Let me see if I can explain what is going on. First, you posed a lot of questions and the answer to most of them is the same. “We don’t know.”
YouBuild is a business concept and support technology looking for a real world application. Its target market is probably a bit different than your target market. YouBuild targets home woodworkers and woodworking hobbyists. As the program developed however, a second potential market developed - professional woodworkers, cabinet shops and building contractors, that is, folks much like you.
Let’s start by looking at what it is and how it works. First, it is clearly not eCabinet Systems. It shares some technology with eCabinet Systems but is quite a different animal. While custom designing products is the core of eCabinet Systems, there is NO design function in YouBuild. Product designs are fixed and there is no way to modify them at all other than selecting different material and resizing within specific ranges on some items. Other items must be produced exactly as presented with no possibility for change.
The unique technology behind YouBuild is the ability to select a product or products, resize them and then have the system dynamically calculate a price. To do this, the system, working in the Internet Cloud, creates all the CNC programs needed to make the product or products, calculates exactly how much it will cost to make the product and provide a quote to the customer in a matter of minutes. Should the customer then order the product, the CNC programs used to quote the job are sent directly to the machine control. No one check the program, looks at the program or even knows what they are making. The machine makes the parts which are sent to the customer for assembly.
For this to work, everything is fixed. The machine operator has absolutely no control over the machine. It does not work at all like eCabinet Systems and Thermwood machines do today. Everything about the operation is controlled by the product design. Tooling is rigidly fixed and cannot be modified at all. Everything about the operation is rigidly fixed and cannot be adjusted or modified. Only one specific edge bander, specially modified for this program, can be used. All product design files are built around this edgebander design so that the notches and cuts in the parts will work smoothly without adjustment or intervention. In the marketplace we call it “custom” but by eCabinet System standards this is not custom at all.
The big question in this whole thing is, will it sell? Right now, we don ‘t know. In fact, nobody knows. This is a new and different product and market. Home Depot thinks this might work through their stores, but they don’t know and are unwilling to anything big until we find out. We are testing it in one store to see what happens.
What about eCabinet Systems and production sharing folks? How do they fit in? Again, we don’t know. We initially thought about using production sharing shops to make the parts, but, because of the way the program is structured we did not think any shops would be interested. With the way the system works, the average shop would need to add at least a quarter million dollar investment in equipment and inventory to what they already have just to try. This doesn’t make sense for a new and unproven business concept. It would, however, make sense if a steady stream of business could be developed.
A number of you criticized Columbia for machining parts as if they are going to compete with you. I assure you, they are not that interested in machining parts. They want to sell plywood. When our initial idea of having a furniture production cell in each Home Depot store was shot down, the program faltered until Columbia said they would set up a cell and make parts to see if we can get this thing going. They already ship to Home Depot each week so shipping would be essentially free if parts were machined at the mill. Production needs to be either at the mill or near the store for the program to work. Otherwise packing and shipping makes it impractical.
Our next step is to see if we can get this thing moving. If it starts selling, all kinds of possibilities open up. If it really catches on, production demands could be enormous. Anyone with Thermwood machine knowledge and production capacity would see some real opportunity. No one Company could produce everything needed. For this to happen, however, people need to know about it and embrace it.
Even now, if you are around Charlotte, there are some opportunities. Cabinet shops that might want to offer closets or furniture could use YouBuild to quickly and easily get the parts they need with little front end effort. Let’s be honest. For each home woodworker there are dozens of home owners who don’t want to layout, design, order, assemble and install a closet or wall unit. They are willing to pay you to do this and there is a lot of profit potential available for eCabinet Systems Members from the YouBuild program, even now.
For the rest of you, this program was never intended to compete with you. The primary areas targeted are in furniture and closets, not traditional kitchen cabinets. Although we currently don’t have any kitchen cabinets we will offer some cabinets in the future but they are not the same thing you sell. If anything this program expands your market, not competes with it. Also, by its very nature, eCabinet Systems is truly custom. Your products are customized to exactly what the customer wants. YouBuild offers fixed products that at best can be resized, but in new markets that you don’t currently address, markets that are not used to any customization. This program should be seen as an opportunity, not a threat.
Finally, the ideas we used to design YouBuild products will soon be available to all eCabinet System Members in a new software release. I know we have not been advancing the software as fast as previously but because of the great recession, we are working with fewer folks than before. I can only hope that his new year will bring a revival of the almost totally dead woodworking market and a return to more robust and normal times. We have been partners with you in the past and intend to be the same in the future but sometimes new opportunities may look a little different.