Flood forced Barndog Mill to rethink business’ focus

Two miles north of Zachary on Highway 19 in a nondescript metal building, a stream of blues plays while four humans and a robot work to change the status quo in the construction industry.
“It all began with a barn, a dog, and a mill,” claims Barndog Mill Heirloom Cabinetry founder Mike Gennaro, but the story really began much earlier with a storm, a girl, and a passion for woodworking.

The Barndog Mill team, left to right, Conrad Freeman, Emily Patterson, Mike Gennaro and Matt Kessler, are enjoying the additional space in their new 2,400 square-foot building.

The Barndog Mill team, left to right, Conrad Freeman, Emily Patterson, Mike Gennaro and Matt Kessler, are enjoying the additional space in their new 2,400 square-foot building.

The New Orleans native had recently received his philosophy degree from UNO when Hurricane Katrina swept through in 2005, prompting Gennaro to move to Baton Rouge to attend law school. He soon realized, however, that he wasn’t cut out to be an attorney. Still, his time at LSU was productive; it provided the setting for a chance meeting that eventually led to his marriage to Jen Bayhi, who would become instrumental in his future business.
Gennaro left law school to pursue teaching and also discovered his love for woodworking, specifically, handcrafting furniture. He decided to join the two interests and applied for a job teaching shop at a local high school. Being passed over for the position was the catalyst that launched him into woodworking full time.
He began building furniture out of a 300 sq. ft. garden shed behind his home with a small mill and his beloved basset hound. Gennaro officially established Barndog Mill in October 2011, and through the years, he expanded his shop to 1,500 sq. ft., giving him the space needed to purchase in April 2016 a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine.

“The flooding that paused his woodworking efforts not only forced Gennaro to expand his team, but it also brought a tremendous amount of business through local recovery.”

“This router bit comes in and cuts out all of our cabinets for us–every last part. It drills the holes and cuts all those boxes out. So we get to focus on the cool stuff, and the computer generates this model….it saves us so much time. It can cut out an entire kitchen in a day, and it allows us to focus on all the details like the old world joinery on aprons and handspun legs.”
Just a few months later, Barndog Mill operations came to a halt when rental properties Gennaro and his wife owned flooded in August 2016.
“We had to stop everything. All orders had to be called off, and I had to get our tenants back into the houses immediately,” he stated.

Founder Mike Gennaro poses with a table saw in their new building on Hwy 19.

Founder Mike Gennaro poses with a table saw in their new building on Hwy 19.

They knew it was time to hire someone to help. Seasoned cabinet professional Matt Kestler soon joined the team, and the name changed to Barndog Mill Heirloom Cabinetry to better represent the company’s new focus. Then in early 2017, Gennaro brought aboard more woodworking artistry with Conrad Freeman, who studied under furniture craftsman Ford Thomas. Gennaro also enlisted Emily Patterson, who previously worked at a Baton Rouge architecture firm. She focuses on design, client relations, and project management for the growing company.
The flooding that paused his woodworking efforts not only forced Gennaro to expand his team, but it also brought a tremendous amount of business through local recovery.
“We’re using that momentum from the flood orders to finally get out in front of people,” Gennari explained. “A lot of people didn’t know we existed.”
While the company is still working with clients whose homes were flooded in August, about half of their business is currently from new construction and remodels. Gennaro credits much of Barndog Mill’s success to his wife and co-owner Jen, his “behind-the-scenes secret weapon. As a real estate agent, she is always sending us clients.”

He also claims she insisted he find a larger space to work after his materials began taking over the home where they live with their two children. “I had a closet full of doors and drawers and table bases in our bedroom….We knew it was time.”
In March of this year, Barndog Mill Heirloom Cabinetry officially moved to its new 2,400 sq. ft. space at the crossroads of Zachary and Slaughter where they are installing a sign bearing the company name and logo to let passersby know what’s happening in that nondescript building. There, with a dog, a robot, and some really great music, Gennaro and his team focus on Barndog Mill’s mission – “to change the status quo of the client experience, materials, and construction” – by giving their clients personal service from the design phase all the way through to completion. They design and create a long-lasting product using the latest technology and quality materials while providing constant communication and responsiveness.

Details:

Barndog Mill Heirloom Cabinetry, 23507 Hwy 19, Zachary, LA 70791; 225-931-3111; email barndogmill@gmail.com; website: www.barndogmill.com; Facebook: Barndog Mill; Instagram: @barndogmill

Barndog Mill is FSC-certified, which ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits. Eventually, Gennaro plans to have a scrap bin where locals can stop and grab leftover pieces of wood for tomato stakes or other projects. Watch for a spinoff of the company – Barndog Events – which will soon offer handcrafted tables that can be rented for weddings and other events.

By Holly Felter Rabalais