Business at Hand
With Plantation Moulding and Millwork
Pickens native Jerry Edwards at his Plantation Moulding and Millwork shop on Cape Trail. Edwards began woodworking in high school and continues with his craftsmanship today.
[Business at Hand is an occasional series detailing local companies.]
Most people know Jerry Edwards from his 30-year-career in banking.
But his work with wood actually came first, is still going and much more interesting (at least to this reporter). Sorry to all the bankers out there, but there’s a reason you see television networks devoted to craftsmanship and old houses.
Edwards described his Plantation Moulding and Millwork as a woodworking business that helps people customize modern homes to make them evoke the homes of their childhood or country living.
“There is definitely a trend of people who want to live in a modern house that looks like a farm house,” he said. Edwards has noticed that when something shows up on home décor/renovation shows in the middle of a week, he will be getting calls for it by the end of the week.
Set in the heart of the Hinton community, on the same road where Edwards lives, Plantation Moulding and Millwork operates out of a surprisingly large collection of warehouses and shops, with space for lumber storage, painting/finishing areas and includes massive industrial lumber milling machines.
Edwards, who still applies a banker’s eye to the numbers, notes that 20 percent of their work is cabinetry; the other 80 percent is whatever projects people bring to them. Whether it’s a custom table or milling a truckload of rough lumber into “shiplap” – the latest craze in boards for the restoration builders, Edwards will discuss any job with a potential customer.
“I love the challenge,” he said. “We don’t do the same things on any day and with what we do, there is always a twist.”
At the time of this interview in late September, Plantation Moulding and Millwork had the following projects in some stage at their shop: a “live edge” table from walnut supplied by the customer; a cabinet job; re-sawing siding to meet specifications for a local builder; turning 30,000 feet of special lumber into boxes for shipping bees. And during the interview two guys came in with a large chunk of wood with some pencil marks on it to discuss with Edwards.
The company runs with Edwards and one full-time employee and one part-time employee. A separate cabinetry business operates out of the same space as well.
Edwards came of age during a different time with education and work ideas for kids.
In 1980 he was finishing high and working at the Farmer’s Co-op (on South Main where Roland Tire has a location today). His brother was among the first people hired by Pickroy (now Royston) and they needed shipping pallets made specifically to hold their different products. “My brother said, ‘call my little brother. He’ll do anything for buck.’ So, I literally started in my backyard with a Skil saw, claw hammer and box of nails.
Edwards said they worked Wednesdays, evenings and weekends, sometimes producing 300 pallets a week with hired help.
All the profits he turned back into the tools and the purchase of a delivery truck.
Like kids of that era in rural Georgia, Edwards picked up decent tool-handling skills by helping around the house and from his father, who was often asked to work on vehicles. Though he didn’t have a carpentry background, the vocational classes at Pickens High School through the agriculture program provided the basics that allowed Edwards to jump into the pallet building.
“In those high school vocational classes, I got to see real tools and sort of drifted into woodworking,” he said.
Edwards cut short his plans to attend Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, moving up as manager at the Farmer’s Co-op, then, in 1986, beginning a 30-year career in banking.
He also continued expanding the pallet business, finding a growing customer base and adding full-time employees.
Even with the pallets, it was not a static industrial process, with customers “needing something a little different. There was always a different challenge. It was a lot of custom work,” he said.
His wife eventually impressed upon him that their backyard was not suitable for a growing woodworking business, so he first moved to the Barnes Building, also in Hinton.
In the mid 1990s, Edwards acquired property and opened a shop on Cape Trail, down the road from his house, and grew the pallet business to the point they were supplying 30 companies with six shop workers, a bookkeeper/manager and two drivers – all while he continued at the bank.
Edwards sold the pallet company in 2004 and leased the new operators his shop on Cape Trail. In 2007 he moved back into the facility after the pallet company moved out of the area.
“I guess when you get sawdust in your veins, you come back to it,” he said. “It was always a good stress relief for me, but as a banker I want to see it make money.”
When he moved back into the shop, he wanted to “do something more glamorous, more finished.” During the downturn in the national economy, Edwards began buying up old industrial woodworking equipment at auctions.
“There was all this big machinery being scrapped, so we started buying it and rebuilding it,” he said.
He has since put these machines into action with a steady and growing number of projects.
One of the more interesting jobs completed was the reproduction of crown mold, base boards and other wood products that had to be period correct for a house built in 1895 in Albany, New York listed on the National Historic Registry.
It was neither Edwards’ expertise or price that landed the New York job. “I asked the guy, there must 500 people who do the same thing I do between Hinton, Ga and Albany, NY, why me? He said, ‘because you e-mailed back the same day I contacted you and we were on the phone the next day.’”
Unlike many local businesses, most of Plantation Moulding and Millwork’s customers come from areas north -- Nashville, Chattanooga and west into Alabama, rather than the metro-Atlanta area.
Edwards said there is usually a few weeks wait for his custom jobs, with demand very strong at this point but manageable.
“I have been blessed beyond belief to be able to do what I am doing,” he said.
For more information, see http://plantationmouldingandmillwork.com.