Cabinet Makers Build on College Connection

2017-10-27T07:52:26+00:00

Ian Hartert and Kevin Russell recognize that most homeowners dread a lengthy renovation. So the cabinet makers and construction experts pride themselves on turning around quality projects unusually fast. “One client called us ‘the Navy Seals of the construction world,’” says Hartert. “People would go on vacation for two weeks and hire us to get the renovation done before they got home.”

That diligent turn around takes a lot of prep work including measuring, planning and cabinet building off site. “We will literally plan a project, get all materials and hardware ordered, craft all the cabinets and millwork, and get in there and work like crazy to get it done.” Their Nashville-based company Hartert-Russell has an interesting list of celebrity clients and they are known for putting their signature on wooden bathtubs, curved cabinets, and elaborate craftsman millwork.  

Ian and Kevin first met as college roommates at the University of Wyoming and only worked in construction as a way to pay their way through school. Ian worked at a bridge construction company and Kevin worked for his uncle in the industry. After graduating, Ian deferred going on to law school as he had planned. He felt he was needed back at home in upstate New York to help his Mother care for his father who had become very ill. The part-time job skills from college landed him a job at a custom cabinet company, one that happened to serve a prosperous clientele with particular tastes in high-end cabinets. “I learned the business,” says Ian. “I had a college education and my boss realized he could depend on me to help estimate jobs and use Excel spreadsheets; meanwhile, he taught me how to craft fine cabinets. I learned how to build them, install them, and everything about the industry.”

In March 1996, family needs would again play into the fate of Ian Hartert’s future business. A late blizzard that spring grounded all cabinet work to a halt in New York. Hartert grabbed a duffel bag and headed South to Nashville to help his sister remodel her home library. She was a doctor at Vanderbilt Medical Center and regularly hosted colleagues and friends at her home. A demand for Ian’s work grew in the Nashville area, and he stayed. “Suddenly I had one job, then another job,” Hartert says. “I got so busy, I told my buddy Kevin he had to come to Tennessee because work was really booming here.”

Ian and his college roommate, Kevin, formed a partnership, the beginning of Hartert-Russell. “Right away we were a unique company,” Hartert says. “We were general contractors who had a real deep-seated skill set in craftsmanship and design. And we have ended up working with some amazing clients.”

A decade of boom times in the construction industry began to dwindle with the nationwide downturn of the 2008 economy. “It was tough for everybody, but we held on and came out quite a bit stronger,” Hartert says.    

The down turn created some down time that they seized on to evaluate their business strategies. For example, they hired business coach Dick Sullivan, who had been Vice President of Operations for Eckerd Drugs to help them build on their strengths. They spent six months writing procedures and identifying best practices, and then with Sullivan’s guidance, they invested in a $500,000 game-changing piece of equipment, a CNC Router that could cut any material into any shape. “If I need 10,000 rectangles in 1/1000 of an inch accuracy, it will cut that,” says Ian. “I can take a picture of your head, put a block of wood in the machine, and it would cut it out precisely. That router is really an amazing piece of equipment.” It transformed their business and scope of abilities.

“Working smart with the right tools was the pivotal point in our company,” Hartert says. “All of a sudden we changed how we did everything, from the construction side to the cabinet side; now we had the flexibility to do beautiful custom curved cabinets and unique shaped pieces no one else in the business could offer.”

The Hartert-Russell company’s custom work has certainly caught the attention of wealthy Nashville residents over the years, who appreciate the creativity and efficiency of their operation. “We have a nice ‘Rolodex’ you could say; our typical clients include famous entertainers as well as some of the top businessmen and businesswomen in this area. They all want high-quality work and don’t have time to babysit a company. They also know that we will protect their privacy throughout the process, and after the fact. It would be easy to drop names to get attention but that is not how we operate,” he says.

And after all these years, working with his college buddy has never gotten old. “Kevin and I are very different people and what holds us together is both of us have the same exact moral North on our compass,” Ian says. “If there is an option to do one thing or the other, both of us do the right thing. If a client is not happy with our installation, we fix it. As a partnership I think that commitment to customer service and quality is really what has kept us together.”

For further information visit Hartert-Russell.

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