California-Based CMC Commits to 100% Employee Ownership and American Manufacturing to Ensure Product Quality

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As the company celebrates its 40th anniversary, CMC points to two unconventional strategies that have kept product quality top-of-mind for its employees.

While other companies have turned to employee-ownership or Made in America manufacturing as ways to retain talent and support their communities, California-based life safety company, CMC, also relies on its local employee-owners to ensure that the products it manufactures meet the quality standards required by the professionals whose lives depend on CMC products every day.

“For 40 years, every decision made at CMC has been viewed through the lens of ‘quality-first’,” explains Rich Phillips, CEO of CMC. “We prioritize product quality over everything, including cost, and refuse to compete based on price alone. When you manufacture a product that can make the difference between life and death you simply can’t compromise.”

According to Phillips, employee-ownership and its Made in America manufacturing are a reflection of this unwavering commitment to quality above all else. “Over the years, we’ve explored the best ways to keep quality top-of-mind for our employees and nine years ago, in 2009, we realized that another effective way could be achieved through employee ownership — not token ownership, but 100% employee ownership that gives everyone a stake in the success of our company. When every employee, from the CEO to the factory team, thinks like an owner they make decisions like an owner.” 

Phillips says the results of the company’s strategy speak for themselves, noting markedly positive trends in revenue growth and year-over-year earnings in the first eight years of employee-ownership. Workforce retention is extremely high, while a commitment to quality is evident throughout the company.

For a domestic manufacturer in any industry, these are not minor successes, but rather a testament to a well-crafted long-term business strategy. Where other small businesses might cave to the pressures of overseas manufacturing or rely on the financial backing from venture capitalists to drive growth, CMC’s operations are stronger than ever, thanks in large part to its dedicated commitment to product quality.

“Through the years, prioritizing quality has also helped drive our growth into various other work-at-height markets that, like rescue, value quality and safety above all else,” said Phillips. “It’s a product philosophy that has also helped us as a new market business development strategy.”

CMC was founded in 1978 by Santa Barbara Search & Rescue team member Jim Frank. In the early years of the company, each employee doubled as a volunteer search & rescue technician; it was – and still is – a company founded by rescue professionals for rescue professionals. With an intimate appreciation for the importance of reliable, durable, and quality rescue equipment, CMC designed and manufactured products first out of Frank’s garage and then, in 1982, from its first Santa Barbara-based manufacturing facility. For Frank and his early team, local manufacturing was the best and only way to ensure uncompromised quality.

“While contributing to our local economy and providing our community with meaningful careers is rewarding, manufacturing locally is critical to maintaining the product standards that our customers depend on,” continues Phillips. “In fact, with US-based manufacturing and testing facilities, we’re also able to involve end-users in our product development process. As they test prototypes, their feedback can be immediately applied to further refine our designs, which ultimately expedites product development, sparks innovation, and generates better performing products.”

According to Phillips, in addition to the end-users, CMC employee-owners also test and demo the gear. “Each member of our manufacturing team knows what it’s like to hang on rope, suspended in the air, with only the product they manufacture preventing them from falling,” says Phillips. “Not only do they learn how their product is used, but they develop an intense appreciation for the importance of their work. It’s an incredibly energizing experience that increases focus, productivity, and, ultimately, product quality.”

In 2017, 90% of CMC’s seven hundred-plus SKUs were manufactured in America. Essential life safety products that support the weight of a professional during an operation are manufactured locally, while a few products unrelated to life safety can be manufactured abroad.

“Our products aren’t mass-produced by a faceless manufacturing facility but rather made by the hands of CMC employee-owners who are fully invested in the success of our company,” concluded Phillips. “We’ve employed some unconventional business practices to ensure product quality because that’s what our customers expect and deserve; a product that they can trust implicitly and rely on completely during their rescue and work-at-height operations.”

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