Where others see only roadblocks to success in the current economy, Bryan Duncan and John Carscadden see the opportunity to launch a successful woodworking business. Rising to daily challenges, they have developed a plan for success that actually takes advantage of current circumstances to fuel their new venture.

Seizing opportunity  

Duncan and Carscadden both worked for Nordic Furniture in Markdale, Ont., and saw how that company was challenged by offshore competition and the declining furniture market. Their new company, Exquisite Wood Designs Inc. in Owen Sound, Ont., is built on a more diversified product base while using equipment and personnel right out of the same troubled factory setting.

"Lots of other industries are closing down," acknowledges Carscadden. "But there is still a need for high quality cabinets and woodwork." The company is focusing on the local and regional mostly residential market, offering kitchen cabinets, custom staircases, built-ins and other custom projects. "The home renovation industry here is booming."

Duncan told a local newspaper, "We totally understand a lot of the (furniture makers) are not able to survive in the market and that is why we tried to stay away from being a volume manufacturer."

But that doesn't mean the company is thinking small in how it manufactures or builds its business.

From factory to custom shop   

Duncan comes to business with 30 years in cabinetmaking and the woodworking industry. He has taken the lead in production and setting up the new operation. Carscadden's 14 years experience emphasizes design, so he's taking the lead on the design and sales side.

Having both worked for Nordic, that was the first place they looked to build their new enterprise. They bought most of their equipment from their former factory, emphasizing high-production equipment that might have been beyond the reach of a typical startup custom operation if purchased new.

Some of the equipment includes a Biesse Rover 30 CNC machining center, a Selco panel saw, a Diehl rip saw, a Holz-Her edgebander, an Altendorf sliding table saw and multiple widebelt sanders. And that's just a small sampling. "We strongly believe in technology," says Carscadden.

Currently taking up 8,000 square feet in a 20,000 square foot building, the facility looks more like an experienced company with many years under its belt rather than the less than six-month-old business that it actually is.

Facing challenges  

One of the first challenges the new firm faced was obtaining financing for the business. "The banks are scared like all the people," says Carscadden. "But it just takes a lot persuasion."

Setting up required lots of dollars and effort. Building in an old factory building that was formerly the VanWyck Packaging operation, they had to put in new electrical, dust collection, and sprinkler systems. And at the same time they had to develop their new product lines and a way to sell them. Initial business has come from contacts with regional contractors and some limited advertising, but they are in the process of building a sophisticated 1,200-square-foot showroom to help sell their services and products.

They are targeting the high-end residential market, and the showroom will reflect that. One kitchen is solid walnut. Another is in African mahogany. They'll have a TV lift powered by a silent electric motor rising up through a quartz countertop. "It will be top of the line everything," says Carscadden.

Human capital counts  

Securing capital and equipment is, of course, only part of the story of any startup, and this one is no exception. "We've been working 80 hours a week," says Carscadden.

But the company also has benefited from having an effective and veteran team to do the work. Like Duncan and Carscadden, most are former Nordic employees. "Every employee we have we worked with before," says Carscadden. "There's not an employee we haven't worked with for at least 10 years."

Their finisher has 35 years of experience in the industry. Another employee was the head of maintenance at Nordic and so has been especially helpful in setting up the old equipment in the new plant. Currently there are seven employees plus the two owners.

Local support  

With a business so new and so focused on getting off the ground, it is hard to judge eventual success, but both Duncan and Carscadden are enthusiastic about their prospects and grateful for the support they've gotten from the local community.

"It's looking very positive," says Carscadden. "We're getting more and more clientele all the time."

The Sun Times of Owen Sound published a feature about the new enterprise, giving the company a good publicity boost. They quoted Duncan as saying, "So far the people we talk to, they like it better when they only have to deal with one person, and it's local."

That reinforces the new company's business plan of offering more diversified services to the local market. They are also paying back that support by sourcing as much as possible from local distributors and vendors.

Duncan and Carscadden aren't waiting for the economy to get better and plan for aggressive growth. They eventually want their plant to fill the entire existing 20,000-square-foot factory building.

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