Craftsman’s Work Comes From the Heart

CHRISTOPHER LENNEY / NNY BUSINESS
Eric Criscitello, right and his son Tim at From the Heart Cabinetry.

BY: Doug Buchanan
It’s one thing to be great at what you do; it’s quite another to love it. In the case of Eric Criscitello, the owner of From the Heart Cabinetry in Potsdam, both are true.

    Joining his father in the family business in 1992, Eric has continued to build and install custom cabinets – not to mention strong personal relationships with his customers along the way. And now he is looking at bringing one of his sons in as a partner, just like his father did for him more than 25 years ago.

    “My dad established the business in 1988,” said Eric, “and I jumped in in 1992 when I was still in school; they let me do a work study. I’d go to homeroom and then go and work for dad, and I apprenticed under him for six months. And then right after that he made me a business partner.”

    It would be another 15 years or so before Eric’s father, Rit Criscitello, would step away from day-to-day operations at From the Heart, but his ongoing influence is evident.

    “My dad had a couple key rules that he would always say,” Eric explained. “Number one: Don’t get into big debt all the time. Second thing he’d always say is, ‘Remember that we’re always the servant. We’re here to serve other people. We’re not here to take, we’re here to give.’”

    In addition to becoming a highly skilled craftsman under his father’s guidance, Eric learned the Christian ethic that underpins everything that he does.

    “He taught me about Jesus,” said Eric. “We have a tradition here that my dad started. Every morning we get here about half an hour early and read some Scripture and pray for each other.”

    These morning meetings are optional, of course, but Eric said they help bring the crew together; not everyone attends, and that’s fine, but everyone is welcome. And then it’s time to do what From the Heart does best: build and install custom cabinetry. And the company has never really had a slow time – even during economic downturns. Eric attributes this to the relational aspect of the business – the company stands behind its work.

    “We’re firm believers in a couple of things: That all of our wood products are American made; there are no formaldehydes, they’re better for you, they’re safer for you. The second thing is we put the best hardware we can in our cabinetry,” Eric said. “Everything is the best because we don’t want to go back. We want to build your kitchen and then for 25 years you never call us again unless it’s to say, ‘Hey, we’re thankful. We love it.’”

    The importance of family and personal relationships are threads that run through the business – as palpable as the sawdust pile on the side of the building out on Route 11B near the Potsdam/Stockholm town line. These are core values Eric inherited from his father and that he hopes to pass on to the next generation.

     “A good name is better than riches,” Eric said, quoting a Bible verse that his father was fond of citing. “He passed that along to us, and because of those things, we have never had to advertise. We are a word-of-mouth business, and I think that came from my dad, who said, ‘Just serve people and enjoy it. Love what you do.’”

    Eric has recently started the process of pulling his own son in as a partner in the business. This company is, and always has been, a family affair. All of Eric and his wife Lisa’s 10 children have spent some time in the shop.

    “Timothy is my second-oldest. At a pretty early age I would bring him, just like my dad would, and have him help sweep up the shop and clean up,” Eric said. Timothy, like his father before him, came to the realization that he wanted to carry the mantle of the family business – and Eric was happy to accommodate him.

    “So, as soon as he finished high school, he started apprenticing and working on the equipment and things,” said Eric, explaining that this means Timothy now owns a percentage of the business. That percentage will grow until, finally, he will be the sole proprietor, just like Eric is now. But Eric is in no rush to step away from the craft he loves.

    “I’m 44 years old. I’ll be here for at least another 20 years, if not another 25 years,” he said. “I go to work every morning excited.”

    While From the Heart specializes in custom work, Eric keeps his prices reasonable – low enough to compete with the big box stores that offer similar services.

    “I don’t feel this desire to build just for wealthy people. I don’t like doing that. I like building for my neighbors; we love that,” said Eric, adding that people make assumptions about the cost of From the Heart’s work. “That’s the number one myth I have to fight: ‘You’re custom cabinets, I can’t afford that.’ We are super cost-competitive.”

    With a strong business model and a strong, personal philosophy and work ethic, Eric sees a bright future for From the Heart.

    “I’m hoping that the business is successful, that we keep our focus, our niche; that we keep good systems in the shop, serving the customer 100 percent,” he said. “I would really love to see it just still stay a relational-based business that does great work.”