It was blustery weather outside Hafele's Chicago showroom, as the Cabinet Makers Association held its regional gathering just before Thanksgiving. 

Woodshops from Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana were there, at the trendy loft-style center that provides the hardware manufacturer a base of operations with the home and commercial interior showroom palace of the mammoth Merchandise Mart conveniently at hand.

Though cabinet maker attendance was wide ranging, it was sparse: most of the area members were too busy to stop - working full tilt to finish renovation projects before the turkey hit the oven and relatives descended on their clients. Projects include updating bedrooms and bathrooms, murphy beds, and adding kitchen counter and cabinet space before the holiday starts in earnest.

We talked with a number of the cabinet makers who could get away, and found they were busy. What's changed is the types of work that is being done - almost no new construction build outs, and more residential renovation.

Most cabinet makers we talked to are making a concerted effort to get into commercial work.

"We've been doing a lot more commercial work," Cleland Noe, from Counterpoint Cabinetry told me. His Wilmette, IL shop historically focused on residential in that tony Chicago suburb. (Counterpoint Cabinetry has won the Cabinet Makers Assn. Wood Diamond award for both commercial architectural millwork and residential library woodwork.) 

"We've been doing office build outs inn the city, and a fair amount of medical client work."

I asked Noe how he finds bid prospects. He doesn't use any of the paid bid registry sites, but gets a lot of unsolicited requests for bids.

"There are so many RFQs that come in, I screen them. I try to stay away from general bid requests," Noe said.

With so many shops hjaving closed over the past couple of years, winning work isn't strictly a measure of dollars when commercial clients are selecting him.

"It's not always about price as much as trust - that you are going to be able to complete the job," says Noe.

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