With nearly 200 members on hand, the Cabinet Makers Association marked its 20th anniversary with its first national conference in Denver March 1-2.

More than 25 percent of those attending were new members of the CMA, said Amanda Conger, executive director of the association.

Paul Downs of Paul Downs Cabinetmakers in Pennsylvania set the tone with his opening keynote address. He told how a boardroom table project and subsequent Google searches transformed his business. “My world changed overnight,” he said.

He explained how marketing his products rather than his shop online improved his business, even going so far as saying, “Google is my biggest customer.” While he is not actually selling to Google, effective searches on Google lead most of Downs’ customers to his shop.

Downs also went into great detail about his shop and personal income, and his approach to dealing with employees and managing his business. “It’s possible to make a decent living while paying decent wages,” he said.

Will Sampson, the original executive director of the CMA, introduces the CMA “founding fathers,” Mike Langenderfer, Jim McDermott, Keith Hill, and Bob Buckley.

20 years and counting

One panel at the event keyed into the history of the organization. The four original board members who founded the CMA in 1998 returned to discuss their thoughts then and now. As the founding executive director of the organization, I moderated the panel, which included Mike Langenderfer, the first CMA president. Langenderfer transitioned his cabinet shop to being a countertop business. He has long been active in the International Surface Fabricators Association, so he compared that group to the CMA.

Jim McDermott, the first vice-president of the CMA, who also served as president and executive director, talked about the herculean efforts to attract members in the early days.

Keith Hill, the first secretary and later a president of the CMA, is no longer directly in the cabinet industry, but he still provides IT support for some CMA members. He talked about networking value and the lasting friendships he made through the CMA.

Bob Buckley, the CMA’s first treasurer, reiterated the prime value that he saw at the beginning of the CMA and still sees today: networking. He particularly liked to promote the roundtable discussions. Buckley acknowledged that he wasn’t all that keen at the beginning in the involvement of supplier associate members. That proved ironic, since Buckley retired from his cabinet shop, but came back to the industry to work as a software and design developer for Cabinotch, a CMA associate member.

Building a business

Long dedicated to improving the business smarts of its members, the CMA continued that mission with a session on building value in your business. Presented by Jim Thomas, an attorney with Minor & Brown PC, the session focused on exit strategies for cabinet shops and how to value your business beyond just what the machinery and real estate might get at an auction.

In a candid and sometimes humorous interview, Chris Dehmer of Dark Horse Woodworks in Atlanta spoke of the trials and tribulations of transitioning to CNC manufacturing.

Christian Zorio of Mission Bell Manufacturing in Morgan Hill, California, gave an eye-opening presentation on the increasing role of technology in today’s woodworking industry. He said his company has adopted the philosophy that it is a technology company that works with wood rather than a woodworking company that uses technology. He talked about how the company uses such things as 3D printing, virtual reality, and augmented reality. He also talked about when to adopt new technology.

A panel on education and finding employees featured Christina Relyea, JB Cutting; Greg Larson, New England School of Architectural Millwork; Dean Mattson, The MiLL; and Scott Robinson, Concepts in Millworks. They all spoke about the challenge of finding and training skilled employees and some of the new efforts like the national training center at The MiLL in Colorado and the Woodworking Career Alliance Passport program that they hope will help solve this problem.

Sean Benetin of Millwork and More presented his popular pricing talk, and a panel on the cabinet industry supply chain generated some spirited interplay with the audience, many of whom were asking suppliers to be more responsive to cabinet shop needs. Henry “Dutch” Hempel of Henry Hempel Construction Consultants, closed out the regular sessions.

Almost all of the past presidents of the CMA were on hand for the 20th anniversary conference. From left, Mike Langenderfer, Jim McDermott, Brad Phelps, Keith Hill, Adam Rose, Sean Benetin, Joe Knobbe, Tracy Yarborough, and current president Matt Krigg. Not shown, Charles Wilson.

Off the agenda

Some unscheduled events added value to the conference. An ad hoc discussion on bidding and estimating attracted about 60 participants after dinner the first night.

On Friday evening, after the conference was officially over, many who were staying over for the night were invited to a local beer garden to relax and recap the event. “These kinds of opportunities are what the CMA is all about,” said Conger. She quoted both members and suppliers who said they got a lot from the opportunity to network and share common experiences.

“Although this event was the association’s first-ever conference on a national level, it will most certainly not be the last, given the feedback received from this event,” said Conger.

In additional to the national conference, the CMA also has regional events on their calendar, including Pasadena, California, on March 26 prior to the Cabinets & Closets Conference & Expo, Springfield, Missouri, on June 22, and Atlanta on August 19 prior to IWF. The regional events typically involve plant tours, networking, and a chance to talk shop and share issues, solutions and projects.

You do not have to be a CMA member to participate in these CMA events. For more information and to register, visit www.cabinetmakers.org/events.


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