If woodworking companies were included in the Association of the Dead, would yours have a membership?

The Association of the Dead is a group in remote northern India comprised of people falsely declared dead so that their land — and livelihoods — could be “transferred” to new ownership. The founder of the association, Lal Bihari, was himself declared “dead,” and it took almost 20 years before his “resurrection” was officially recognized in 1994.

Unfortunately, from articles on the association, the ease in which many of these lives were “stolen” was aided by the fact that they led obscure lives. Likewise, mediocrity in the workforce also can breed obscurity, especially in today’s society where competition for sales is fierce. Woodworkers who fail to invest in their companies, through capital expenditures, lean manufacturing and promotional efforts, risk losing not only profits for the company, but the livelihoods of their employees. In short, their reluctance to change the status quo puts them into the category of the “living dead” among the woodworking industry.

Change to Survive
In order to thrive and be recognized in today’s society, companies must strive for innovation and continuous improvement.

This is not a new theme. Wood & Wood Products has covered lean manufacturing — which involves continuous incremental change and innovation — for a number of years. Management guru and W&WP columnist Tom Dossenbach notes: “The single most common cause of failure in industry is the failure to change when change is needed.”

In his three part series on lean manufacturing, which culminates with this issue, Dossenbach notes that a willingness to innovate is needed in order to effect positive change within the corporate culture. Details for how companies can work toward continuous improvement — innovation — by reducing waste and implementing lean manufacturing as part of the company’s journey toward continuous improvement, can be found in the Management Matters column in this issue, beginning on page 17, and online at iswonline.com/managementmatters.

Never too Late
A perfect example of a company which refused to be content with the status quo and has grown significantly due to an investment in technology — and employees — is this month’s Trendsetter, Zepsa Industries.

The desire for change/innovation led this North Carolina-based architectural woodworking firm to develop a successful combination of handcrafstmanship and  machine technology. The company already posts double-digit sales in the millions, and hopes to achieve $20 million in the next few years.

As part of the company’s corporate culture, Zepsa has streamlined its production processes, while producing 99 percent of the product in-house. Not only does it give the company a high degree of control over the quality of its products, says President Ed Zepsa, but it provides added flexibility in the design and building process.

There are many other companies adhering to a similar philosophy. Also featured in this issue, Wood Products Northwest is thriving due to its investment in software and machine technology, and expects to post gross revenue increases of 142 percent this year, over 2008’s figures, according to President/General Manager Robert Hamlin. “Our business is set up in a way that we can quickly adjust and move into or out of different segments of our industry,” Hamlin says. Read more about his strategies, beginning on page 28.

These are just two examples of how companies are increasing profits, gaining recognition and thriving in today’s woodworking industry. What are you doing to ensure your company does not become one of the “living dead”? Drop me a line.

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