A NEW BENCH MARK
Sunday News (Lancaster, PA)
Published: July 16, 2000
LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - Need a chair repaired?
Never mind that big advertisement in the Yellow Pages for Fredrick & Emily's Woodworking. The people there don't do that kind of work anymore. But if you've got a couple of hundred church pews that need salvation, they're your saviors.
After more than 20 years of primarily restoring residential furniture, the Mount Joy shop with the quaint, folksy name has been reinvented, poised to head into the national arena with a speciality that only a handful of companies across the country can offer.
Now known as Fredrick & Emily's Restoration, the business solely serves places of worship. The company transports dull wooden pews from churches all over the United States to its plant, where carpenters, woodcraftsmen and refinishers restore the iconic benches to their original luster.
It's no wonder owner Fredrick Taggart shifted his company's focus to places of worship: The market for restoring or replacing church pews has doubled to about $200 million annually in the United States since 1990, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report. So burgeoning is the company's workload that Taggart plans to move to larger quarters, add more equipment and hire more workers.
Many congregations -- especially those who worship in old churches -- are rejecting the idea of putting in new seating and instead are fixing up the old, rugged pews.
The price of renewing pews is on their side. Craftsmen say they can restore them for about half as much as it would cost to buy them new. Also, a modern pew just doesn't complement the aesthetics of an older church.
"With old churches and cathedrals, you can't put in new pews. They just don't look right," Taggart said. "And after refinishing and repairing the old ones, you basically end up with new pews at half the cost."
In the past fiscal year, Taggart said 95 percent of his company's business has been in church restorations.
Fredrick Taggart learned the trade from his late father, Donald, who named the business after his children. Taggart's sister, Emily, never has been involved in the operation.
Once a professional golfer, Taggart, 31, took over the shop when his father died in December 1993. Ever since, he said, he's been applying the same go-for-the-gusto attitude he had toward golfing.
"Now that we're in church restoration, I want to be the biggest and best in the world, and by next year, we'll be that."
Meanwhile, he's trying to attract investors to fund a proposed $1 million expansion.
Since last fall, business has skyrocketed, Taggart said.
"When Dad had the business, it was doing $20,000 a year. We're up to about $70,000 a month."
And he fully expects that figure to double by next year, but it's going to mean moving off of Main Street in Mount Joy to do it.
"Our location now is not conducive to our business," Taggart said. "It was fine for residential work, but we can't do much more than that."
When Taggart acquired the shop, it occupied the bottom section of a barn.
"The whole shop wasn't as big as our offices are now," he said. "It wasn't even 1,000 square feet. Now we use about 20,000 square feet."
Taggart said he needs a conveyor system similar to what the new church-furniture manufacturers have.
"We're now moving pews from one end of the plant to the other and back again. We'd need 15,000 square feet just for the system," he said. "We're looking (for a site) outside of the borough, but we want to stay in Lancaster County. We need to get into some type of industrial park."
Taggart also said he needs to double the size of his 10-member crew.
He predicts that his church trade will be more prosperous than the residential business ever could be, noting his average pew restoration contract is between $40,000 and $50,000.
Even so, he acknowledged that it's not always easy to get the church work.
"With churches, you just don't come and give an estimate and take the pews away," Taggart said.
Typically, it takes six months to a year from his initial contact with a church until a job is started. That's because the proposals have to go through church committees and often, fund-raisers have to be conducted to pay the tab.
The pew restoration also can be time-consuming, taking several weeks and even months to complete.
While it would take a lot of broken chairs to bring in what one church project earns him, Taggart said it wasn't easy to dump the trade that had once been his family's bread-and-butter.
"We had a struggle with that," Taggart said of himself.
"That was how we were able to rebuild the business," Taggart said, explaining that the shop was on the verge of bankruptcy when they took it over. Nearly two-thirds of their trade had been in restoring home furniture.
A year ago, the Taggarts talked with a business consultant about what they should do and he suggested they focus on the church restoration.
"We wanted to see how we could do that and still include the residential," Taggart said. "We wanted someone to purchase the residential aspect of our business, but that didn't work out.
"We had some people who were very upset about that, but it was a business decision we had to make because we simply couldn't do both."
To increase the church business and to get the company nationally recognized, Taggart earlier this year hired a marketing consultant and took on a few independent sales representatives.
Taggart said there are only four companies in the nation that renovate pews on a large scale.
Through a pew salesman in Texas, Taggart earned his largest contract: A $75,000 project to restore 1,000 feet of pews -- enough to seat 650 to 700 -- for a church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
"We have 16 or 17 churches contracted right now and 10 of those jobs are started," Taggart said.
Taggart sends his crews to churches and has them disassemble the pews to be repaired. The furniture is loaded onto tractor-trailer and brought to Mount Joy. After restoration, the pews are shipped back to the churches and installed.
Taggart said the two Lancaster County companies don't compete in any way.
"They're into new construction, and we're really into the old churches," Taggart said. "But even in renovations there's the need for new parts.
With all the church business he's been getting, Taggart said he needs to move Fredrick & Emily's into a new facility by the end of summer.
"Every single week there's been another church coming in," he said.
And even though he's concerned that he might not get the venture capital he's looking for, it won't change his plans.
"We've struggled and built this business; done what we've had to do," Taggart said. "The expansion will happen. It has to. I don't know how we'll do it, but it will happen. We'll find a way."