Seeds Planted Years Ago Bear Fruit

At the end of January and the beginning of February, the International Solid Surface Fabricators Association (ISSFA) hosts Solid Surface 2001 at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. In just four years, ISSFA has emerged as the collective and effective voice of the solid surface industry, representing nearly 1,000 companies involved with solid surface materials worldwide.

Its first three trade shows have been overwhelmingly successful, with dramatic growth each year. If you are involved with solid surface products, do whatever is necessary to be in Las Vegas for Solid Surface 2001. You will not be disappointed.

As I ponder ISSFA's successes, my thoughts go back to how I got started in this industry, and to early efforts to organize a solid surface trade association. My personal involvement with solid surface fabrication began in 1984, when I became general manager of Western Plastics in San Francisco, an established fabrication shop that produced both plastic laminate and solid surface countertops.

At that time, DuPont Corian, offering two solid colors and one pattern, was the only solid surface material on the market. The phrase "solid surface" as a generic description had not yet been coined. To me, though, the potential of this product was clear and exciting. I admit that I often dreamed of solid surface materials in those early days, and once even came up with the solution to a challenging fabrication problem in a dream. In all honesty, I never felt quite that degree of enthusiasm for plastic laminates.

Shortly thereafter, I began attending meetings of the Decorative Laminate Products Association (DLPA), a trade group with headquarters in Chicago, whose core membership consisted of plastic laminate countertop fabricators. As a matter of fact, the first DLPA convention I attended was held in Las Vegas.

Many of the DLPA member companies were branching out into solid surface fabrication in those days, and inevitably, the topic of a trade association to address the specialized needs of those fabricators arose. I remember debates about whether "solid surface" or "solid surfacing" was the best generic description for the products we work with.

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The consensus at that time was that the solid surface industry was not yet mature or robust enough to support its own trade association, so a group of DLPA members decided to establish a sub-section of DLPA called the Solid Surface Materials Section. Leading figures in the formation of that pioneering group included Ron Biloff of Lincoln Laminating in Lincoln, NE and DLPA Director Barbara Boden. I had the privilege of serving as co-chair of the Solid Surface Materials Section with Ron Biloff in 1988, and as chairman in 1989 and 1990.

On behalf of DLPA's Solid Surface Materials Section, I conducted the first generic training session for solid surface fabricators, held in Winston-Salem, NC. Before that, training in solid surface fabrication techniques was all brand specific, and was conducted by the various manufacturers. This seminar compared and contrasted the joint adhesive systems and the fabrication procedures recommended by the four national manufacturers active in the market at that time ' DuPont Corian, Avonite, Nevamar Fountainhead and Formica 2000X.

In those years, a predecessor of Cygnus Business Media called KBC Publications, which at that time owned this magazine as well as Cabinet Manufacturing & Fabricating, began sponsoring regional trade shows around the country for the kitchen cabinet and countertop industry. As a representative of DLPA's Solid Surface Materials Section, I was invited to speak about and demonstrate solid surface countertop fabrication techniques at many of these events, in places like Long Beach, CA; Indianapolis, IN; Orlando, FL; Louisville, KY; San Jose, CA and King of Prussia, PA.

Through my participation in these events, I established friendships with members of the editorial staff, including Alan Richman and Eliot Sefrin. Eliot is, of course, now publisher of the Cygnus Shelter Group, consisting of several industry-related magazines, including this one. As a result of my participation in those conferences, I was asked to write this column on countertop fabrication, which first appeared nearly 12 years ago.

Unfortunately, the time was not yet ripe for the concept underlying the Solid Surface Materials Section, and it lasted only a few years. Larger solid surface manufacturers were reluctant to join forces with smaller competitors. It was particularly difficult to persuade newer companies that specialized entirely in solid surface fabrication to join what was thought of as a plastic laminate fabricator's trade association.

Eventually, the DLPA merged with another trade group and lost its unique identity. The Solid Surface Materials Section disappeared. I left Western Plastics and went into business for myself.

For about five years, there was no national trade association representing solid surface fabricators. I am proud and grateful, though, that I have been able to continue this column throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century, offering you my views and recommendations on a wide variety of topics of interest to solid surface fabricators.

Five years ago, SolidSurface magazine began, and I observed its growth and development from the outside as an attentive subscriber. That magazine, now a part of Cygnus Business Media, served as the catalyst for the formation of the International Solid Surface Fabricators Association.

I must admit that I feel a little wistful seeing the enormous success now of a concept that I struggled with scant success to create in the late '80s. Perhaps we were just ahead of our time back then. There are worse things than being ahead of one's time.

If you're a solid surface fabricator and haven't yet joined ISSFA, you should do so immediately. You can join at Solid Surface 2001 in Las Vegas. Call 1-702-567-8150 or visit ISSFA's Web site at www.issfa.net for complete information.

Jim Heaphy, who was among the first to urge solid surface fabricators to organize into a trade association, started Heaphy Associates in 1993, which provides warranty service on a major brand of solid surface material in Northern California.

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