High-Tech-Employees Turned Artisinal – The Wood Connection Hand-Crafts Custom Cabinets in San Jose
The perception of Silicon Valley is tech, tech and more tech. But some thriving businesses in San Jose focus on artisanal skills, even if their founders started out in tech. One of these is part of a thriving little community of custom cabinet-making, in the Monterey Road manufacturing corridor of San Jose.
Bobbie Everett, CEO and founder of The Wood Connection, was a long-time Motorola employee. In 1992 the company moved its operations out of state, and Bobbie was left without a job and a sense of direction. The timing could not have been worse: she and her husband Dennis were in the middle of remodeling their home and their house was an active construction site.
She decided to take a hands-on role in the remodeling, seeking out local suppliers who could provide the right balance of quality and affordability. She found a cabinet maker whom she befriended. “He was an excellent cabinetmaker,” recalls Bobbie. “But I quickly realized that the front end of his operation could use a lot of help.”
When she become intrigued with his craft and his business challenges, Bobbie successfully lobbied the shop owner to help him organize and market the business. At least until after the New Year, when she figured tech hiring would pick up. New Year’s Day came quickly, and Bobbie already knew that she had no interest in leaving the cabinetmaking business.
Her friends and family members were wondering when she would give up what they viewed as an “exploratory experience.”
When she told them that she intended to open a shop of her own, many of them tried to talk sense into her. “Outside of my husband, my mother-in-law was the only person who didn’t think I was crazy,” jokes Bobbie. “While I was at Motorola, I used to do a lot of sewing as a hobby, so when I told her about my aspiration of becoming a cabinetmaker, she simply said: ‘You like working with your hands, you love to make things for people. All you’ve done is change the material from fabric to wood.’”
In 1994, Bobbie opened The Wood Connection, at first making drawers for other cabinetmakers. She built a reputation for quality and reliability, and was soon making full cabinets. Expanding throughout the dot-com boom, Bobbie’s business was growing so quickly that she had a hard time keeping up. Dennis, himself a longtime employee of HP who had been working at the company in his off hours, left his job to join the shop full-time. Over the next ten years, The Wood Connection expanded into new facilities twice before settling into its current location, which includes a 13,000 square foot manufacturing floor.
Despite a booming economy with many employment opportunities, most of the employees at The Wood Connection have chosen to stay, many for more than ten years.
“We are very close to our employees,” says Bobbie, who notes that she has attended scores of birthday parties, weddings, and Quinceañeras over the years. “We do everything we can to support them. They are like family.”
She is not exaggerating: of its 17-person workforce, The Wood Connection employs a set of three brothers and two sets of father, son, and son-in-law.
The Wood Connection represents a traditional kind of manufacturing that is still very prevalent in San Jose. The cul-de-sac street where Bobbie and Dennis’ business is located is home to two other cabinetmakers, part of a thriving manufacturing industry in a city that is more commonly known for high tech. The Everetts are proud to be building local and to support a local customer base. As the housing demand in Silicon Valley shows no sign of abating, The Wood Connection looks set for a productive future.