Let’s face it – no one likes to wash dishes. Not in small quantities, and certainly not in large. It’s easy to get careless and break a dish, and it’s difficult to ensure dishes are properly sanitized when they are washed in the sink.
That’s what prompted Josephine Cochrane, a wealthy socialite who was tired of her antique china getting broken by her servants, to develop a dishwashing machine that would prevent that from happening any longer.
That was 1886.
That initial design concept, which was officially unveiled at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, sparked inventors all over the world to come up with their own designs. However, dishwashers for commercial use didn’t really catch on until after the 1950s, and didn’t start to become a household and industry product until the 1970s.
Enter Chemical Methods Associates (CMA).
CMA was originally founded as a chemical company for the hospitality industry, but quickly became known as CMA Dishmachines because the company manufactured dish washing machines for the commercial food service market. CMA differentiated itself from its competitors because the technology for its glass and warewashing equipment required low energy consumption at a time when the nation was facing an energy crisis; in fact, the company’s dishwashers were designed and manufactured under the trademark name “Energy Mizer.”
“We started the company in the ‘70s when energy was a problem, so CMA started with a low energy chemical sanitizing product so we wouldn’t have to spend the hydro cost to sanitize at 180 degrees, the energy cost to heat the water to get it that hot,” explained John Lacey, Director of Sales for CMA. “Since then we have expanded our line of machines to include high temperature, 180 degree sanitizing, so we sanitize both ways, by chemical and high temperature.”
When the business first launched, it operated out of a 2500 square foot manufacturing warehouse in Westminster, California, with a mission to provide customers with the highest quality products and service, while always delivering more than what was promised and more than what the customer expected. Today, it has grown to a company that sees annual revenues in the tens of millions, and is still focused on the same mission.
All manufacturing still happens in California, from a much larger warehouse in Garden Grove, and CMA employs 76 individuals, many of whom have had long careers growing along with the company.
“CMA is entering into our 43rd year,” said Lacey. “We have a handful of employees who have been with CMA 40 plus years, and our average years of service is somewhere around 15 plus years. The reason for that comes down to pride – whether it’s front office staff, or on the manufacturing floor, every employee at CMA is very proud of what they produce.”
CMA’s target market is chemical dealers and distributors who then sell their products to end users in the foodservice industry. Like the company’s employees, many of its customers have been long-term, and this is due to the fact that the CMA team is committed to developing leading edge and innovative design. The company’s products produce sparkling clean and sanitized dishes and glassware, and ensure excellent results and years of trouble-free operation.
Lacey also feels that it’s because of that dependability that customers return time and again. “We are not the cheapest on the market, but at CMA we pride ourselves on reasonably priced, high quality dependable equipment,” Lacey explained. “Our name is quickly becoming a brand that our customers recognize for these qualities.”
CMA’s machines are based on electromechanical design and do not operate with any “electronic bells and whistles” or a circuit board with data reporting, alternate cycles and formulas like many competing models, so there are no expensive parts that require specialized service technicians to repair. CMA prides itself on the fact that its machines are very simple and straightforward to work on, which puts them at an advantage over other models because if a restaurant or hotel has an issue with a part like a timer, it can still be manually operated.
“If the motherboard goes down on a competitor’s machine, you can’t do anything with it,” said Lacey. “And if that happens, the health department will shut you down; you can’t operate your restaurant.”
Another feature of this unique business model that sets CMA apart from competitors is the sheer efficiency with which its products are manufactured. Every morning, the production team walks the manufacturing floor and reviews the orders from the previous day. Then they determine which models are required for the day’s production and adjust accordingly.
“Part of the strength of CMA is that we can adapt not only on a daily basis to what we’re building, but we can manufacture specialty products and we’re forever checking the industry to see what needs our users might have,” said Lacey. “We have a couple of machines in our lines that are very specific to one customer or one particular industry, so we’re able to adapt very quickly to the industry and the needs of our end users.”
The turnaround time for its machines is typically just three to four days. “That’s really a big strength of our go-to-market strategy,” said Blane Bockhacker, Director of Operations for CMA. “When you call and order a dish machine from one of our competitors, they tell you it’s a seven to ten day to two week wait period, while we try and ticket that order and try and move it within two to three days. We’re very flexible with how the different models are going out, how they’re optioned with different heater capacities or alarms on them or other types of options; we can add those in a very quick, cost-effective way to get the order, whereas our competitors can’t,” he explained.
“The other portion of that is that the electrical configurations that we offer,” continued Bockhacker. “Some of our competitors can’t do that. We can have a regular low voltage 110 to 120 volt system vs. a 220, vs. a 480 high voltage, and some of our competitors cannot offer those configurations.”
These voltage requirements are often determined by the buildings in which the dish machines will be used, so the fact that CMA can be flexible to those situations is yet another competitive advantage.
The company also has the ability to customize its products to meet unusual requests. “Although our primary focus is on our extensive line of warewashing dishmachines and bar glass washers, we have also on many occasions altered our present product line to accommodate washing tubs, totes and bins for the food plant and manufacturing business,” said Lacey. “And this is normally done in just a few days.”
All of CMA’s products have the Energy Star rating, which is an additional benefit to customers in a number of markets, as rebates for these types of appliances are offered in some states. This benefit inevitably becomes a challenge for the company, however, as it is continually faced with rising costs in the components it uses to manufacture its machines. But CMA remains committed to finding creative ways to be more efficient and avoid passing those increases on to customers.
At the end of the day, though, the team is propelled by customer-driven innovation. “Much more attention has been directed at sanitizing because the market is growing in many different areas that we were not in before,” shared Lacey. “Fast food/quick service, daycares, senior living, and education, just to name a few. The National Sanitizing Foundation sets the parameters to meet the certifications for how clean the dish is, so we build the dish machine to meet those certifications.”
CMA is also continually looking at other ways to make the customer experience an easy one. It maintains a robust website with all product information, and has created a mobile app for easy access to product information.
“Everything on our website is available on our mobile app,” said Lacey. “You can get specifications prior to purchasing for designing, and our complete line is available to compare. Each machine has a parts book, spec sheet, owner’s manual, installation guide, and field technicians also love it when information is required out on the road – no more catalogs.”
At the end of the day, CMA if confident in what it does. The company makes it a priority to have the broadest product line in the industry, with the fastest turnaround times and the best product for the best price.
“There are many companies out there who manufacture similar products; however, our biggest competitor is ourselves,” stated Lacey. “We are continually working to make our products better, and we are always reviewing the market to see what products we can produce to solve a problem in the industry.”
Josephine Cochrane would be proud.