We're in this together!
May 31, 2014 | 7:00 pm CDT

If cabinet shops think they are hurting in the down economy, they can be reassured that they are not alone. Members of the  Cabinet Industry Distribution Alliance, which includes both distributors and suppliers, are working hard to help shops succeed because they know their success depends on successful shops.

Economy strengthens relationship  

No matter how seriously the economy has affected them and their customers, most distributors and suppliers say the end result has been closer ties with shops. "It's bringing us closer. There's the feeling we're all in this together," says Elizabeth Huhn, senior marketing manager at  C.H. Briggs Hardware Co. 

Pat Abbe of Cabinetparts.com says his company hasn't felt the economic downturn as much as some, but it still has an impact.

"We're weathering the storm well," he says.

"A lot of the stuff we've done is more interaction with our customers. We're going to work harder for the same amount."

"It's very important that there's good information available to shops on products and changes occurring," says Tom Mauss, president and CEO of  Louis and Company.

He says it is crucial communication works both ways. For example, if there are any issues with credit affecting a shop, the distributor can work with the shop if the owner keeps the distributor fully informed. "A customer gets slammed by one of their own customers on payment, and they just go dark. It's better to keep communication open," he says. "As long as that communication is open we work to create a solution."

Tracy Sianta, director of marketing, sales, and business operations at  Klise Manufacturing says the economy has drawn distributors, suppliers and shops closer together.

"This has given us the opportunity to strengthen the relationship," she says. "We are doing everything we can to help our customers." That includes relaxing minimums and reducing lead times, she says.

Partnering for progress  

Not only are ties closer between shops and their distributors and suppliers, but the distributors and suppliers are working more closely with each other to meet customer needs.

Abbe tells of an incident involving a startup shop in Ohio that was having some issues using the new Blum servo drive. Not only did Cabinetparts.com work with Blum to help solve that problem, but they offered help to the shop on its business plan.

Pat Carrico at  Rev-A-Shelf takes a similar view but from the supplier's perspective. "If a shop wants a particular item customized, we'll try to do it," he says. They also offer quick-ship programs.

Huhn at C.H. Briggs says they are working with suppliers to continue efforts for new product introductions. "We want to keep those products in front of customers," she says. She noted C.H. Briggs recently partnered with suppliers to present together in a regional trade show. They have also been taking steps to help educate shops how they can take advantage of government economic stimulus programs in their areas.

"There are projects, and they will be funded and these are opportunities to chase for their business," she says.

As a supplier, Bill Albertson of  Deerwood Fasteners says distributors, suppliers and shops all need to improve their relationships and build loyalty to survive the downturn. He cited inventory as an example.

"No one wants to carry inventory anymore," he says. So, his company has taken steps to smooth out delivery schedules and make Just In Time (JIT) supply streams work.

Jon Minnaert at  Aetna Plywood Inc. acknowledges the pressure the economy imposes on the supply stream between suppliers and distributors. "They (suppliers) want us to move as much of their products as possible. We're keeping a leaner inventory. And we're going to shops with less material," he says.

Tactics to succeed  

Shops need to take advantage of anything that saves them time or money.

"One of the things I see is the use of the Internet to communicate," says Abbe of  Cabinetparts.com. He thinks shops should use the Internet more in everything they do and should demand more information and support from their distributors and suppliers.

Minnaert at Aetna Plywood agrees. "A lot of shops don't take advantage of the resources we have until they really need them. We try to use technology as much as we can to help both customers and us keep our costs down," he says.

Rev-A-Shelf's Carrico says a good tactic for shops is to add more value to their cabinets.

"A lot of them are looking a little closer at adding more accessories to their cabinets," he says.

"We're looking to promote a broader view of accessories. A lot are upgrading showrooms."

He also thinks shops should take advantage of Internet resources and notes Rev-A-Shelf offers an image repository and product catalogs that can be imported into software programs such as 20-20, AutoCAD or Cabinet Vision.

C.H. Briggs is promoting high-value affordable items to shops including private label brands that may allow shops to save costs while offering comparable quality to customers, says Huhn.

What shops should do  

Minnaert at Aetna Plywood says shops should "appreciate the value that a full-line industrial distributor can give you. Value that relationship instead of looking to just save a buck." He says that will allow the shop to reduce the number of vendors and save money and time on sourcing.

"Communication is the biggest thing," says Mauss at Louis and Company.

"They (shop owners) have to keep the lines of communication open."

Mauss says his company can offer reporting tools to shops to help them better organize ordering on common items and save money with quantity breaks and fewer shipments.

Sianta at Klise takes it a step farther.

"It's more than communication, it's collaboration," she says. "We are laying the groundwork for when the economy does pick up. Their success is our success."

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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.