Guilded by association

When businesses think about marketing nowadays, there are many vehicles to consider: internet, social media, advertising, trade shows, ad mail, showrooms and direct sales. But can industry associations provide another key element to growing your business?

Peter Gallagher, president of AWMAC Ontario (Architectural Woodwork Manufacturers Association of Canada, Ontario chapter) and president of Convoy Custom Interiors of Concord, Ont., believes they can. AWMAC welcomes two kinds of members to its events — manufacturing members (millwork shops) and associate members (suppliers) — where networking fosters positive industry contacts.

His association presents “lunch-and-learn” sessions at the offices of architects and interior designers (A&D) across Canada. “It’s a low-cost way to get in front of the A&D community,” says Gallagher. The hour-long sessions are a way for architects and interior designers to gain valuable CEU (continuing education unit) credits required to maintain professional credentials. AWMAC presentations at the events are approved by the Toronto, Ont.-based Interior Designers of Canada (IDC). In interior design, a select number of continuing education units (CEUs) may be required over a designated period of time by a professional organization or by legal registration through a particular jurisdiction.

The content of the sessions is also directed by the A&D hosts, according to Gallagher. “If the firm wants us to talk about finishing at one session, and substrates at the next, then we can tailor the presentations to those needs.”

Clinton Hummel, president of IDC and of Paisley Park design studio in North Bay, Ont., says his association also has many regional events that cater to the industry. “IDC provides the platform for members and industry to connect,” he says.

IDC DesignEx events such as this show in Saskatoon offer excellent opportunity for wood manufacturers to connect with design pros.

IDC’s DesignEx trade shows are said to be a great alternative to regular trade shows. They are cost-effective, intimate events where, instead of a booth, companies are given a table top to showcase their newest or most popular products to qualified professionals and specifiers, including interior designers, architects and others from the industry. The program is held 12 times annually with shows in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Hummel notes that the association website provides a meeting point for both interior designer (ID) and industry members. “It would be up to the (ID) members to go in and say ‘I’m looking for a manufacturer of cabinet work,’” he says. “’So I go into the list and I see who is there.’ Similarly, an industry member can go into that list and see what designers or design firms are in their particular area that they want to do business.

“Alternatively, as a designer we are working on a commercial, corporate new build. Say we have $1 million of millwork. If it’s in a particular region I’m going to look at local manufacturers to see who could handle that type of work. Invite them to tender or maybe other tenders if it is an invitation to tender. I think from those types of cases you are going to get more relationships or new relationships to start because it might be a millwork company that I have never worked with before. We are doing that consciously by daily reaching out to different companies.”

IDC member Susan Rea, principal at Susanrea Interior Design in Winnipeg, Man., appreciates the regional events. “Designers are all very visual,” says Rea. “If we can be in a show and see something and talk to the people who have made it — that really sticks with us way more than reading about it. Those are the most valuable pieces for me — going to the design and trade shows.

“Most of the woodworking shops that I work with are mostly from prior experience or from recommendations from colleagues, or I might have seen their work somewhere at a show,” Rea notes.

Another avenue that Rea uses is listing her company on Houzz, the home design website and social media platform based in Palo Alto, Calif. While she paid for a subscription at one time, Rea has switched to the free listing available to designers and didn’t find any difference. “I have the same amount of contacts from the paid as from the free one. I do get quite a few contacts from Houzz — I know a lot of my clients really like it. I will put idea books and folders up there and we will share them. As a resource tool I use it a lot with my clients.”

For Clareville Distinctive Kitchens and Baths in Brampton, Ont., using web services Houzz and Homestars can cost hundreds of dollars a month, according to Demetri Psarianos, vice president operations and corporate affairs. However, Clareville is dedicated to raising — and keeping — its high profile online. Recently it received the support of Ottawa, Ont.-based Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), a bank that works with companies to maintain “best business practises” in order to grow.

According to Luke Psarianos, Clareville’s president, BDC wanted to come into his operations to provide a boost with all of the marketing programs at the company, as well as teach it about website optimization. “We kickstarted and/or revived our social media presence,” says Psarianos. The company created its own LinkedIn page and updated all of its individual LinkedIn profiles. “There was a lot of mentoring and coaching done, such as determining how many leads you would need to bring in a certain amount of business per month and meet quotas.”

BDC offers many different modules for operating businesses, many that Luke Psarianos was familiar with, but that it was good “to refresh our mind and to learn and move forward. It was about six sessions that were an hour to an hour and a half long. We did it over the course of about two months.”

Clareville is also actively engaged with the Hackettstown, N.J.-based National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), another organization that features both designers and manufacturers. NKBA is an international non-profit trade association that promotes the professionalism of the kitchen and bath industry, has credit programs that offer students a specialty in kitchen and bath design, and owns the annual Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) trade show.

NKBA offers regional seminars, according to Luke Psarianos, as well as plant tours. “We were asked if we would be interested in providing them with a tour when they are in this part of the city. Others can see how our methods might work for them — and we can even learn from other companies.

“In the past, we put ads on the NKBA website when we were looking for new employees.”

Luke Psarianos has design expertise in-house at Clareville, but is not shy about partnering with interior designers, either. “We work very closely on a daily basis with one ourselves and find he is excellent at what he does. It adds real value to the company.” He adds that an interior designer at another kitchen company recently approached him to carry Clareville’s product in its showroom. “They were interested in dropping one of their lines and carrying ours,” he says.

The work of interior designers contains an element of vision — of what tastes will become, and perhaps influence them. Kevin Humphries, marketing manager of IDC industry member, Mercury Wood Products, in Vaughan, Ont., looks to Europe for trends. Mercury imports panels from the region that are turned into kitchen cabinets, cabinet doors, store fixtures and wall panels. “They tend to be a couple of years in advance of us in terms of colour selection and textures,” says Humphries. “This is the main reason that interior designers and architects really like to zero in on this. Their reputation depends on how nice they can make these interiors and these choices.”

Mercury sells 4 x 8 and 5 x 9 sheets to cabinet shops in Canada, along with edge banding to go on the panels. The company also represents some domestic lines that it sells and promotes to architects as well. “By the time the architect or designer chooses a colour or a finish to the time the project gets installed it could be, in the case of condominium towers, two or three years before you see the building go up.”

Humphries laments the practise of “value engineering” that happens when large construction projects linger on too long and cost overruns creep in by the time the kitchen manufacturer has his turn. “He gets to the developer and they say ‘where are we going to save money here? We’ve got an $8 million building here. We’ve got to cut some corners. What about those fancy German panels they’ve got in the kitchens? We had better get that switched around for a cheaper one.’ So there is constant value engineering going on.

“So sometimes there is a disconnect between the trades and the designers and architects. But the designers’ reputations depend on them putting together really nice packages.”

When it comes to cabinet material certifications, Betsy Natz, ceo, Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA) of Reston, Va., notes that “KCMA’s certification programs provide our members with the unique opportunity to distinguish themselves in a competitive market.”

For example, the KCMA A161.1 program is performance based, according to Natz. “The test methods in the standard simulate what the typical consumer will subject the cabinets to during their lifetime of use. The test methods include load, impact, long term cycling of doors and drawers, as well as various finish tests such as stain and chemical resistance, and detergent and water resistance.”

The KCMA’s two-day Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) certification is prescriptive based, points are earned towards certification by employing specific green practices in the purchasing of materials, manufacturing process, and community relations. Points needs to be earned in each of the five sections of the ESP specification and a minimum of 80 total points need to be earned for certification.

“Both programs require, at a minimum, annual review for continuing compliance,” says Natz. These programs are promoted through KCMA’s website, lunch and learns with architects and designers, promotion of KCMA and the certification programs at trade shows, as well as a soon to be offered online course architects and designers can take to earn continuing education units.

* The board of directors of the Nepean, Ont.-based Canadian Kitchen Cabinet Association (CKCA) was asked to contribute to this article, but refused.

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