This is the 19th year that Wood & Wood Products has compiled a list of the 100 fastest-growing secondary woodworking companies — and for some, it was the hardest class to join.

For the first time in the past four years, the WOOD 100 as a whole did not experience double-digit growth. That said, we did have three companies achieve triple-digit sales growth, starting with the No. 1 company, Creative Custom Components in Newcomerstown, OH, coming in at 283.4%. Of the remaining 97 companies, 77 experienced double-digit growth, with the final 20 in the single digits; the last two coming in at slightly less than 1%.

Any growth is an achievement in today’s secondary woodworking industry. Only 35 companies returned from last year, the others, most likely, victims of the economy and cutthroat global competition. In a survey of the 2008 WOOD 100 participants, the economy ranked as the No. 1 concern by 62 companies, with 88 overall ranking it among their top 3 choices.

When asked how they plan to address this concern, the responses covered the gamut, from developing a broader product and/or customer base, to increasing brand name awareness through marketing and by investing in technology. What follows are some of the responses.

1. Broaden Your Focus

At least one-third of the surveyed companies said they would overcome the economic downturn by expanding their niche to attract a wider customer base. Here are some of the comments:

“We will be aggressive servicing and marketing to our clients so we remain at the top of their minds. We will also continue to diversify our client base so we have plenty of opportunities to pursue.” — Midwest architectural firm

“We are developing a broader offering of products to help further diversify our customer base; that will encourage protection against economic downturns in the future.” — Southern components manufacturer

“We are trying to branch out and offer more value-added services. This will hopefully insulate us from the standard high-volume businesses.” — East Coast moulding manufacturer

“We are always looking for new products to manufacture. I tell my employees that I would make wooden shoes if it were profitable. I think you always have to be flexible. If you have the equipment, you can make anything.” — West Coast window treatment manufacturer

2. Invest in Technology

Lean and green are more than buzzwords in the woodworking industry. They have become a necessary strategy for companies looking to improve their productivity and profitability in a sustainable environment. Here is what the WOOD 100 had to say:

“Lean and mean is all we can do about the struggling economy. We can’t do much about the cost of fuel or most other economic issues.” — East Coast architectural panel company

“We’ll continue to work on increasing and streamlining production and investing in/updating equipment so we can be more competitive.” — East Coast millwork firm

“We’ll be utilizing our equipment to become increasingly more efficient and working to improve on our quality control program.” — Midwest millworker

“Although there is little we can do to affect a significant change in the economy, there is much we can do to manage our company in leaner economic times. We will manage our workforce to compensate for reduced demands for our products, invest in equipment that will increase the yield of raw materials, develop new products for existing customers and expand our market share by more aggressive marketing.” — Southern cabinetmaker

3. Advertising Pays Off

Despite an initial gut reaction to slow spending in the hopes of riding out the slow economy, these WOOD 100 companies will tell you that is the wrong strategy to take. You must continue to invest not only in technology, but also in marketing, to maintain your brand recognition.

“We continue to spend heavily on marketing. We are taking a number of initiatives to raise our name recognition, which we feel is the strongest asset we have.” — East Coast furniture manufacturer

“We have increased our advertising. We are spending 15 percent more on advertising this year, than last. This is giving us increased visibility and allowing the consumer who is looking for our services to find us easier and quicker.” — West Coast closet company

“We are working on a marketing plan that will be fully implemented this year. We have big plans to increase our business by gaining a larger portion of the market.” — Midwest cabinet company

What strategy is your company taking to combat the current economic crisis? Drop me a line and let me know.

As one East Coast millworker put it: “If we all stick together and help each other out, then the rest will fall into place. Everybody is crying it’s the other guy’s fault. Well, then look in the mirror — are you the other guy?”

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.