A triumph of networking

Ten years ago, the idea of creating an association for small shop owners wasn't exactly new or original. I had written about it way back in the fall of 1995 in the first issue of my magazine WoodshopBusiness. Others in the industry had speculated about it publicly and privately. But it wasn't until Bruce Plantz, then editor of FDM and CabinetMaker magazines, got the ball rolling in the winter of 1998 that things started to really happen.

Full of optimism about new beginnings, I had written in my magazine's inaugural issue in 1995, "One suggestion we are already exploring is the possibility of creating a national association for small shop woodworking professionals. The potential organization could offer health and business insurance programs, materials discounts, lobbying clout, or any number of other services." Readers and industry members responded positively, but nobody, including me, really did anything about it.

Then, in the process of reorganizing FDM and CabinetMaker under a management buyout, Bruce thought it was the ideal time to get the association idea off the ground. He had been discussing the idea seriously with a number of shop owners and managers, and he convinced four to come to Chicago and put action to the words. He also asked me to come. At the time, I was in final negotiations to sell my magazine to the new management group that Bruce was part of. Under the preliminary agreement, I was to take the helm of CabinetMaker. But we still weren't sure that the deal would go through. Even so, I was committed to the association concept and Bruce's vision for it.

That is the ultimate irony of the founding of the CMA. It was based on a shared commitment to a vision of an association, but the actual vision of what the association's goals would be and how it would accomplish them was far from clear. I agreed to become the new association's first executive director. But my ideas of providing insurance benefits and group buying discounts proved too grandiose and problematic for the fledgling organization. And the CMA ran headlong into a Catch 22. The providers of those benefits wouldn't commit until member numbers made it worthwhile. But at the same time, new members were hesitant to join and pay dues without a promise of benefits.

In the end, the biggest benefit then and now was what brought the original founders of the CMA together. That was simply the opportunity to network with other people in the industry, especially fellow shop owners. Networking is what created the CMA, and I suspect it will always be the biggest benefit of the organization.

Bruce and I are proud of our roles in helping get the organization off the ground. It has gone from a handful of people in a conference room to more than 600 members across the country. The association has become a dramatic force for the education and improvement of small shop business practices, mostly through networking. And we expect it to continue to do so long into the future. Congratulations to everyone who has worked so hard to make the Cabinet Makers Association what it is today.

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.