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CMA study gives a glimpse at how shops are evolving

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We used to ask our profile subjects, as a matter of practice, about their most indispensable tool. The answers ranged from a card scraper or router to a CNC machine and Woodshop News (shameless plug, I know, but I really like my paycheck). My other favorite answer was involvement with a guild or association. Of course, membership isn’t a physical tool used in the shop, but the benefits of networking with your peers, educational opportunities and the band of brotherhood shouldn’t be overlooked.

There are several outstanding organizations that cater to the needs of smaller shops, such as The Furniture Society. On Page 14, you can learn about the group’s upcoming symposium in Los Angeles, which I’ll endorse as certainly worth your while to attend. But while that group exists mostly for studio furniture makers, the Cabinet Makers Association targets the sweet spot of the Woodshop News audience — small- to medium-sized custom and production furniture, cabinet and architectural millwork shops.

The CMA holds regional chapter events and educational seminars at the major trade shows, produces a quarterly print publication, Profiles, and a monthly e-newsletter. It has recently developed a professional certification program to acknowledge the skill, integrity and business acumen of its most deserving members.

Another example of CMA’s benefits is the Benchmark Study, an annual survey of members and non-members that documents industry practices and provides a better understanding of what is and isn’t driving business growth among professional woodworkers.

The CMA has provided a summary of its 2013 study (the full report was scheduled for release in February, after deadline). Here’s what I found most interesting:

Survey participants were predominantly from smaller shops, with two-thirds (67.9 percent) representing shops with revenues of less than $1 million; and nearly half (46.8 percent) working out of 5,000 sq. ft. or less of space. Most (66.8 percent) employed fewer than eight workers.

Most (76.6 percent) shops have no dedicated marketing budget, instead relying on referrals from customers and business associates such as contractors and designers as their top source of qualified leads, mentioned by 95.3 percent of respondents.

Only one in four respondents (24.9 percent) reported having a full- or part-time resource dedicated to sales. The bigger shops tend to employ dedicated sales staffs, while those with revenues below $1 million tend to use part-timers or outside reps.

Four out of five shops (81 percent) billing more than $1 million report having CNC equipment, compared to only one third (34.5 percent) of smaller shops.

Smaller shops — those under $1 million — were twice as likely to report sales declines in 2012 compared to their larger colleagues, with 13.2 percent of smaller shops reporting lower sales last year and 7.9 percent among larger shops. The good news is that both groups had a better year last year than the year before.

Shops with showrooms outperformed their counterparts slightly, with 58 percent of showroom shops indicating sales increases vs. 51.3 percent of non-showroom operations. Those with showrooms usually host them in the same location as their shops (90.7 percent) rather than in remote locations.

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This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue.

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