Thousands of woodworking industry jobs have been eliminated by the implosion of housing sales — both new and existing stock — and with it the interior wood installations and appointments that drive many parts of the custom woodworking market. With two million loans in foreclosure — 4.6% of the total number of U.S. mortgages — the pipeline for new construction and remodeling is at once empty, and clogged with existing stocks of vacant, unwanted housing, with some 3 million homes standing vacant.

The housing market drags down adjacent sectors, like buildouts for retail supported by residential developments. Let’s set aside questions of whether borrowers or lenders should have done the deals they did. How do we exit this mess? Calls for moratoriums — on foreclosures, or even on new housing construction — won’t help. Postponing the day of reckoning just prolongs the agony.

Strategies for Getting Better
So what should woodworkers do? Spend this time optimizing your operation. When we surveyed CWB’s advisory panel on the types of information that would help them, we got some great ideas, and a recipe for areas that perhaps could use more attention in your operation. In the short term, you may be delaying capital investments. But you can invest intellectual capital in rationalizing your production operation.

“How about stories directed to start ups, new hires, marketing on a small scale, managing inventory, etc. It’s not all about the big boys,” advised one reader. “We’d like to see something on how small- to medium-size businesses are coping with the current economic hardships,” wrote another. CNC production, especially with unusual materials, was another concern.

Size is no barrier to improving work processes, or testing different ways to move work-in-progress through your shop, handling stains and varnishes between jobs, clean-up procedures and the like. You might even test various degrees of outsourcing for components that you can’t produce efficiently. Requests came in for stories on individual owner-operator shops and on specific woodworkers. And how about something on shop organization?
Green operations also sparked a lot of interest: “What is green, really?” asked one advisory board member. How much “energy and non-green materials are actually in certified green materials compared with traditional materials,” asked another. “Going green is so complicated. What progress has been made in green and how is it being used?”

Help is sought by readers on finding a niche market and making it profitable. Cost cutting ideas, and management advice on improving the bottom line is on our panel’s wish lists. “I like any production cutting measures and how software can help in that process,” wrote another advisor.

“I like to see new tooling and new technical approaches to building and new materials,” suggested another, “things appropriate to a small and medium small shop.” And software: “Let’s see articles about estimating and job costing, including software reviews. This is the area of the woodworking business that is least sophisticated and most in need of education.” Join CWB as we follow our panel’s guidance. You’ll be ready for recovery, and in the short term, squeeze more out of your shop.

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