"Nice guys finish last," is a phrase that John MacDonald, secretary and treasurer of Alexandria Moulding, doesn't buy. "We try to propagate a humane, friendly philosophy with our employees, customers and suppliers," MacDonald says. "It's a rural, country-type attitude where people are there to help one another."

This approach is working for the Alexandria, Ontario-based supplier of millwork and mouldings Annual sales for 2004 were $163 million, up from $120 million in 2003. MacDonald reports the company is well on track to do $170 million in 2005.

The housing market over the past three years has been terrific in Canada and the United States and MacDonald cites favorable interest rates and a favorable exchange rate between U.S. and Canadian currency as additional reasons for the upswing in business.

A good way to take the pulse in any economy is to look at what's going on in your town, MacDonald says. The small town of Alexandria, Ontario, has seen sustained growth in housing business over the last three to four years.

"We're all in this game together and it's time to look at the global commonalities in our economy," he says. "Too often we look and see the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but I've learned there's usually little difference."

Alexandria Moulding has seen a shift in its customer base away from the mom-and-pop stores and toward the large-box stores or home centers. Pricing has become increasingly competitive.

"I like the small stores and I think their disappearance has been unfortunate for the customers," MacDonald says. "When the shopper is depersonalized, it hurts everyone in the long run."

Alexandria Moulding interacts with even its largest accounts by getting to know the people who buy, sell, and use its product. "In other words, we're not selling to Home Depot, we're selling to the people there," MacDonald says.

MacDonald believes that even in this price-sensitive market, suppliers value quality, on-time delivery, and having a 100-percent fill rate for orders. "People will pay for the security of knowing they'll have their needs met," he says.

Bar code equipment, installed in the plant to provide better service to the large home center accounts who rely on scanning systems to control inventory, has helped Alexandria Moulding control its own inventory and purchasing. The RFID system has been in place eight months; MacDonald expects the scope of the technology will become wider.

Three years ago the company added finishing lines that enable it to offer primed mouldings to its customers. The market for this product has been growing steadily, MacDonald says.

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