It’s the people that make the difference. How often have we heard that old adage? Well, it has never been truer said of anyone than of the founder of Ideal Cabinets, Ken Rakes. He made a difference fifty years ago when he founded Ideal Cabinets, and he is still making a difference every single day.
If you had to summarize Ken in two words, it would be “Ken Cares.” Ken cares about his family. Ken cares about his business, and about the lives of his employees. Ken cares about his customers. He just cares about people. It is who he is.
If Ken is working at the Christiansburg store, he will call the employees in Charlottesville and Roanoke and chat with each of us to see how our day is going, and see if we need anything. He checks on all of us and sees how we are doing. Many of us have affectionately dubbed him “Daddy”, he even has a pillow that says “Daddy’s chair” in Roanoke. Ken has a happiness about him that makes people smile when they see him or talk to him. It’s simple to know why. They know he cares.
So how did he get his start? Ken grew up in Ferrum, Virginia, with his parents and three brothers. Ken comes from a background of people with the entrepreneurial spirit, including his Grandma who had her own country store. Growing up, Ken knew many people who worked hard to run their own businesses, and he saw what that could do for him.
How did Ken and Virginia (Jenny) meet? Ken’s oldest brother, Elwood, met Jenny’s sister, Glenna, in college. They dated, and soon were married. It was through their marriage that Ken and Virginia met. Thinking back to that time, Ken smiles and says “She was a beauty queen- she really was. I don’t know how I ever got her.” He pauses, and smiles. “Boy, did I fall for her.” He continues, “She is a hard-working person, and her whole family were hard workers. It was a big inspiration seeing how they all were such hard workers. Her background in bookkeeping was really as much a part of the company as what I did. What I did couldn’t have been done without what she did.”
When Ken and Virginia were first married, Ken worked at Leo Scott Cabinets in Ferrum, but they were living in Christiansburg. Ken soon changed jobs because of the long drive, and started working at Rakes Building Supply (no relation) doing mill work for three years or so. It was during that time that Ken began thinking about starting his own cabinet business.
Ken credits his father-in-law with being his inspiration to go into business for himself. He says his father-in-law believed in him, and kept nudging him to try it. Ken says “ He kept telling me that was where my future was. Without him believing in me I don’t think I would have ever done it.”
Even still, Ken says “I didn’t have the money or the nerve. Finally, one day another guy that worked with me said ‘Let’s go into business together.’ He had a truck so we started a company. I don’t remember where the name ‘Ideal’ came from. But we liked it and settled on the name. We rented a space in Christiansburg of about 1200 sq feet.”
The partner lasted about two years, after the second year, he wanted out. So Ken bought him out, and proceeded on without him. During these early years of the business, Ken and Virginia had two children, a daughter Gina, and a son Pat. This gave Ken more incentive to work hard to make his business succeed, because he wanted to provide a good life for his family and be able to afford to send his kids to college.
Ken continued, “As the business grew, we branched out into many different products. We went from building all the cabinets ourselves to offering custom and pre-fab. Then we added on other products, like box cabinets, and then we added on a custom line – WoodMode.”
Somewhere in this process, Ken started studying to be a certified kitchen designer, and Ideal joined the National Kitchen and Bath Association and started going to their Seminars. Ken started educating himself through NKBA seminars, because they had very successful kitchen people who would come and speak. Ken and Virginia would go to different classes and both take notes. They started learning more about design and fashion, and what products the ladies were interested in today versus a year ago.
Ken says, “I can’t tell you what year it was, but I realized I had to make some adjustments so that that I could make the money that I wanted to make for my family to be more than just average (like go out for steak).” And that is when Ken added on the Custom line of WoodMode and hired an additional Salesman.
When asked what has made Ideal Special, and what has allowed us to remain in business for fifty years, Ken says, “First, it has been our willingness to change with the times. Second, we want to give the customers what they want.” He continues, “I have been blessed to be surrounded by great employees and great subcontractors who have helped build Ideal into the company it is today. But through it all God has led the way. I didn’t even know it at times, but it was God opening doors for us.”
When asked what his dream was for Ideal when he started the company, Ken said. “The dream was always to be the best that wood-working can be – to meet that dream I just kept reaching and reaching. Getting connected with WoodMode really gave us a boost in fashion and quality that I couldn’t have produced on my own.”
I asked Ken what his dream is for Ideal for the next fifty years, and he said “I want the business to continue, and to see Pat do whatever he sets his mind to. He has already taken the business to new levels, and I look forward to watching it grow. I want the business to grow and be successful and provide for my family and employees for many years to come.”
Ken has made a difference in many people’s lives over the years, and he continues to do so every day. Ken is a very special person, not just because he founded a successful business that has lasted fifty years, but because he cares so much about people. In the end, when success is measured, it won’t be about the sales he has made, or the stores he has founded. It will be about the difference he has made in the lives of others, and the joy he has given to so many people every day. We are very proud to have him as the founder of our company.
Our business will always be true to Ken’s founding principles:
We pride ourselves in our knowledge, creativity, service, and business conduct.
Our staff serves as your personal “coach” from beginning to end.
There’s no room for false or misleading statements in our organization. You will always get the truth – even if we made a mistake.
We believe in delivering what we promise – NO SURPRISES – and treating your home and project as if it was our own.
Our goal is achieving great design. We believe doing so requires a team effort between designer and client.
Our products and workmanship are of finest quality.
Working with you to get the most out of your investment dollar.
We want to know if you are dissatisfied with any part of our performance, and we will do our best to correct it. We know from experience that our continued growth depends on your comfort in telling others we have done a great job.