By Paul Long
After 50 years, Mill Cabinet Shop is much more than just a job for Randy Stover. It’s the backbone of his family, and the focal point of his life. Stover began working at the Bridgewater, Va., shop in 1966, while he was still in high school. It became a full-time job in 1971. Today, he’s spending less time in the shop, but he has no intention to retire anytime soon.
According to the shop’s website, millcabinetshop.com, Stover’s father, Harry, launched the business in 1959 with two friends, Ray Simmons and Willis Miller. Harry, who had worked in the furniture business in Harrisonburg before founding Mill Cabinet Shop, took over full ownership in 1966. At that time, Randy and his brother Lee began working at the shop on weekends and after school. Through the years, they took on a greater role in the business before eventually taking over.
In the summer of 1998, Harry Stover was killed in a car crash at the age of 77. Just six weeks later, Mill Cabinet Shop was destroyed by an early morning electrical fi re.”That was devastating,” Randy Stover said. “We were still kind of reeling from (the accident).”
But, in their darkest hours, Randy Stover and his family discovered what a special, tight-knit community they lived and worked in. A group of volunteers showed up to help clean up in the wake of the fire, and then assisted in the construction of a new building. By March 1999, just fi ve months after the blaze, Mill Cabinet Shop was up and running again. “There was a huge amount of community support,” Stover recalled. Rebuilding the shop allowed Randy and Lee to install better machinery and upgrade his equipment.
Through the years, the business has evolved considerably, with changes in the equipment used to make the cabinets. Everything is built in the shop and then installed on site.
“There’s a lot of attention to detail,” Randy said.
Most of Mill Cabinet Shop’s customers are within an hour’s drive. There are several customers in the northern Virginia and Charlottesville areas, and, Stover said, his company has been doing more business in the Winchester area recently. It’s a welcome change from the recession that slowed the housing industry several years ago. “Everywhere is pretty busy now,” said Stover. “It wasn’t like that in 2009, 2010.”
Currently the shop has about 20 fulltime employees, including designers, builders, molders and finishers. Even after some recent retirements, there are still employees who have been with Mill Cabinet Shop for as long as 40 years. Stover said he believes in taking care of his employees.
Today, Stover’s role primarily consists of meeting with clients face to face, and working with them from the design phase through the end of the process.
What sets Mill Cabinet Shop apart from its competitors is the fact that everything it builds is custom-made with its customers’ specifications in mind.
“Every cabinet in our shop has a name on it,” Stover said. Cabinet builders work with the customers throughout the construction process, and all materials are American-made. “We’re local, we’re family-owned,” Stover said. “Everything is local labor. We keep the money in the community. There’s no importing.”
Mill Cabinet Shop does some furniture production but mostly focuses on cabinets. It also builds kitchens, baths, closets, bars and libraries.
Customers typically find the shop through word of mouth, though the shop does have a social media presence and a website. Phone calls and walk-in business also helps, as do referrals.”Contractors are your best salesmen,” Stover said.
In addition to new construction, Mill Cabinet Shop also does a large amount of remodeling work. Keeping up with demand can be challenging. “Sales are easier than production, that’s for sure,” said Stover.
Stover has gradually scaled back his workload to an average of 45 to 50 hours a week for the past 10 to 15 years. He tries to limit his work week to five days whenever possible. He enjoys spending time with his family, which now includes three children and three grandchildren. And he finds time to travel and ride his motorcycle. This past June, he visited Alaska, and he recently returned from a trip to North Carolina.
If and when he does decide to retire, Randy Stover is confident the shop will be in good hands. His son, Alex, is an installer and his nephew, Pat Shiflet, is the office manager. In them, Randy Stover sees the work ethic that has been a family trademark from one generation to the next. “You always look to someone young and dependable who wants to work,” he said.
Mill Cabinet Shop is located at 3889 Dry River Road in Bridgewater, seven miles southwest of Harrisonburg. Call 540-828-6763 for hours or for more information.