Strategy Coach Dale Bruder, left, discusses company changes with Joe Atkinson, second generation owner of Atkinson's Cabinet Shop. photo by Jeffery Scott


The business: Atkinson's Cabinet Shop; 3150 E. 47th St.;(520) 792-4775
Founded: 1973 by Richard and Barbara Atkinson; purchased in April 2000.
The owner: Joe and Kristina Atkinson
The products: Custom cabinetry and furniture.
The challenge: Changing the business culture.

The Story

Joe Atkinson grew up in Tucson, graduating from Sahuaro High School in 1986. From age 6, he began spending time at Atkinson's Cabinet Shop, a business his parents opened in 1973

"I've done every job there is to do," Atkinson says.

After high school, he performed installation and made sales for the company. His wife, Kristina, was earning a bachelor's degree in international banking and finance from the University of Arizona.

When Kristina was accepted into law school at the University of San Diego, the couple moved there. Joe worked for his father-in-law, managing properties, remodeling homes and supervising improvement projects.

When Kristina graduated in 1996, the couple moved back to Tucson. He went back to Atkinson's Cabinet, managing commercial sales. His father still owned and operated the business, with help from Joe and a son-in-law. Business peaked at $2.2 million in annual sales for fiscal year 2000, when Joe successfully bid on a major remodeling project at the Westin La Paloma.

As the company grew, family health problems caused Joe to take charge, he says. Kristina took over accounting and administrative functions.

In April 2000, Joe and Kristina purchased the company. Atkinson's Cabinet Shop should focus on custom homes and home remodels, particularly kitchen cabinets, Joe says. Less profitable work has been shed and sales in the most recent fiscal year dropped to $1.6 million. There are 16 employees.

Before, Joe, his father and brother-in-law picked up any slack in service and production efforts. Now, Joe wants to hire the best people he can find and delegate responsibility for completing assigned tasks.

He wants his staffers to know who is in charge and wants them to understand their responsibilities. There are many cabinet styles, and he wants products and processes properly documented.

Above all, Atkinson wants each staff member to take personal responsibility for customer service. In return, Atkinson plans to train motivated employees for careers at Atkinson's Cabinet Shop or for advancement with other companies in the custom cabinet industry, he says.

The Advice

Joe Atkinson is intent on retaining company values established by his father, says business consultant Coach Dale Bruder. The company was founded on integrity, craftsmanship and long-term warranties.

"Joe Atkinson's challenge is to shift Atkinson's Cabinet Shop from a lifestyle business into a major supplier of quality custom residential and commercial cabinetry," Coach Bruder says.

Atkinson should do a market gap analysis, a study meant to identify available opportunities for growth, Coach Bruder says. The result will be an understanding of competition, the type and price points of products acceptable to the marketplace, and work force and technology requirements needed to respond.

"Once Atkinson fine-tunes the analysis, he moves out of perceptions and into manifestation," Coach Bruder says. He can commit the company to capturing part of the markets he has uncovered.

Atkinson should look at his production infrastructure and work force and align them with new management directives. At the same time, the management team, including sales, design, production and service, needs to be empowered.

This is Atkinson's core executive challenge, says Coach Bruder, because the current company culture is comfortable.

"Everyone makes a fair living staying in the original market niche," he says.

For managers to be effective in the new culture, they must be proactive in achieving the performance demands of a growing company, embrace new responsibilities and authorities, accept higher performance standards, and improve both autonomy and communication.

"For a time, Atkinson himself will need to step into all the roles, run with the responsibility, then give back the authority," says Coach Bruder.

His actions and demands should demonstrate trust so he does not undermine managers' initiative. The staff must learn to trust the new business direction.

The results of the gap analysis, the new directives, alignment of staff with production and sales resources, and a tactical plan should be documented in a comprehensive strategic plan. The plan will define benchmarks for measuring actual performance. The tactical part of the plan should explain how Atkinson's teams will work together in support of company goals.

"Atkinson's new role will be to care for and inspire the team to surpass market share milestones," says Coach Bruder.

The new role of management and line workers will be to ask for and manage the resources needed to reach for the company's goals.

"The dynamic of executive leadership, management team focus and production line energy will attract markets and create an opening for dominance," Coach Bruder says.

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