With a constantly changing economic climate, it's now more important than ever to be thinking about the future. Fluctuating prices make it virtually impossible to predict which way the market is going, but that doesn't stop some distributors and suppliers from giving it a try. We asked a panel of distributors and suppliers to offer thoughts on where the industry is going.

"One of the big pushes in the industry is going green," says Kathy Constantine of Brown Wood Supply Co. "The United States is becoming more environmentally conscious, and that means they're asking cabinet shops for environmentally safe products. They come back and ask us for green products."

Dave Chandler of Cabinet Supplier Inc. has the same idea. "You have to be a detective," he says. "You have to go in and see what the customer is buying. Staying ahead of new technology and new trends is a must."

Ahead of technology

In any industry, staying ahead of new technology means one thing: the Internet. Just having a Web site isn't enough anymore. Some companies offer full catalogues online. Others, such as Rick Gentry of Quick-Screws International, has gone so far as to have customizable catalogues online for its customers. "It's all there to make everything accessible to the customer," he says. "They can personalize everything to fit their needs."

Jane Wharton of Veneer Technology Suppliers believes that the Internet is crucial to business, but she also thinks that improving sales starts locally.

"Most small businesses don't have a marketing department," she says. "We like to do little things to help them get the word out and spotlight them using our products. Improving their sales can only help our own business. We should all be working together."

Keeping small businesses competitive

William Rogers of Century Hardware says the course that the industry is on needs to change in order for small businesses to stay competitive. "We need to improve lead times," he says. "Doing things in a timely manner and keeping to a schedule are crucial for small business to increase sales. Using the Internet has made ordering faster."

Chris Tompkins of Kruse Plastic and Plywood says, "The business is changing. We're very much in competition with bigger companies." With competition between small and large businesses increasing, it's important for distributors and suppliers to work together. "We recommend other distributors when they have something we don't," he says, "and they do the same."

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