In the world of home design and restoration, bigger isn’t always better. In business, Sean Wrafter and Keith Szczygiel, owners of Acme Cabinet, prefer to keep things simple.
“We both had businesses before we started Acme Cabinet, and because we were the business owners, we had to do a little bit of everything,” Sean said.
Through savvy industry networking, the two were able to pair up on a few projects that aligned with the goals of their own Buffalo-anchored businesses, Wrafter’s furniture and design company Wrafterbuilt and Szczygiel’s home restoration business, Saint Lawrence Restoration Co.
But juggling multiple tasks and fulfilling multiple roles within their individual companies was taxing on both businessmen. Wrafter and Szczygiel soon realized that they were doing too much.
Bonding over their passion for improving the neighborhoods in their city during a lunch at Fat Bob’s Smokehouse, they felt an official team-up was the right thing to do. Two weeks later, they were sitting in a lawyer’s office, drawing up their partnership agreement.
“The point is, you can’t do a million things well,” Wrafter said. “You’re going to drop the ball, so our business model with Acme was that we are only going to be a cabinet dealer and do design work. We felt like if we got into those (other) avenues of the business, it would take away from our ability to do the very few core things as well as they needed to be done, and it changed our whole lives.”
Wrafter and Szczygiel now put all of their focus into kitchen cabinet dealing and design work. In doing so, they have been able to offer an accessible price point to their customer base, the majority of which are first-time home buyers in Buffalo.
Acme Cabinet offers a custom experience to homeowners. The showroom proudly displays three kitchen cabinet styles of refined and modern European craftsmanship, with a new line to be added by the end of the year.
In order to fully understand the needs and desires of their customers, Wrafte and Szczygiel visit their homes and conduct a consultation. Once all questions are answered, the business partners create a 3D rendering of the kitchen space, and then invite the homeowner to the showroom to select from the variety of set-ups.
According to Wrafter, the renaissance of Buffalo real estate makes Buffalo an ideal place to start a home design and cabinetry business.
“I think, for the first time, young people are actually trying to stay in Buffalo. Jobs are being created for them, and they are buying real estate and trying to stay here,” Wrafter said.
For Szczygiel, his experiences working on home restoration with Saint Lawrence Restoration Co. are evidence enough.
“Real estate prices, even as they’re rising, are still really low for a national market (in Buffalo). It’s not impossible for someone making 40 or 50 grand a year to buy a home at a decent price instead of living the rest of their lives and not having that part of the American dream,” Szczygiel said.
The greatest resource currently at the duo’s helm is their social media networks. For Wrafter, social media sites are windows opening the design world to palettes of ever-changing tastes, and he attributes a large percentage of Acme’s lead generation to sites like Pinterest and Instagram.
“One of the things that social media has brought to Buffalo is the ability for everyone to have extremely good tastes and to see what else is out there besides the same things we’ve been able to get a few of in Buffalo for the last 50 or 60 years,” Wrafter said. “So now, people want fresh ideas and brand new things, bespoke custom items, and things that look like their Pinterest page or Facebook feed.”
Wrafter and Szczygiel are always mindful of the content-driven nature of the design industry. They maintain a refreshed Instagram and Facebook feed of budget-friendly tips for homeowners interested in revamping their kitchens.
“We do contests, we do giveaways, we do some event page promotions, and we have done a couple other traditional advertising buys, but social media is the most effective form of advertising and reaching out to your customer base, for any small business owner,” Wrafter stated.
As social media created the ultimate seaport for the exchange of goods and ideas, a shift came about within the economic framework of the city, a shift which, for Wrafter, was foreseeable with perspicuous observation.
New storefronts were emerging despite an inclement, downward-projecting economic forecast, and small business owners were rolling out waves of support for one another in response.
“That’s when you saw this wave of new restaurants opening up, like Vera and Buffalo Proper, and there were millions more of them…one after another…and then you saw bespoke jewelry designers coming up with menswear stores and shoe stores and new home good stores, and new businesses that would have never survived 10 or 15 years ago in the city that now had a real chance at life, because people wanted these things they saw on social media, and they knew they could get them here because of social media,” Wrafter said.
People who weathered the storm and stayed to look for opportunity in the city were able to connect on a level that allowed for some stability and progression.
Waves of support are still steadily rolling in, and Wrafter and Szczygiel enjoy being both the givers and receivers of it.
“All of these people that have started all of these businesses are definitely a tight-knit group of people, and we talk to each other, we go to each other’s events, we spend money with each other, and occasionally we’ll sit down and have a beer together and complain,” Wrafter said.
Since starting their business eight months ago, the duo has been able to keep their overhead low in order to pass savings onto their customers, with a steady stream of business flowing in pretty readily, according to Szczygiel.
“It really makes a big difference and allowed us to sell a high-quality product at a low price, which makes it accessible to people,” he said.
As far as expanding in Buffalo goes, the team is pretty set on staying put at their one location on Elmwood Avenue, although, “We want to open one in South America so we can leave for the winter,” Szczygiel said in good humor.
Simple in structure and simple in design, the Acme Cabinet business model will always revolve around delivering the best price points to the broadest audience.
“As much as it would be great to turn into this mega store and be a billion dollar operation, I think we like keeping our operation simple so we can continue to do what we set out to do when we started,” said Szczygiel, “which was being accessible to everybody.”