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SBA 2017 Missouri Small Business Person of the Year: Cohen Architectural Woodworking

SBA 2017 Missouri Small Business Person of the Year: Cohen Architectural Woodworking
Walk around the 54,000 square foot headquarters of Cohen Architectural Woodworking and something becomes clear immediately.  There’s more going on than just woodworking.  The employees look happy to be there.  They enjoy showing off their contributions to the company’s mission. Whether it’s developing drawings for a system of cabinets or precisely cutting each piece of wood, the enthusiasm is contagious.  The company’s founder and CEO, Phillip Cohen was named SBA’s 2017 Small Business Person of the Year for the state of Missouri.  The secret of his success:  People first!
Cohen Architectural Woodworking is somewhat of a hub for those in need of a second chance.  Many of the company’s best employees are people with troubled pasts--ex-convicts, former drug addicts and others who have experienced some of life’s most horrible events.  In the eyes of Phil and his wife Gina, they are precious souls who deserve healing and a better life through a stable work environment, a solid pay and benefits plan and pathways to good mental health.  Having come from a troubled background himself, it’s a group of people Cohen can relate to.
“I’ve found that when you believe in people and give them a chance they would not have had otherwise, they often blossom into amazing workers and stay with the company for a long time,” Cohen said.
The company manufactures millwork and custom cabinets for commercial customers.  It officially started in May 1982 when Cohen purchased his first business license and began building cabinets in his basement.  By 1986 he was working for large general contractors, some of whom were doing work for Wal-Mart.  Between 1994 and 2004, the company had made a couple of moves, first to Flemingsburg, Kentucky then Summersville, Missouri before landing at its current location in St. James.  In 2006, Cohen Architectural Woodworking became a client of the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Center, an SBA resource partner in Rolla.
Cohen relies on many trusted advisers. After achieving $6.4 million in sales in 2014, two of his personal advisers encouraged him to not set any financial goals for 2015, but rather to spend that year working on the health of his company.  With some financial reserve, Cohen made the decision to focus on helping his employees improve everything from their family relationships to their personal budgets to breaking free of traumas of the past.
“In 2015, our sales nearly doubled to $11.8 million and we maintained a healthy company culture because of the investment we made in the human infrastructure,” Cohen recalls.
Cohen also credits the relationships he had with various SBTDC counselors over the years with helping him make better business decisions and connecting him to other resources to help him grow the operation.
“When we first moved to Saint James, we knew very little about technology,” Cohen said. “Our SBTDC counselor, Barry White, connected us with a couple of Computer Science students from the university who did a fantastic job of setting us up.”
In 2016, the company was forced to expand its facility and once again they sought help from the SBTDC. This time it was adviser Travin Shelton who educated Cohen on the various SBA loan options.
“He put together an amazing, in-depth business plan to help us apply for the loan,” he said.
“Through the process, Travin and our other advisers showed us how we could build our expansion without any debt.”
It’s this investment that enabled Cohen to keep a very important promise he made to God.  Having grown up in an abusive environment where both he and his mother suffered violence at the hands of his father, Cohen found escape in drugs and alcohol.  Adding fuel to a raging fire, Cohen was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and fought inner desires to destroy himself.
“I cried out to God and promised Him that if He would heal me, I’d devote my life to helping others find healing as well,” he recalls.
God delivered and now Cohen is keeping his end of the deal. His company offers its employees training in debt-elimination, smoking cessation and mental health counseling among other things.  And the most important contribution to his employee’s well-being is the Cohen work culture.
“We have a drama-free culture where leaders really care about their people.  The business has truly become a ministry of healing“ he says.
When Phil Cohen received word that he was named the 2017 SBA Small Business Person of the Year for Missouri, at first he wasn’t sure how to respond to such significant recognition.  Remaining humble and never forgetting his roots are part of his process.
“I decided the best way to handle recognition is to thank the people, roll up my sleeves and go back to work.”
Click here to learn more about Small Business Technology and Development Centers in Missouri.