Owners - Doug Meier and Andrew Robertson
“It’s really interesting to think about and watch how trends come and go over a period of time,” said Richard Davison, former General Manager of Christian Brothers Cabinets, Inc. (CBCI). “When the guys started over 40 years ago, the biggest inspiration for cabinet design was the magazine pictures our customers brought in. Nowadays, between the internet and the home and garden channel on TV, we never run out of designs or inspiration,” he laughed.
“The guys” Davison refers to are Gary Craddic, Kent Runner and Dave Parks, original owners and craftsmen of CBCI. “They went to church together, participated in church activities. They realized they all shared a love of woodworking, and that’s where the name of the company came from,” Davison said. The three owned the company until 2014, when they were bought out by employees Doug Meier and Andrew Robertson. Davison served the company as its General Manager until 2014, and now handles much of the purchasing, estimating and scheduling duties.
“I’ve been here 36 years,” Davison said, “and while a lot has changed, it’s really mostly the same. We’ve had several moves, several shops. And the tools and technology get better, but the basic principles of designing and building a cabinet are the same.”
Davison said the cabinet shop’s original home was in a garage behind the Gandy building on Rice Lake Street. They quickly outgrew that location, hired more help and made the move to “that long brick building on North Cedar, across from Cenex,” Davison remembered. “But we had to move out of that one after there was a lightning strike in….oh, I don’t remember what year. But the lightning came through to the finish room, and a full kitchen we were building was completely destroyed. We took it out of the building in wheelbarrows.”
Three weeks later, he said, they rebuilt that same kitchen from their new shop on Front Street, to the west of ROCON Construction. “We couldn’t afford to waste any time. Even though we were a small shop, the few guys we had still had bills to pay and mouths to feed. We also had customers waiting for their installations, and we didn’t want to lose that business or any future business because we were dragging our feet,” Davison explained. He said their biggest competition at that time for custom-designed hand-crafted cabinets came from Wacek Brothers Cabinets, a family-owned and operated shop in Owatonna. “You could also buy pre-fabricated cabinets from the lumberyards like Wickes and Menards, but they were mostly made of composite materials, not solid wood like we used.”
Most of the cabinets built today at CBCI are for residential installations, Davison said, and most of the business is from new home construction. He said “we do most of our business within a 100-mile radius of Owatonna, including Rochester and the southern Metro area. We’re paired up with some great home builders who will only use our cabinets, so now we have three crews that strictly do installations. And our new installations average about four a week right now,” Davison added.
Davison said the new construction installations are preferred because they’re just easier to execute. “You don’t have to worry about working around furniture and Little Johnny’s toys and the family dog. You don’t have to hope that someone else measured and calculated correctly. You don’t have to worry about all the unknown perils that can affect your work. Is the floor level? Are the walls cracked? Has the foundation shifted? “ he explained.
And Davison said most of the staff prefer the residential jobs because “it just feels right. The biggest, most important thing most people own is their home. They work hard to maintain and improve it. It’s the place they raise their families and celebrate their biggest moments. We like to think we’re a small part of making the place people love the most a better place to be.”
CBCI took up its current residence on Alexander Drive in 2001-02. “We built this shop with the intention of being able to add on in the future. No more moving,” Davison laughed. He said the designers and carpenters look forward to new challenges, many of which are brought in by people who see new designs or get new ideas from the home shows on TV.
“Doug (Meier) always tells our designers, ‘If you can draw it, we can build it!’ They always cringe a little, but it always works out,” Davison laughed, pointing to a collection of photos on a bulkhead above. “Even the new USBank Stadium has some custom CBCI work in it. When they were building in 2016 they approached us with an idea for a Viking ship to be used as a bar in Mr. Wilf’s private suite. So even though it isn’t readily visible to the average Viking fan, it’s there, nonetheless. We couldn’t do the installation because we aren’t a Union shop, but our crew was there to watch it go in,” Davison recalled.
- Authored By Lisa Richmond