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Silhouette Custom Cabinets, keeping it in the family

Stephan Kleiser
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Steve and Loris DeTina.

It’s all in the family for Loris and Steve DeTina. The brothers own and operate Silhouette Custom Cabinets Ltd. in Hamilton and have been involved in the family business for as long as they can remember.
It all started with their father Nelio DeTina, who passed away in 2001, but not before teaching his sons all about the business - from a commitment to quality and craftsmanship to the actual skills involved in working with wood.
When they took over the company, everything was still mostly done by hand. Sure, there were a couple of saws, but that was about it. The rest was manual labour, old school.
“Our father did everything by hand. He was old school when it came to that, and it worked for him,” says Steve DeTina. “He built the company from scratch and developed a strong reputation for his work, for quality and craftsmanship. We are continuing that tradition, but we also know we had to update and modernize the shop to stay competitive.”
When Nelio DeTina came to Canada from Zompicchia, in northern Italy in 1956, he had a few dollars in his pocket, some relatives in the Hamilton area and a will to work and build a life for himself in Canada.
He was a trained carpenter and within a few days in Canada, he got his first job in construction.
“Back in those days the carpenter did everything,” says Steve DeTina. “They did everything from the ground up, forms for the foundation, framing, and all the interior woodwork, including cabinets.”
After a few years in Canada, Nelio and some friends decided to start up their own shop in a two-car garage and opened Silhouette Cabinets. As the business grew, they purchased a lot and built a shop on Brampton Street in the east end of Hamilton and that is where the company remains to this day. Silhouette is one of, if not the oldest, cabinet shop in Hamilton and surrounding area and has been in business for more than 50 years.
Now it’s a 10,000 sq. ft. shop and showroom with a total of five employees. Loris and Steve consider themselves part of the employees because they work in the shop or on a job site every day.
That work ethic comes from their father who told Steve the 10-day boat trip to Canada was not only his best vacation, it was his only one.
“People didn’t take many holidays in those days,” says Steve DeTina. “They couldn’t, they had to work.”
And it was a similar story for the brothers, who, when they decided to continue the family business, had to work long, 12-hour days, six days a week and for months and months and months.
“It would have been a lot easier to walk away from the business and do something else,” Loris DeTina says.
“Anybody who owns their own business knows about that, there are times when you wonder if you made the right decision, but it is also very rewarding to be your own boss.”
Of course in their case, there is the whole added issue of working with family. And the DeTina's aren’t shy about telling anyone who asks, that as in every family, they have their blow-ups too.
“Once or twice a year we have it out,” Steve DeTina says with a smile. “But then it’s out in the open, we deal with, clear the air and get back to work.
And it seems to work for them.
Since they took over the company, it has grown steadily, and they continue to focus on quality products and turn down jobs that would force them to sacrifice quality for price.
The brothers have worked in the shop since they were young, after school, on weekends and in the summer. Loris came on board full time in 1983, while Steve, who studied business administration and computer science, worked a few years as a business consultant and project manager, before they decided to take over the company and the family tradition.


Investing in technology
One of the first things they did in 2002 – after they decided they needed to modernize the shop – was a 12-hour drive to IWF in Atlanta to check out the show and see what’s available. They needed machines, but they also had to figure out what they could afford and what would work for them.
One of their issues - and the one they decided to deal with first – was cabinet doors. Faced with ever increasing lead times from their suppliers and their own, often shorter deadlines to complete projects, they decided to make their own doors.
“We bought a Unique 250 right at the show and had it shipped up.
It was our first machine and we still have it,” Steve DeTina says.
They also added a used wide-belt sander and almost overnight they were able to manufacture their own doors. With a bit of practice they could manufacture close to 100 doors a day.
“It was such a success for us, it even enabled us to make doors for other people,” says Steve DeTina, “and that helped us to pay off our investment.
“Once we saw that if we purchased the right kind of equipment, and the difference it could make for us, we continued to invest and transform the business.”
They key for them was a measured approach, careful planning and a lot of research.
Next was a CNC machine.
Steve DeTina said they did a lot of research, talked to a lot of people and in the end they decided to go with a THERMWOOD CS40 with a 5x10 table.
They bought a complete package from CNC Automation, including software and were ready to go into production within a few hours of accepting delivery of the machine.
“It was great, they gave us the right advice, they provide great service and Andrew Legault and Bob Law, of CNC Automation have really helped us get on the right track with the right equipment,” Steve DeTina says.
Automation has worked for Silhouette Custom Cabinets, they have managed to increase their production by making it more efficient and they have maintained the kind of quality work that helped their father establish the company and its reputation in the first place.
“We now have capacity to do larger production type projects and offer our customers a wider range of products, but our main focus is on high-end, custom kitchens and cabinets,” Steve DeTina says.
“Quality, service, price, we tell our clients pick any two. You can’t have all three it’s just not possible. We want to deliver a quality product and quality service, but that means we will not be the cheapest.”
Of course they want to be competitive – every business has to – but they refuse to cut corners and compromise on quality. In fact, the brothers take pride in the quality craftsmanship that has made their products among the best in the industry, just as their father taught them.
Steve DeTina says he recently bid on a job, but then decided not to take it because it would mean they either lose money or have to compromise on quality, not something they are willing to do. In the end they got the call to come and make things right when the contractor ran into problems with the ‘cheap’ bidder.
“My father once told us ‘the name was clean when I gave it to you.” We work hard to keep it that way and we are in a good place right now.”
A good place indeed.
All their machines are paid for and their shop is running efficiently. There is still room for a finishing line, but there is no rush with that. Careful planning has served them well in the past and they intend to keep it that way.
“I am looking into a finishing solution right now. That seems to be an area where we can make improvements,” says Steve DeTina. “But we are in no big hurry and we certainly won’t rush into anything.
“We like what we do and how we do it. Everything is custom made and made to order. We do just-in-time manufacturing, that reduces our overhead and streamlines our production.”
The majority of their business comes from referrals, at least 90 per cent, and it’s that word of mouth from satisfied customers that has them do jobs as far away as Florida, New York and Montreal. Of course the majority of their work is much closer to home in Southern Ontario.
Their business, like everyone else’s has changed in the past couple of years. Rather than plan six months or a year ahead, sometimes it’s just from one month to the next, but that hasn’t stopped them to continually look for ways to make further improvements.
Born and raised in Hamilton, the DeTina's are also firm believers in giving back to their community. They are involved in everything from sponsoring local junior hockey and soccer teams, to supporting Habitat for Humanity, participating in co-op programs with high schools and now efforts to teach a woodworking class at a local elementary school one day a week. It’s a pilot project, but Steve DeTina believes that it is important to get youngsters exposed to and interested in the trades.

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