Earlier this year, Joe Knobbe was voted in as president of the Cabinet Makers Association. Knobbe, senior project manager of Exclusive Woodworking Inc. of Waukegan, IL, recently shared his thoughts on the current and future economic climate and CMA’s goals for the coming year with Custom Woodworking Business.

Custom Woodworking Business: It’s been a tough stretch for the woodworking industry because of the collapsed housing market and sluggish economy. How has the general membership of the Cabinet Makers Association weathered the storm? Do you hear better things from some areas of the country than others?

Joe Knobbe: To answer the first part of the question, one of the strongest aspects of the Cabinet Makers Association over the last couple of years has been member retention. Our core membership group truly understands the value of membership and we work hard to provide our membership with tools that improve their business.

We’ve also worked hard with our membership to make paying dues easy. Many of our members are small one-, two-, or three-man shops and a lack of work can hit the pocketbook pretty hard. We’ve worked out payment plans with a few of them because they truly want to continue membership even in these tough times.

We have lost a few members due to them closing their businesses and moving outside the industry but we’ve been able to replace those lost members with people who have been receiving our e-newsletters for years and begin to see the value of membership.

To address the second part, we’re hearing great things from the East Coast and Midwest members. There seems to be quite a bit of pent-up demand and we hope that it starts to spread across the country. A few of our East Coast members have become so busy that they’re subbing out portions of their projects to members in the Southeast. Again, another huge benefit of membership.

CWB: Recently President Obama pronounced that the recession is over and it does seem like things are slowly bouncing back. Do you get a sense that CMA members share this optimism? Are they looking for better things in 2011?

JK: Our membership has certainly become more optimistic about the future and you can see evidence of that in our member forum. Six to eight months ago a large percentage of posts were about marketing and finding work, as well as about looking to diversify. It was common to see residential shop owners asking about commercial work and vice versa.

Today’s posts are more like posts from two to three years ago. “How can I build this?” “What do I need to do that?” etc. Our membership is a highly talented and devoted group who has worked together in these tough times and we’re seeing the fruits of that hard work and cooperative sharing now that the economy is starting to gain a little steam.

CWB: Looking back at 2010, what do you consider to be the most important accomplishments for the CMA?

JK: The CMA Board of Directors has been working on laying the foundation of some exciting educational programs. The beginning stages of these programs will be unveiled in the next few months and we’re excited about them. We feel these programs will give our membership the tools they need to succeed in this market and also provide them with credentials that will make them stand head and shoulders above their competition. It’s an exciting time for the entire CMA and especially the board of directors.

CWB: What are some of the association’s top goals for 2011?

JK: To will work to continue to grow on the foundation that we’ve laid out and provide the membership with the business, marketing and shop skills that they need to become successful business persons.

CWB: The CMA is teaming up once again with Custom Woodworking Business to organize the second Custom Cabinet Conference, Feb. 24-25, 2011, in Charlotte, NC. What would you tell someone who hasn’t participated at such an education event about the value of attending?

JK: In today’s marketplace it’s difficult to find the tools you need to get to the next level in this business. It’s easy to find generic business classes or marketing seminars but the Custom Cabinet Conference is an opportunity to meet with a large group of your peers and participate in sessions and discussions with people in the same business as yours.

The CMA presenters are life-long woodworking professionals who come to share their best practices in an effort to raise the bar for the entire industry. The Cabinet Makers Association is at the forefront of these events because we have member volunteers in our Speakers Bureau who are well versed in the seminar trade and help to provide the attendees with the tools they require to succeed.

In the past, trade shows used to be more about going to see machinery and were not focused at all on education. Times have changed and, in my opinion, those who attend, learn and share from and with their peers are going to strengthen and grow their business.

Joe Knobbe, CMA president

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