Building on Service
Mass Cabinets Inc.’s service propels successful GC partnerships
Woodworking always came easy to Michael Sarno, Founder and President of Mass Cabinets Inc., in Methuen, Massachusetts. As a student at Medford Vocational Technical High School, he learned under exceptional furniture craftsmen and handily absorbed the nuances of wood as he learned to cut, machine and sand. By the time he was 16, he was making and selling mantle clocks, grandfather clocks and custom furniture to family friends and investing in tools. By high school graduation in 1989, he had founded Mass Cabinets.
“My first shop was 400 square feet in an artisan building in Charlestown,” Mike remembers. “My first project was Boston Police Headquarters on Berkeley Street. Now it’s a high-end hotel.” The young entrepreneur worked in United States federal buildings, post offices, Coast Guard stations and Massport buildings, all in Boston. “I estimated, measured, drew, fabricated, installed on my own,” Mike says. “My work hours were whatever it took to meet the schedule.”
Three decades later, strong core values serve a still-growing list of loyal general contractors. “We’re a commercial cabinet shop that manufactures and installs millwork,” Mike explains. “Our clients are general contractors who build and renovate commercial office space, tenant improvements, lobby upgrades, core building upgrades and public projects. We do office fit-outs, lobbies, reception desks, hospitals, schools, banks, hospitality, government buildings, public safety buildings, police and fire stations, town halls and libraries. A separate team of skilled installers provides union carpenters with prevailing wage labor for public projects.”
Projects range from smaller office improvements to large ground-up construction. “We fabricate plastic laminate and wood casework for breakrooms, copy rooms, fitness rooms and more—many with engineered stone countertops,” Mike says. The work includes reception desks, wood wall features with reclaimed lumber, floating shelves, banquette seating, back-painted glass, specialty metals, fabric tack surfaces and solid surface countertops.
Selling Service & Single Sourcing
No matter what they’re building, though, they’re selling service, Mike says. “Our motto is that anyone can build cabinets and counters, but not everyone can offer service.”
To define service, he breaks down the Mass Cabinets concept and culture of team. “We’re a skilled group of men and women with a passion for exceptional and professional client assistance,” he says. “From accurate and qualified estimates to final closeout, we’re all engaged and committed.”
In the process, Mass Cabinets takes on single-source responsibility, which reduces the contractor’s management time. “The general contractor is responsible for all building trades,” Mike explains. “As the millwork partner, we bring all critical-path finish items to the table. By offering stone or Corian countertops, metal wall panels, tack surfaces, fabric seating, glass and more, our contractors reduce both sourcing and subcontractors. Working closely with a contractor’s field supervisor, we also review trades related to the finish millwork—in-wall blocking, plumbing and electrical locations, and coordination of the framing, appliances, sinks, flooring and other finish items.”
Single-source relationships apply to all the company’s vendors. “To ensure the quality of the materials and customer service, as well as on-time deliveries and value pricing, since day one we’ve single-sourced materials to our vendor partners,” Mike says. When all hardwood lumber comes from one vendor, for example, Mass Cabinets can more reliably meet schedules and budgets.
And single-source machinery partners ensure high-quality equipment and tooling in custom woodwork. “From standard woodworking equipment such as planers, shapers and table saws, to complex CNC machinery, we single-source and handpick our team players,” Mike says.
When Miracles Are Needed
Doesn’t every company offer service? “Not like we do,” Mike says. “When a general contractor or architect calls or emails with a question, we’re right back with answers. Business, in general, is losing personal involvement, but not here. Start to finish, our team is responsive, informed, mission-oriented—during work hours or after. Our contractors will affirm that, particularly the ones whose jobs have required a few miracles.”
Miracles are sometimes necessary, Mike says, because job site delays happen. Materials may have a long lead time and approvals may take longer, but Mass Cabinets keeps going. As the clock ticks, Mass Cabinets’ fabricators and installers increase the horsepower to manufacture and install millwork on a short schedule, expediting and quick-shipping materials. “We’re at it Monday through Saturday in two shifts,” Mike says, defining a standard workweek. “Every afternoon has a crossover hour when our cabinetmakers collaborate on each upcoming task. The machines run an average 80 hours a week.”
A recent case in point is a lecture hall at Harvard Kennedy School on an “unrealistic but well-planned schedule.” The Mass Cabinets team measured after hours and pre-manufactured while students were in class, turning out a custom lecture hall millwork package—curved countertops with radius wood edges, metal legs with mesh privacy screens, podium desk units, custom furniture, wood veneer wall paneling, whiteboards and more in a semicircular room. Integrating solid wood, veneer, fabric, metal and vinyl with electrical and high-tech wiring, the Mass Cabinets team worked hard to make it look easy. “Everything was fabricated as required, installed and completed on schedule,” Mike says.
He is also proud of the company’s dedication to the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI), a global leader in architectural woodworking standards. Mike, a past two-term president of the New England chapter and a director for more than 25 years, stays active in the AWI Speakers Bureau.
The AWI journal, Design Solutions Magazine, has showcased Mass Cabinets’ fine architectural woodworking. Mass Cabinets also is a member of the AWI Quality Certification Program (QCP), the industry benchmark for quality, compliance and consistency. “We hold 20 separate QCP licenses,” Mike says. “Every single one takes dedication and endurance. Every single one means doing the right thing even if nobody ever sees it.”
Consistency and Progress
Looking at his 31 years in cabinetry, the changes in the industry have had less to do with the materials, Mike says, than the technology to fabricate and manipulate them. To prevent back injuries, for instance, vacuum lifts now move sheets of panels. Software-driven machinery for routing and sawing are standard shop equipment. Computerized sanding machines set the tolerance for veneer finishing. Yet to fabricate fine cabinets, he says, no machine eliminates the need for a skilled man or woman. “The wood is alive,” Mike says. “You need to feel and see it in your hands.”
That spirit of progress with a human touch has propelled Mass Cabinets, originally a one-man company in a 400-square-foot space, to more than 40 employees in a highly automated shop of 20,000 square feet. Many employees have been there more than 20 years. Of the growth and the years, “what I’m proudest of is that we’re a family,” Mike says, “through every kind of situation and challenge. I know my employees’ wives, husbands, partners…I’ve seen their children grow up. They are Mass Cabinets.”
The other constant is the company’s base of customers, many of them going back to the first years in business. “It’s becoming generational,” Mike says. “We have many contractors who…I was working with their fathers 30 years ago, and now a son is running the business.” Long-term relationships intertwine with consistency, predictably and transparency, Mike says, and in three decades, Mass Cabinets has never advertised yet business continues to grow.
Come see for yourself, he says. Thirty minutes north of downtown Boston, the lights at Mass Cabinets are on, its machinery is humming, dust is moving, saws are cutting and a team of dedicated men and women are providing New England with quality millwork and service. “We welcome scheduled shop tours,” Mike says. “Come see how we make your team succeed. Come see how we thrive together.”