Carving out a living one cabinet at a time
When Jerry Eckstrom started Welchwoods Custom Cabinetry out of his garage 11 years ago, six other custom cabinetmakers were in the area.
Now he is one of two left.
Eckstrom’s first big project was rebuilding the interior of the First Presbyterian Church, which was destroyed by a fire in 2003, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I haven’t had one day in 11 years where I haven’t had a job to work on,” he said.
After graduating from college, Eckstrom went to work for Boeing in Seattle as an engineer working on the factory floor for the first Boeing 757.
Eckstrom transferred to the military division of Boeing in Wichita, Kan., and worked there for about a year before going back to school for his masters’s in business administration.When he finished school, Eckstrom got another job with Boeing, this time working in the finance department auditing major sub-contractors.Ultimately, however, Eckstrom said he wanted to come home — and that’s exactly what he did. He moved back to the Red Wing area and started working with Red Wing Shoe Co., where he helped develop lines of footwear.His education background and work experience leading up to his work as a cabinetmaker all contributed to his success in his latest venture, Eckstrom said, adding it’s been a nice mix of variety in his career — seven years with Boeing, 13 years with the Shoe and 11 years running Welchwoods.Eckstrom worked full time in a cabinet shop in St. Paul, and then for another in Lakeville, Minn., for the sole purpose of learning the craft before opening his own shop, he said.“I just really liked working with wood,” Eckstrom said.He built a number of different pieces throughout the years prior to opening his business, he added, many of which are still in his house today.“You can’t just be a good cabinetmaker,” Eckstrom said. “You have to be a good businessman as well.”In the 11 years since Eckstrom started Welchwoods only twice have cabinets not fit and he’s never had to repair a drawer box, he said.Eckstrom said once a job is done his goal is to never return for any repairs.“You give people a good product, you give them a good price, stand behind what you do and you treat people real fair,” Eckstrom said, an approach that he said has contributed greatly to his success.Eckstrom said each job is a collaboration. He sits down with customers and makes sure they get exactly what they want, from wood choice to layout and design.A typical job takes around three weeks to complete, but it does differ from job to job, he said.“The last thing I want to do is tell someone something that’s not going to happen,” Eckstrom said.Eckstrom said he enjoys being a business owner and he loves the design work. The hours get long, he said, but he would never go back to any other job.“It’s worked out extremely well,” he said.