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Posted on February 7, 2006
Section: News 
Page: D7

 


Custom woodworker puts emphasis on quality
KERRI FIVECOAT-CAMPBELL

Woodworking is an art that has yielded to less costly mass production, but New World technology is providing one Old World craftsman his American dream.

Ian Byrne, owner and founder of Byrne Custom Woodworking in Lenexa, began learning his craft as a 14-year-old boy in his native Ireland. Byrne immigrated to the United States with his wife, Kathy Quinn, who is a Kansas City native, in 1987.

Byrne's business has come a long way since he started making cabinets from a friend's garage with borrowed tools in 1989. He still makes custom cabinets, but he also fashions plantation shutters, mantels, molding and even replicas of pieces from photographs that clients bring him.

About 50 percent of his business is high-end custom residential woodwork, 30 percent is plantation shutters and the remaining 20 percent is for commercial clients, such as Harrah's Casino.

Sales in 2005 were about $1 million. Byrne's 2006 plan forecasts 50 percent growth in plantation shutter sales and a 20 percent increase in residential custom woodworking. Commercial sales are expected to remain about the same.

Byrne, who also plays in a Celtic rock band, The Elders, said he has a global perspective on his business. "When I left Ireland, there was a 26 percent unemployment rate," Byrne said. "It's really no wonder that most of the rest of the world wants to come and live here."

One of Byrne's first challenges was to determine how much more Americans would pay for quality custom woodwork.

"People don't mind paying additional for quality product," said Byrne.

Byrne moved his business from his friend's garage and eventually landed in a 4,000-square-foot building in the West Bottoms but he found that it was labor intensive to move furniture from floor to floor during the building and finishing process.

In 2003, a former supplier offered him 30,000 square feet of office and shop space in the Meritex Underground Complex in Lenexa.

The facility came with some advanced woodworking equipment and a forklift, which would help Byrne's craftsmen increase productivity, but he had some reservations about moving his 12 employees underground. "I had worked in all kinds of shops in Ireland, even some that were outside that had no roof. I wanted it heated and air-conditioned and cozy," said Byrne.

Byrne found the ventilation system to be state of the art and the previous company had outfitted the space with bright lights. The temperature stays a comfortable 68 degrees year around.

Byrne skipped ahead with his business plan by four years and funded a $250,000 capital investment into automated equipment that replicates Old World techniques. The new technology helps Byrne's employees use their skills to measure cuts without mistakes.

Byrne said his business grew by 20 percent last year.

The finishing shop is still housed in the West Bottoms. Before moving that part of the business underground, the company has to cut another ventilation shaft 65 feet into the ceiling to meet air standard requirements required when paint and varnish is being used.

He hopes to be able to relocate the shop and the remaining full-time employee to the Lenexa facility this year.

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