Entrepreneur: Chad Foster
Photography by Don Kadair
COMPANY Gator Millworks Inc.
ADDRESS 30590 La. 16, Denham Springs
WHAT THEY DO Architectural millwork and cabinets for commercial and residential projects
NEXT GOALS Continue expansion into national markets and break ground on new 60,000-square-foot headquarters
Growing up amidst the sawdust of his father’s cabinet shop, Chad Foster always envisioned the family business in his future. However, that future arrived sooner than he expected when his dad fell ill during Foster’s junior year at Southeastern University. To keep the business running, he abandoned his finance degree and a year later became the sole owner of Gator Millworks Inc. Foster recalls how nervous he felt taking the reins in 2004. “I thought I still needed my father, but he kept telling me, ‘Son, you don’t need me. I’m in the way.’” Looking back, Foster knew his dad was right. He quickly embraced the future of the cabinet industry by leveraging new technology to grow the company. Today, the 23-year-old architectural woodworking company is among the most well respected in Baton Rouge, landing work on massive projects like the IBM Center, LSU’s Patrick F. Taylor Hall—which included 20,000 square feet of wall paneling—and renovation of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome suites.
BUILDING IT BETTER
Cabinetmakers abound in Baton Rouge, making it crucial for Gator Millworks to find ways to stand out from the rest. According to Foster, it’s the company’s service and dedication to high-quality craftsmanship that sets it apart. “When you work with us, you are getting the entire company at your fingertips.” Coupled with a state-of-the-art design center, investment in the latest technology and the ability to service both residential and commercial markets, Foster has positioned Gator Millworks to raise the bar for cabinetry in the region. Next year, Foster plans to break ground on a new 60,000-square-foot headquarters at Florida Boulevard and Juban Road in Denham Springs, which will house the full manufacturing capabilities, a brand new showroom and design center, as well as a training center that will provide continuing education to designers, contractors and architects in the area. “We want to be a resource to explain and show what is out there. Nobody is doing that here.”
HIGH WATER MARK
From the cabinet shop to the front office, Foster prides himself on having an intimate knowledge of his craft. “I’ve been in the shoes of every employee in here.” That experience has helped Foster cultivate a spirited team atmosphere among his 45-person staff. “I still see myself as an employee. It’s never about me, it’s about us.” So when six feet of water filled the shop during the August 2016 flood, Foster recalls feeling terrified by the devastation before him but says the feeling was temporary. The staff rallied together to first clean out each other’s homes. Then, as they began cleaning out the damage at Gator Millworks, former customers started coming to the facility in need of new cabinets. To help others rebuild, the Gator Millworks team went “old school” with table and chop saws, allowing them to get back into production nine days after the flood. “That was the worst thing to happen to us, but, in the end, I think it has changed us for the better.”
COMING BACK STRONGER
News of the flooding at Gator Millworks rippled throughout the cabinet industry, brining national attention to the local business. “People really grabbed onto the story, and you can trace the start of many of the things that are good today back to that event. We are known to do things the right way and to do whatever it takes to get it done.” With that reputation more widely known today, Foster says his next goal is to begin servicing the national market. And with a large new headquarters on the horizon, Foster is ready to welcome the next challenge. “I enjoy the challenge of something that is attainable, but you have to earn it and then you have to be able to hand it off to staff members and continue to watch it grow.” He reflects on how his father entrusted him to drive the business forward and for Foster, success will mean empowering his staff members to the same.