Last year, I called this column "what I learned from this FDM 300." This year, I've compiled a quick list of interesting facts and observations gathered during our weeks of research on this important project.

There were 163 companies that reported higher sales in 2005, and only 45 that reported sales declines. There were also 17 companies that were listed for the first time.

Most cabinet manufacturers had a strong year in 2005, with higher sales than a year earlier. As one cabinet executive observed, "If you're not making money in this market, there's something wrong."

There were very few consolidations, and only a couple of cases in which one FDM 300 company purchased another. It does seem that getting accurate data from some of the mid-sized conglomerates on our list has become more difficult.

Last year, we said there were fewer plant closings in 2004 than there were a year earlier. We haven't made a final count, but I don't think we can make that claim for 2005. In the residential furniture sector, the closings continue, especially from companies with a number of plants. There will be further closings in the residential furniture sector in 2006 that have already been announced.

Speaking of that, in reading annual reports I noticed that a number of residential furniture companies mentioned that sales of existing domestically produced lines (meaning the year-to-year sales of the same line) were down, but sales of imported lines had increased.

Despite the plant closings, the overall number of employees in the group increased to 371,000.

And that group was more productive, with average sales per employee reaching $151,320 for 2005.

We've had several questions about how to list companies that are importing most of their product line. For now, we'll continue to list these companies with overall annual sales or with sales of the furniture group. Also, many residential manufacturers are moving more into retail, and are getting a larger share of overall revenue from these operations.

There are still a few companies that are out there that should be on the list, but aren't. This is generally because we have been unable to gather sufficient information to make a listing.

We will analyze the "greatest challenge" for these companies in a month or two. Competing with imports, finding good employees and rising health care costs remain major concerns. The increasing cost of materials is not as big a concern as a year ago.

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