Have a product line and stick with it. You can't be everything to everybody. Specialize and dominate that area of the market rather than spreading yourself too thin. Have a product with a system that is predictable, reliable, and accurate.
John Canary, Owner and Founder of Canary Closets & Cabinetry, has sold his business after more than 30 years in the cabinet and closet industry. John always knew that eventually the day to sell his business would come. In 2019, when he decided to begin the process, the business had found more success than he ever imagined. He had found fulfillment as an entrepreneur, and now, he was ready for more. To retire and live a life that brings him joy, however he sees fit.
We visited Canary Closets & Cabinetry in New Jersey to tour the shop and hear more about his experience. Come along with us by giving this video a watch, then read on to learn more experience and tips from John.
If you have had the privilege of working with John during his long standing career, you know his level of character is as high as that of his craftsmanship. With a big personality and detail-oriented design approach, he has found immense success in business. He keeps very few secrets of his growth safeguarded, and has generously allowed us the opportunity to share his story, while passing along some of his tried-and-true tips for succeeding and selling in the cabinet and closet industry.
From a young age John knew he wanted to be a cabinet maker. He was constantly working on projects using the various tools and saws his supportive parents provided for him. As a self-described outcast or “doofus, who was the last to be picked for everything” in high school. John found solace and joy in his wood shop class. It was there he felt he belonged. So much so, that he enrolled in college to become an industrial arts teacher. Working all the way through college building cabinets on the side, until he graduated in 1984.
He never took a teaching job. Instead, he went to work for a cabinet manufacturer where he could further his industry knowledge. In 1986 he opened his first shop. Building high-end residential cabinetry until 1994, when he stepped away and began doing carpentry work.
It was after this when an old friend reached out to John, offering him a hardware sales position. He took the job and was introduced to the world of closets and home storage solutions. He was heavily intrigued by the industry and “couldn’t get it out of (his) system”. Excited by the coming advancements in machinery, computers, and design, he knew it was time to get into the business. He leapt, opening Canary closets in 2001, which he has since successfully run and scaled to what it is today.
Now, with over 20 years in his business he has experienced various highs and lows.
Canary had seen growth and was gaining real traction in the closet world, when they suddenly were faced with weathering the recession in 2009. They made it through, better than most, likely due to John’s impeccable craftsmanship and tenacious grit.
After 2010, the growth continued to the point he felt they were at capacity for what they could handle using their then current, or as John says, “Flintstones” system. “The order entry, the billing, the this and that. It was a mess. I was pulling my hair out.” He was losing money on jobs going unpaid, paperwork lost and orders unorganized. They were at max capacity.
Change came, or “the revelation” as he calls it, when he signed up with Allmoxy. A new (at the time) ordering system he found at IWF Atlanta in 2012. “It’s a success story from there. The business just grew and grew until now. In 2019, I decided to sell.” Which he did in August of 2021.
“The things you might be proud of, they aren’t what matters most to a buyer. What matters most is, what’s your bottom line? Because we were selling online, that bottom line went through the roof.” Having a healthy cash flow and a history of reports to show his success sold the business. “Even if you aren't looking to sell your business right now, you need to be building it to sell one day. You can't do that if you’re still doing business like you did in the 80’s! You won’t see (the growth) it takes to have a successful business sale.” He also mentions the amount of money and time he has saved by having a system that allows his customers to enter their own orders, pay before processing, and be liable for any mistakes. Rather than putting that burden on his own employees.
You can't sell potential. You have to sell results
“I can not for the life of me understand why people get in their own way of success… It’s a big mystery. What's the worst thing that could happen? You get (your products) online and you might sell something?” Thankful he didn't fall into the category of people who operate their business in fear, John credits his success to using Allmoxy to automate his office and sell online. “If you're not selling online and you're not automating parts of your business that can be automated, it's going to be a struggle to grow.”
"Buyers don't care about the shiny machines. They don't care about ‘potential’. They care about what's happening in the past 3 years. How did you get there? What systems do you have in place? How sustainable is it? How much money are you making? ...What matters is the money. You can't sell potential. You have to sell results. And if you don't have systems in place that deliver those results, you’ve got nothing but a pile of rusty machines, you’re sunk."
Other credits of growth are given to implementing the right design system, which for Canary Closets was ClosetPro Software. He also says, “Employing a good team who provides good predictable processes for customers.” Capitalizing on a healthy economy to allow for cash flow. As well as, maintaining good relationships with your vendors to ensure materials are available when you need them.
Now, some tips on selling your business from John
Preparing to Sell
Specialize. “Have a product line and stick with it. You can't be everything to everybody.” John highly suggests specializing then and dominating an area of the market rather than spreading yourself too thin. “Have a product with a system that is predictable, reliable, and accurate.”
Build to sell. “If you are young in your business, talk to a broker or someone in your area and get an understanding of the selling process and what to do to prepare.” This way, when the time comes, you’re ready.
Cash Flow. “You need cash flow. No one wants to buy a business without cash flow. We had cash flow before Allmoxy. Allmoxy super charged it. Then, when we started collecting money online, that really kicked it into high gear.”
He says too many cabinet makers are all wondering when it's going to happen for them, when they are going to start really making money. “You start making money when you look at your operations and improve.” He argues you can’t keep doing things of the past and hope it's going to get better, “it's not going to happen.”
“Live modestly while you’re building your business.” You are going to need the money in your business and the freedom from the burden of big loans. “Rather than buying the big house, buy the new equipment that's going to help grow your business”. It's an investment in your future.
When the Time Comes
Get a Broker. “Be realistic, understand your numbers, get a broker. You need a Broker, a good broker, who you trust.” Someone who can help you find the right buyer and can put together all the paperwork and specifications as you go through the long (and sometimes grueling) process of selling.
When finding the right buyer, John wanted someone he knew he could work with well. Because, there is a lot of overlap in working together as the torch is passed. He waited for one he knew would care about his employees and continue to treat them well after his departure.
He found that in the individual buyer, Darren Ambrogio. While the sale was officially made in August of 2021, John will be staying on for sometime to ensure a smooth transition of ownership. Securing peace of mind he is leaving the business, he worked his entire life to build, better than ever, with his customers and employees in the best of care.
John’s story hits close to home as this is exactly the story Allmoxy was built to create. We were created to help cabinet makers organize, automate, and scale their businesses; eventually leading to a passing of the ownership torch, as seamlessly as possible.
In his coming retirement, John hopes to find free time to do things like taking a road trip across the country, visiting all of his friends along the way. He knows he's ready for the next chapter. We sincerely wish him all the best.