do-it-yourself approach can save a customer from 40 to 50 per cent of the cost of renovations.

"It's champagne taste on a beer budget," Russell says, adding that: "We had to change over. It wasn't maybe we should. We had to do this."

The Buckinghams say product quality and customer service are what give them a leg up on their competitors. They are now working with many repeat customers.

"People call back," Louise says. "They're not afraid. We'll take care of them."

She says the company must provide good service because it sells high-priced luxury items.

"If they (customers) are going to spend this kind of money, they want to be treated like somebody."

While the Buckinghams enjoy having a reputation as the highest-priced outlet in Sudbury, some customers still don't believe that they charge enough for their work.

"We've had people not buy from us because we're not (priced) high enough," Russell explains.

He says some people will travel to Toronto to buy a more expensive kitchen. The most the Buckinghams have charged to renovate a single kitchen was $15,000.

Sudbury born and bred, the Buckinghams left the city in the mid-1970s when Russell joined the OPP detachment in Nipigon.

While Louise baked bread, her husband filled his off-hours learning woodworking. He started with coffee and end tables, using the hobby to relax from his police work.

The couple returned to Sudbury in 1978 and eventually began renovating their own kitchen. Friends liked the finished product so much that they started placing orders.

By 1980 the hobby became enough of a part-time venture to justify building a shop. A year later, "we had more kitchen than we could handle," says Russell.

Since then, Buckingham Custom Woodcraft has grown beyond what either had planned or originally wanted, Louise says.

The couple managed to survive the recession of the 1980s and a strike at Inco Ltd. By 1984 they were renting retail space and expanded into the supply market. They have since moved all their operations to Edna Street in Sudbury in order to better serve their customers.

Today neither Russell or Louise has the time to do much hands-on work with a business to run.

However, keeping the business afloat has meant some streamlining and changes. Three years ago the Buckinghams employed 12 people. Now they employ only two men, having most recently laid off two people last month.

Automation has reduced the need for manpower.

For example, a German-designed, System 32 Frameless finishes cabinet parts before they are installed, thus reducing the time and difficulty in making cabinets.

While the machine cost $16,500 to purchase, it has meant a savings of nearly $30,000 so far.

Russell says two people can now produce a kitchen in a week. Without the System 32, it would take 10 days and six people to do the same work.

Meanwhile, an edgebander system, which applies edging to doors, eliminated two minimum-wage jobs as well as the tedious job of hand-sanding.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Title Annotation:Sudbury Report; Louise and Russell Buckingham of Buckingham Custom Woodcraft
Author:Young, Laura E.
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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