By Jim McDermott

A ‘founding father’ reminisces about the association’s early days and subsequent development.


Starting with just a handful of companies 10 years ago, today the CMA represents hundreds of member shops that produce a wide variety of cabinetry and millwork.

The Cabinet Makes Assn. was founded on a cold and windy day in January 1998 in a Chicago, IL, suburb. Can it really be 10 years already? Time sure flies when you get involved. As a founding Board member, I look back upon that time as one of great potential for what the CMA could become. Ten years later, the association is well on its way to fulfilling its dream — “to uphold the highest level of professionalism in the industry by providing its members with networking opportunities, continuing education and ongoing professional development.”

But, just how did it come about? As I recall, I was having a conversation with a member of the trade press one day about the lack of an association that addressed the needs of small shops. Not knowing that I would become involved for the next 10 years, I commented enthusiastically that I would like to be involved in forming such a group — and a short time later, I found myself in Chicago with a group of like-minded cabinetmakers.

It was there that I met the other shop owners who would become the founding board members, including Bob Buckley, Mike Langenderfer and Keith Hill, to hammer out the details. Tom Austin was part of that meeting via telephone. Bylaws were discussed and a boilerplate form was altered to suit our needs. Dues were discussed for regular and associate members and set as part of the bylaws. Officers were elected and charged with growing the new association.

The CMA was incorporated in the state of Illinois as a not-for-profit corporation. Applications were made to the various state and federal agencies, and then we were legal and ready to go. Mike was elected President, I was First Vice President, Bob was Treasurer and Keith was Secretary. Tom was a board member at large.

Now What?

Once that groundwork was laid, we asked ourselves, “Okay, now what?” How does one go about building an association from the ground up? None of us had any experience with this sort of thing. But we devised a plan, sent out press releases and started talking about the CMA at every opportunity.

In the beginning, it was hard to sell this concept. What we take for granted today sounded like blasphemy 10 years ago. Talk with your competitor? Visit another shop to see how they do things? Open up your own shop to let other shops see your operation? Share all your secrets to making a cabinet? Subcontract work to your competition? Outsource? Use the Internet as a resource for sharing and gathering information? Yes, it was a hard sell.

Nevertheless, we held our first official Roundtable Dinner at the International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta that year. It was attended by more than 70 cabinet shop representatives and industry professionals. The evening started slowly. But after a while, shop owners were talking about all kinds of things that affected their businesses. Then, just as soon as a question was asked, others around the table answered with how they handled that particular situation and whether it worked for them.

One of the more interesting things I observed that night was that our Associate Members, suppliers to the industry, were contributing as much to the discussion as the regular cabinet shop members. None were overtly selling, just offering their experience and industry expertise to help others. When talking with other members after the meeting, most were very happy about the free exchange of good information. We all agreed to pass the word, so others could join and participate in the sharing of information.

Another example of work from a member shop that is represented by the CMA.

Moving Forward with Education and Membership

It was about that time that the CMA began providing seminars for attendees at Trade Shows Inc.’s regional events. The first seminars dealt with pricing and shop efficiency. Even today, the pricing seminar continues to be one of the most popular programs.

The CMA’s participation at industry tradeshows led to numerous networking opportunities, either at its booth or at round table meetings. Some of the newest members came away with so much information, their heads were spinning. In fact, the transformation I saw among new members was simply amazing.

It is something I have experienced myself, benefitting from many such exchanges of information. I can remember a discussion I had one night with Keith Hill about using one type of material versus another. I went back to my shop and immediately made a change, and it was a change for the better. I realized first-hand that even people who have been in the business for a while can learn new ways to think about the challenge of owning and operating a cabinet shop.

In 1999, the Board of Directors was expanded to seven members and included Joel Templin and Brad Phelps. We attended the AWFS woodworking show in Anaheim, CA, that year. We had a booth and organized a few networking opportunities after show hours. Our association began to be recognized by industry professionals as a group poised for growth. Many new members signed up at the show. As at other events, new and old members alike found a great benefit by networking with each other, learning new methods and gaining a new perspective on their businesses.

Two years later, a new slate of officers was elected, and the association began to gain some momentum. Participation at trade shows, presenting seminars, starting an online forum and emerging interest in having local chapters were among the significant events of the year 2000.

As President, I felt it was part of my job to help start a local chapter. Thus, the Metro New York chapter held its first meetings at my shop, and more than 20 shop representatives attended.

Local vendors began to see the value of being an Associate Member. Attending our events and having direct access to more than a few of their customers at one time was helpful to their marketing and service plans. Manufacturing members were more than willing to give feedback, both good and bad, and a genuine exchange began to take place. In fact, it was probably one of the greater benefits for an Associate Member. The CMA was asked to be part of a focus group, and the input was well received.

Continued Expansion in the New Millennium

Brad Phelps took the helm as President of the CMA in 2002, and under his guidance the association really started to grow. He further expanded participation in trade shows and presentations of seminars, both to give back to our industry and to help get our message out to potential members. His style and ease helped gain new recognition among cabinet shops and industry suppliers. Brad’s reputation as a professional is surpassed only by the fact that he is one of the nicest and most genuine people you will ever meet.

Keith Hill took over as President in 2004. Under Keith’s guidance, the association continued to grow and gain recognition. His consummate professionalism as an industry leader was a great asset. There were more trade show activities, more seminars, and his experience with the Internet and computers led to many enhancements of the CMA Web site.

Charles Wilson became President in 2005 and took our Web presence further. He was directly responsible for completing the update of the Web site, both in functionality and content. The site now has a searchable database where consumers can locate a member shop in their areas. The online member forum was enhanced to make it easier to share information. Under Charles’ leadership, the CMA hired an executive director, DiAnna Gregory, to help with the administrative side of running the association, which was becoming a task too large for volunteers to manage effectively.

Moving to the Present Day

Adam Rose took over as President in 2007. Today, Adam is overseeing an association that has grown to more than 600 Regular and Associate Members in 10 short years. Through the coming year, he will continue to refine and adapt the CMA’s long-range plan to improve and grow the association.

Other current board members are Sean Benetin, Pat Gilbert, Ed Curtis, Dave Grulke and Wayne Adelkopf. They give generously of their time to help the CMA enhance member benefits and improve the industry. Everyone involved works tirelessly to make the CMA the association for the small shop.

In addition, there are many other past board members who have made significant contributions to the CMA through the years, including Dick Terry, Tom and Sandy Meadows, Pete Fisher and Dean Aamodt. The CMA’s quarterly publication, Profiles, was started by David Getts, who served as editor and was responsible for growing it into a valuable resource for members. Sandy Meadows recently took over for David, and she continues to build on the foundation of providing members with an outstanding newsletter. Others, such as Eric Lehman and Jim Falk, have contributed their talents by serving on committees and giving seminars.

The continuing success of the CMA is a direct result of the members getting involved and making a difference. The more involved a member becomes, the more he or she gets out of the association. The CMA has been a powerful tool to help members grow professionally and personally.

For more information about the organization, visit its Web site at The next 10 years are full of promise for continued expansion, service to the industry and member benefits. It is a great time to become a part of this dynamic association.

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