Senior economist Alan Beaulieu tells architectural woodworkers what
they can do to help their companies emerge from the current economic
cycle. He addressed members during the recent AWI annual convention
in Washington, DC.

Tough times are not over yet, but there is a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel for U.S. architectural woodwork companies, said leading economist Alan Beaulieu, Institute for Trend Research, at the 2009 Architectural Woodwork Institute’s annual convention. The event was held in Washington, DC, October 7-10, and featured a full slate of seminars, a supplier product fair, awards presentations and plant tours, with about 300 members in attendance.

Beaulieu explained to a rapt audience the four phases that comprise a full economic cycle and, based on what he sees happening in various sectors, noted that currently we are in late Phase D, Recession, and going into Phase A, Early Recovery. He stressed that companies do not have to remain passive, but can take positive steps to ensure survival and even gain strength during this transition period.

Specifically, during Phase D, he recommends that companies:
• prepare training programs;
• negotiate union contracts, if possible;
• develop advertising and marketing programs;
• enter or renegotiate long-term leases;
• look for additional vendors;
• consider capital expenditures and acquisitions in light of market-by-market potential, and
• make acquisitions, using other companies’ pessimism to your advantage.

Beaulieu also noted that late in Phase D, people are afraid. So it is a time when company owners and managers should lead with optimism and exhibit a “can-do” attitude.

In moving into the Phase A recovery period, a company should take steps to put itself in a good position for when the recession ends, Beaulieu said. Such steps can include:
• Practice positive leadership modeling; creating the culture turns it into behavior;
• establish tactical goals that will lead to strategic achievement;
• develop a system for measurement and accountability for reaching those goals;
• align compensation plans in conjunction with the goals as well;
• be keenly aware of the BE point and check it regularly;
• judiciously expand credit;
• check distribution systems for their readiness to accommodate increased activity;
• review and uncover competitive advantages;
• invest in customer market research to understand what they value;
• improve efficiencies by investing in technology and software;
• start to phase out low-margin work;
• add sales staff
• build inventories, taking into account lead-time and turn-rate;
• introduce new product lines;
• place orders for capital equipment;
• begin advertising and sales promotions
• hire top people;
• implement plans for facilities expansion, and
• implement training programs.

LEED discussions show continuing concerns
The convention slate included two presentations designed to help “clear the haze” about projects that involve LEED credit opportunities and to help attendees decide whether their companies are ready to compete in that arena. The program included a “town hall”-type discussion where members shared the ongoing challenge of simply trying to obtain clear answers regarding specifications. It remains a difficult situation to resolve.

One recommendation from presenter Rob Ziegelmeier, AWI’s Sustainability Representative, is that any architectural woodworker involved in a LEED project meet with the project’s LEED AP as early as possible to find out format requirements for submitting required paperwork. Doing so can keep a company from wasting a lot of time, he said.

Newly issued standards offer a great marketing opportunity
Just a week before the annual convention began, the new Architectural Woodwork Standards developed jointly by AWI, the Woodwork Institute and the Architectural Woodwork Manufacturers Assn. of Canada went into effect. The new standards are the culmination of a three-year project to replace the groups’ former, separate standards with one.

During the convention, AWI’s Chief Learning Officer, Greg Heuer, gave attendees some ideas about how to use the new standards as a marketing tool. Presenting the standards to the design community is an opportunity for a company to distinguish itself as a knowledgeable, trusted expert in the field, ready to provide the quality of woodwork the client expects, Heuer said. Promoting the facts of AWI membership and use of the new AWS creates a powerful message to customers, he added.

Industry veteran Margaret Fisher honored
Numerous recognition awards were presented during the annual convention, but one that drew an extra round of applause was the naming of Margaret Fisher as recipient of the prestigious President’s Award. Fisher was recognized by AWI president Whitney Coombs as an “individual who has been a volunteer for many years, has served as a role model and has shown the quality of leadership, the spirit of volunteerism and family.”

A 24-year industry veteran whose many volunteer roles in the association include recently serving as AWI’s representative to the United States Green Building Council and frequent presenter on LEED and sustainability issues, Fisher is Market Development Manager for Saunders Wood Specialties of Park Falls, WI. She has spoken at several industry events sponsored by Wood & Wood Products and CWB, including last year’s Dollars & Sense of Going Green conference in Indianapolis.

Vendors show their latest wares at the Product Fair
A room filled to capacity with tabletop exhibits manned by industry vendors gave AWI members a chance to learn about the latest in technology, supplies and services. Max Hunter of Western Dovetail in Vallejo, CA, exhibited for the first time at an AWI event and said that it was a very positive experience for him.

“I met people at my tabletop exhibit, but what was even more important for me were the contacts I made by networking during the social activities. That was where it really happened,” he said. “For me, building relationships, especially in this economy, is key.”

Hunter added that as a vendor, he found that attendees were more interested in being educated than in being “sold.” Most are simply trying to learn how to survive in this economy. Hunter also said that most company owners indicated they have had to make changes in order to adapt, such as cutting costs, reducing workforces and tightening belts, which has made them more profitable at a lower sales volume.

For more information about AWI or its upcoming programs, visit

An intrepid group of AWI members got a unique view of the nation’s
capital and did some networking on wheels during a Segway tour of
the city.

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