Gregory Zoulamis Jessica Lowell

Name: Greg Zoulamis

Age: 48

Title: Owner

Business: Zoulamis Fine Woodworking, Gardiner

About: Zoulamis Fine Woodworking does custom kitchen cabinetry, architectural millwork, historical replication, furniture and pretty much anything fine woodworking related.

Online: www.facebook.com/ZFWWoodworking/

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

We’re having a hard time finding talented, qualified people to work in this industry. Essentially we’re cabinet makers and I guess a lot of people have not gotten into this industry in the last 10 or 15 years. It seems like a lot of the folks that are in this industry, they’re older, 55, 60, 65. Folks are retiring. There’s not a lot of new blood getting into the industry. We put out many ads trying to hire people that have five years, 10 years experience and haven’t been able to come up with anyone. So I am training people who are young, smart and eager to learn this industry.

There’s one person who just started on, she’s probably early 30s and comes from a different background, did woodworking as a hobbyist, applied for the position here even though it said five years minimum experience. And she had a great resume and sounded really smart and was a professional  that would show up on time with a good attitude. And I said, you know what? Let’s give it a try. It’s worked out great. And then we have two other gentlemen that work here. One  graduated from Eastern Maine Community College, I believe it is. He took their two-year woodworking program or a fine woodworking program. So he learned about a little bit of everything — wood, woodworking, cabinetry and furniture and millwork, so he’s great.

Who has influenced you most in business?

I would say my father (Chris Zoulamis). He’s a go-getter. Since we moved to Maine, he’s always had his own businesses or worked for himself. I worked for him when I was a kid. He had restaurants. We worked together, we had a couple of different restaurants and I ran one and I just saw that  you make your own life, you do what you want to do. There’s no one that you have to answer to except for yourself, you know what I mean?

When did you know your business was established?

I don’t know if I still know that actually. No, I’m just kidding. I’m kidding! We had a tough go. I started the business, I think it was 2006 officially. Right? So that’s 14 years. We had it really pretty good (in the beginning). I had already made a bunch of contacts over the six or seven years that I had been working with other cabinet shops, learning the business, It was good for two or three years and then the economy collapsed, which was really, really tough. Somehow we made it through that. I’d say probably six years ago, things started to gel a little bit, you know?

Oh, (the Great Recession) brutal, brutal. It was brutal. It was brutal. I was doing anything I could do to keep the shop going. I think Maine was a little bit behind the curve on (the recession). The rest of the country was hit, I don’t know, 2008, 2009 maybe. I think for Maine it came a little bit later, at least for me it did. The options were close the shop down and go work for someone else. But, you know, cabinet shops were closing so my wife and I decided: You know what? We’ve worked as hard as we could for the last four years to build the network and the relationships that we have. You do whatever you can to nurture those and continue building those relationships. And it was really hard work is what it was, you know, 60 hours, 65 hours a week, and for less hourly wage rate than we would normally charge.

How do you overcome obstacles?

It’s a multi-pronged thing. It’s not just one thing that makes everything happen. We did a lot of things. We refinanced our house. So we went from a 30-year mortgage that at the time we had paid three or four years on, let’s say. We went back to a 30-year mortgage with a lower rate. That reduced our monthly living expense. We ate less, obviously, did some more frugal shopping. Most folks did.

We weren’t making as much money, and you know, business-wise, you just gotta watch everything. You gotta be smart. You can’t take for granted that wherever you’re buying something is the best price. So, you shop for stuff and make sure that you’re watching every penny, really.

It’s all about cash flow. You have employees, you have bills, you have everything that comes  due and you have to manage it. That’s it. I have to forecast and see what we have for accounts receivable and what’s going on that way, and what work do we have on the books? What work that we need to follow up on?

So, we’ll do some pretty good-size jobs, $100,000,  $150,000 jobs. You’re owed a substantial amount of money and you know, it’s coming, right? Because you’ve performed the work and it’s all done and stuff. So you have to figure out how to navigate that until you get your final payment in. That’s where I get paid really. Everybody else gets paid, you know — you pay for the materials and employees and the rent and all that stuff.

I had my own business before this, a restaurant and my dad taught me, so from my early twenties, I’ve been in front of the businesses. You know, every day you have to really monitor everything. We really do — the bank account and the balance and what checks are out and what’s not clearing and how are you gonna make payroll next week?  It’s a lot of stuff.

There’s a lot to do there. And, and over the years, you know, I’ve developed my own methods that work for me. Technology has helped stuff out a lot. I mean, years ago, I would do payroll by hand. You’d have to go down to the bank and deposit the money for the taxes and all that stuff. It’s online now; it’s all, it’s all digital.

Where will your business be in five years?

It’s going to be over double what we’re doing right now for business.

I made a decision probably three years ago, because it was just me and one person and I had about 3,000 square feet. I made a decision that I wanted to grow the company and some opportunities came up in the building that I’m in. Some space became available next to me and I decided to take it on and expand.

So in 2018, 2019 gross sales, we were up — I dunno, my accountant told me the other day — 40% higher. It was huge. It was enormous. So I have four really nice people that work here with me. They’re great. They’re professionals. They show up on time, they have great attitude. They love what they do and it shows. So I’m, I’m hoping to find two more people like that and we’re going to expand.

There’s another couple of thousand square feet available on the other side of this other space (I have) and I’m hoping that we can move into there as well. It is really is a lot of space because with this type of work, you need a lot of space. You have a lot of machinery and you need a lot of room, walking room safety-wise around it, and to bring material in and out. We have a room that has a CNC router in it. I program it to run, it cuts all of our our plywood for our cabinets. It’s amazing. That transformed the business right there.

So in five years I’m shooting for double where we are right now.

 


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