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September 21, 2013

DODD: You the man, Cave

“Success is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure.”— Earl Wilson



David Cave and I met in a classroom at Ivy Tech while taking a real estate class during our respective midlife crises.

For me, it was probably my fifth or sixth one. I suspect it might have been his first. David never quit his day job to pursue real estate. I did for a year. My first year in real estate occurred during the worst recession in the history of the real estate market. I guess that was bad luck.

Shortly after David and I were classroom buddies, he had what was a bit of good luck, or dare we call it a moment of serendipity. As he was riding one way on an escalator an old friend was riding on the adjoining escalator going in the opposite direction. He hollered across the way inquiring as to what was going on. It was a rhetorical question at a fortuitous moment, as his friend called out to meet him and they would talk.

David likes to refer to himself jokingly as a sandpaper salesman, or as his original title was called: a sandpaper abrasions specialist which involved paper, veneers and other items. He has worked in the woodworking support industry in one way or another since he graduated from the University of Southern Indiana in 1981. He lived on the road selling things related to that industry for many years.

The friend he ran into by chance that fateful day in Atlanta was John Meyer, who owned a business called 3-K Machinery in New Albany along with his wife Kathy. He had an offer for Cave.

John wanted someone to join his business selling refurbished industrial machinery as a national sales manager with the option to buy the company in five years. That time span was shortened to a little more than two years when he officially bought the company in 2008. John stayed on with the company and now works for David Cave.

Cave made one smart business move on the first day he bought the company. He recalled how John had always parked in the first spot right outside the office. On this particular morning, Meyer had parked farther out in the front lot. Cave walked in and John Meyer was packing up things in his office. David inquired as to what he was doing.

Meyer responded, “I thought you would want to have the big office now that you own the company.”

Cave responded that he would take the smaller upstairs office and then gave his first order as the new boss.

“The first thing I want you to do is go move your car back to your sport.”

David Cave likes to operate under the “If it’s not broke don’t fix it” philosophy. He also knew one thing about John Meyer: “He is probably one of the top 10 salesmen in the industry in the United States.”

What David Cave has always believed in is his own ability as a salesman and in hard work leading to success. His decision to buy a company during a recession led to almost $2 1/2 million dollars in gross sales the past fiscal year. He employs eight people full time.

Our part of the country has always been a sort of mecca for the woodworking industry. While Cave still refers to it as a regional business — primarily in several surrounding states — the Internet has changed his industry in the past few years, generating sales on a national level and potentially a worldwide market. The other side of that coin has allowed for his longtime regional customer base to have easy access to his competition on a larger scale.

The woodworking industry and its support business have taken quite a bit of a downturn since 2008. Outsourcing some of the business has added to that trend. The gist of so many players leaving the industry and with the rise of the computer-based home office, there are now a significant number of smaller “broker” type businesses that have sprung up.

He now sells to them at a discounted price to which they add a mark-up and resell to their customers, ironically making some of his potential competitors a source of his customers.

What I love about his story is simply that to anyone who has studied economics or even begins to understand how our economy flourishes, during good times is when a lot of David Caves exist. Over half of all jobs in America are within companies with fewer than 500 employees. They also annually create between 60 and 80 percent of all new jobs in the country.

When the opportunity for small business entrepreneurs like David Cave cease to exist, the economy simply  cannot grow.

Getting back to the idea of fate or serendipity in life, Cave explained to me what a smart business move Meyer made when he originally named the company 3-K Machinery. He pointed out that whenever there is a listing of companies in a phone directory or on a computer listing, numbers come before letters, so 3-K is usually the first company one might be apt to come across.

Meyer once explained how that genius of marketing strategy came about. He named his company 3-K after the three women in his life — his wife Kathy and daughters Kendra and Kari.

Cave does not leave everything to chance. As I was just about to finish a tour of his more than 12,000-square-foot warehouse I noticed a couple of palates with what he explained to me were rolls and rolls of sandpaper. He smiled and reminded me that while sales figures may rise and fall, there is always a demand for the basics in the woodworking industry.

Or to paraphrase an old adage, “You can take the man out of sandpaper sales but you can’t take the sandpaper sales out of the man.”

— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at lindon.dodd@hotmail.com

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