Four brothers have built a strong foundation at their cabinet manufacturing company to ensure that their customers feel good about what they’re getting from Harlan Cabinets
By Shirley Kawa-Jump
The basic philosophy of Harlan Cabinets hasn’t changed since the business was founded in 1962. Although the family-owned company is considerably larger than when it was purchased by two of the Wagler brothers, the basic principles of providing quality craftsmanship and custom designs are still the foundation of the business.
Today, the company is owned jointly by brothers Simon, Omer, Dale, and Ray Wagler, who named the company after the town where it is located: Harlan. Two of the brothers purchased the company from a contractor, with the other two brothers joining a couple of years later. “In the beginning, we all did everything. As the years went on, we each moved into the areas we were best at,” explains Simon “Jim” Wagler, secretary. “We all have our differences and our strengths but we work together very well.”
The Waglers have built the business from an 8,000 square-foot facility to its current 100,000 square-foot manufacturing area, plus a 4,200 square-foot showroom.
In 1986, a frameless division was added that now occupies its own 15,000 square-foot manufacturing area. A state-of-the-art painting facility was added in 1995.
“We never did expand the business really fast. We didn’t want to,” says Jim. “We grew by request rather than by plan,” because more and more customers began asking for Harlan cabinets as their reputation spread.
Although Harlan builds cabinets for virtually every room in a house or business, kitchens are still the mainstay of the company. Over their 45 years in business, the Waglers have seen kitchens evolve dramatically. The company has shifted its designs to reflect the new demands of consumers. “Forty years ago, people had galley kitchens that were comprised of two walls with a sink and refrigerator on one wall and a range on the other. They were utility kitchens that were only meant for preparing meals,” says Jim. “You’d prepare the food in the kitchen and then move into the dining room to eat it.
“Today, people want U-shaped kitchens with islands and peninsulas and areas to eat. Kitchens are a lot bigger and a lot more personal today.”
Another change is the number of kitchens that are custom designed. Jim says when the business first started, “customers would come in with a blueprint with cabinets already laid out. We’d just build that. Customers didn’t really have a chance to do anything creative.”
Today, many customers are bringing in their blueprints for their kitchens before they are finalized. Harlan’s design team then helps them create a working floor plan and cabinets that compliment the customer’s lifestyle. The designers ask the customer a number of questions designed to pinpoint the best use of their workspace and their cabinet placement. From there, a design can be created.
In addition, the staff at Harlan can help customers wade through the myriad of wood and color combinations. “We have a lot of different woods and colors that we’re using now. There are also a number of different sheens and finishes to select from. I can’t even begin to tell you how many variations of doors we can offer to our customers,” says Jim. Multiplying the number of wood, finish, color and design choices together gives an infinite number of possibilities, making each kitchen a unique environment, he adds.
Harlan also offers a wide variety of countertop materials from laminates to solid surfacing, cultured marble and granite. “All of our cabinets are custom. We only build what is sold because it was requested by a customer,” explains Jim.
Each family asks for a slightly different design for their kitchen, based on their lifestyle and cooking styles. Everything from double cook tops to entertainment islands can be incorporated into the design at Harlan. “We try to give the customer the best design we possibly can at a reasonable price,” adds Jim.
He says a lot of people who pick out a kitchen or choose a home with an existing kitchen try to skimp on materials and that choice can be costly in time and comfort later on. “What happens is that they save money by getting cheaper cabinetry and then they end up living with a design that they are less than satisfied with and that doesn’t really meet all their needs,” he says. “They buy off the shelf instead of building what they want and need in the first place.”
If a customer brings in the blueprint for the kitchen before any work has been done, Harlan’s design team can analyze their work and cooking patterns and help them find the best fit for their family and lifestyle. “People aren’t always aware of the interference they can create with swinging doors or the placement of the refrigerator and the dishwasher. We try hard to eliminate all those potential problems early in the planning stages,” says Jim.
For bathrooms, Harlan can create a linen cabinet, tilt-out hamper, stack of drawers, make-up area or snap-on whirlpool panels to match the vanity. They can raise or lower the height of the vanity for taller or shorter people and add a variety of storage units to the interior to organize the variety of bottles and containers found in a bathroom. For a more custom look, Harlan can create a vanity that seems to float on the wall or light the toe kick to add ambience to the room.
The company also builds custom entertainment centers, office furniture, and dining room furniture. Any type of cabinet needed for a home or office can be created in their shop.
The other advantage to dealing with a custom manufacturer is the availability of products. “We don’t ever say that style is discontinued or we no longer have that color. You can always add on to or replace a cabinet that we build,” says Jim.
For example, a customer who has a door that was damaged by water can have that door replaced or repaired, depending on the extent of the damage, by the craftsman at Harlan. Since each cabinet is a custom design, Harlan can recreate a particular design in their shop. “When you go to a regular manufacturer or a store it’s hard to get that kind of service.”
Personal service has kept Harlan Cabinet’s customer base strong. Jim says the company constantly gets calls from new-satisfied customers as well as happy customers who have purchased cabinets from them in the past.
Harlan sells to retail customers within a 50-mile radius. Beyond that circle, they sell through representative dealers.
The company’s first commitment is to quality, not to profits. Jim says it’s important to him and his brothers to offer the best to their customers and to create products that make their lives easier. “People work hard in their homes and spend a lot of time there. Our goal is to make that a more livable, enjoyable place to be.” BP
Today’s cabinets are designed on computers and built with the aid of computer driven machines, says Jim Wagler, one of the owners of Harlan Cabinets in Harlan. The advances in machinery since the company started in 1962 have allowed for greater precision and more flexibility in design. Some customers are ordering cabinets with rounded doors and built-ins, such as refrigerator or dishwasher drawers that were not available just a few years ago, according to Jim.
Another concern for Harlan is the environment. Its new paint facility completed in the summer of 1995 is designed to be more environmentally friendly and to simplify the finishing process for cabinets. “We’ve worked hard to stay current with new technologies and to offer our customers the most value in custom cabinets,” says Jim.