Some years ago a friend of mine was getting married and his bride-to-be thought it would be fun to write their own vows. His suggestion: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” His bride-to-be vetoed that idea.

But that would be a great description of this year’s FDM 300 report. It was the worst year in recent memory, the worst year ever for many of the companies.

Sales for the group of FDM 300 companies fell 19 percent in 2009 by our estimate. But the important news, as we explain in our introduction, is that nearly all of the companies in this group survived the year.

And if you survived this year, you can probably survive anything.

Amid the depths of recession, woodworking companies were keeping their doors open, trying to survive but also trying to improve and become more efficient.

Survival itself may be the success story of 2009. Kitchen cabinets, residential furniture and office/contract were all hammered in the past year. A few companies seemed to do all right. One was making promotional furniture for rent-to-own stores. Some higher-end custom companies were doing OK. And others that were serving certain areas of contract and public buildings were keeping busy on projects for which money had already been allocated.

No news is not good news

In the course of our research we also made a few observations. We were able to make less direct contact via telephone. For the first time, we were able to gather meaningful information via email. More of the work was done on the Web. The companies themselves often had well-designed Web sites (maybe that’s a subject for a future article) but were tardy in updating them. There’s been nothing newsworthy at your company since 2006?

We also found that companies were the subject of active message boards somewhere (topix.com, or even telonu.com) with lively discussions about what they liked or didn’t like about their places of work. Are companies aware of this parallel reality?

We hope the next part of the story is about how the FDM 300 companies survived and then thrived. That chapter is yet to be written. I can’t tell you that 2010 will be a great year. But it will be better than 2009.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.