With solid core, CAS is ready for the future

Company: CAS America
President: Joseph Cannon
Location: 65 Cedar Avenue, East Greenwich
Type of business: Manufacturer of box furniture
Number of Employees: 20
Annual revenues: WND
Year founded: 1986

BUSINESS MEETING, Jennifer Cannon, daughter of the owner, discusses a problem with Debora Schenck, marketing coordinator.

While many company owners encourage employees to think “outside of the box,” Joe Cannon, owner of CAS America in East Greenwich has spent 14 years telling his employees to do the opposite.

The company was founded in 1986 and manufactures custom wood and engineered cabinets and cases for a variety of industries. Cannon takes pride from the fact that all of his company’s products are in the shape of a box. From computer command stations to medical carts – everything is rectangular.

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”Our core competency is the box,” Cannon said. “Everything we build is a box; we just customize them to meet the needs of our customers.”

If the company’s concept seems simple, that’s because it is.

“The best concepts in business are the simple ones,” he said. “The real challenge for us is making the decision about which product will be the most profitable, and the one that will be more difficult for our competitors to produce.”

Five years ago the company started expanding with the development of a new product – the computer command center. That product, which represents nearly 70 percent of the company’s business, inspired Cannon to attempt to reach additional markets.

”The core is the important thing,” he said. “The only sure thing in business is that you don’t know what’s going to happen six months from now. The core allows us to make new business without changing what we do.”

The company is now working on a “top secret” design aimed at serving the needs of the medical community. Known as Cart-Right, the new product was inspired by an anesthesiologist friend of Cannon’s. The product’s design and marketing are in the hands of Cannon’s daughter Jennifer and two other co-workers.

”A friend of mine came to me and asked me if we could design a cart for him,” Cannon said. “We have spent the past 12 months, researching and designing this new product, and now are in the beginning phase of marketing that product. We see this as part of a larger develop(ment) in this field.”

The toughest part of the development process, Jennifer and her dad agreed, was learning all the terms and procedures of medicine so they could design something that really suited the needs of their clients.

”We don’t know a lot of the terms and we have really had to learn those so we know what we are designing,” Jennifer said.

But releasing a new product into an expanding market like the medical field isn’t going to be easy, Cannon said. Finding the right time and controlling the company’s growth will be a top priority. In fact, in the last year alone the company’s sales have increased by almost 48 percent.

”You need to always balance business with capacity,” he said. “If we can’t meet the demands of our customers, then we will lose business. We need to stay right on top of our growth and make sure that there is balance.”

The idea of balance is something Cannon firmly believes in, even when it comes to the management of the company. With an executive board of four people, Cannon said he gets only one vote – the same as everyone else.

”There is definite team concept here,” he said. “In working for other companies I realized that you can’t be in control of everything. I think that companies learn by making mistakes, and if you don’t let people make mistakes, nobody learns anything.”

Like other manufacturers, Cannon said, technology has played a huge role in the company’s success. Though the shop is reminiscent of days gone by with sawdust in piles on the floor, the machinery is much different. Today everything is computerized, workers are trained, and technology is constantly updated, Cannon said. He has been able to keep up with help from grants and federal funding.

”We need to keep pace with the transition from the last century to the next century,” he said. “In order to keep up you have to reinvest, reinvest in your company and your employees.”

As a successful manufacturer in Rhode Island, Cannon said, he doesn’t like it when people say that manufacturing is dead in the state.

”The state of Rhode Island needs to recognize that manufacturing isn’t dead,” he said. “It’s just a much more modern concept.”

And just where will Cannon go with his new concepts and ideas, he isn’t sure. But he said, the company always will focus in three major areas, medical, day care, both adult and child, and the computer industry.

”The door is open for us and anything is a possibility.”