Most woodworking businesses face serious to major impacts from the coronavirus outbreak, but the vast majority are optimistic about the future after the virus passes, and many are pitching in to help by donating supplies and re-purposing their manufacturing.
Those are some of the findings of a survey conducted by the Woodworking Network. Conducted online over a three day period, the survey attracted 562 responses and paints a vivid picture of what woodworking businesses face and how they are dealing with the crisis, including how they are helping health workers to cope.
Nearly three-quarters of respondents to the survey say the virus outbreak is already having a serious to major impact on their operations. More than 36 percent say they are experiencing a major impact on their business while almost 36 percent say it is having a serious but not major impact. About one-quarter of respondents (23.7 percent) said the outbreak is having only a minor impact on their business. Only 4.1 percent said the virus is having no impact at all.
Biggest impacts faced by these businesses include disrupted schedules, loss of business, and disruptions in supplies. Some 69 percent of respondents said the outbreak has resulted in disrupted schedules. More than half (55.1 percent) said they already face a loss of business. And nearly half (46.8 percent) said they are dealing with disruptions in their supply chain.
Other significant impacts reported included government-mandated shutdowns and canceled orders. Some 39 percent of respondents said they are dealing with mandated shutdowns. More than a third (34.5 percent) are seeing canceled orders.
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Nearly 15 percent (14.7 percent) listed other impacts. These included cash flow issues, employee hardships, and emotional stress. One respondent talked about “general market uncertainties,” and asked, “How to plan? Too many unknowns.”
Another noted, “Planning for major impact. As the pipeline of current business empties, We will likely see a steep decline in business of the next month. Planning for operational changes is key to success in this situation.”
Another expressed concerns about the inability to obtain N95 masks and other safety equipment to protect employees.
Despite those issues, the industry generally has a positive outlook. Almost two thirds (62.6 percent) say they see a significant impact short term, but they expect to recover in the long term. Fewer than 30 percent (28.5 percent) see major negative impacts and report they are uncertain about long-term prospects. Some 8 percent said they see no impact at all.
On the downside, only 6.8 percent see major, permanent negative impacts. And 2.8 percent said they are actually already considering a permanent shutdown of the business.
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One respondent talked about the uncertain future: “We think the long term effect will change how business is conducted. We think the comeback will be slower than anticipated. Our employees are experiencing anxiety about being at work, since our work can involve travel to install products. We can't afford to pay for them to stay home, and they can't afford not to work.”
Also on the positive side, 97.5 percent of the respondents say no one has tested positive for COVID-19 in their business. However, 1.4 percent reported one infection, 0.2 percent reported two invections and 0.9 percent reported three or more infections.
Woodworking businesses are taking a variety of steps to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their operations. The most common activity is 52.8 percent who report changing work procedures. Some 41.6 percent have curtailed business travel. More than a third (34.3 percent) have reduced their work hours, and 32.4 percent have reduced or curtailed public hours.
Layoffs are one response reported by 32 percent of survey respondents, and 31.3 percent have ordered some staff to work remotely. Some businesses have resorted to temporary business closures (23 percent) or even an indefinite shutdown (6.9 percent).
About half the reporting businesses (50.4 percent) say they have limited face-to-face contact when dealing with outside business people, clients and the public. Nearly as many (49.1 percent) report ordering no face-to-face contact and using only phone and email for communication. A full shutdown of communications was ordered by 7.1 percent of respondents, but that contrasts with 5.5 percent who said they are making no change in communication at all.
Since so many woodworking businesses reported disruptions in supplies, the survey asked them to tell more about how they are interacting with suppliers. About a third (33.6 percent) actually reported experiencing regular orders and shipments, but 28.8 percent say they are dealing with reduced orders. Nearly a fifth of respondents (19.4 percent) say they are experiencing delays in orders and backorders. Some 8 percent say they have been cut off from important supplies. Nearly the same amount (7.7 percent) report they accelerated orders to ensure supply.
One survey respondent commented, “On the one hand, since this is a national issue, most of our homeowner customers are understanding about the material delays. On the other hand, understandably, most do not want to meet with our in-home salespeople. Without doing initial field measurements, we can't begin the process of calculating a bid estimate or writing a contract.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security designated the wood products industry as an “essential” service to be kept open during the crisis, but not all states and provinces have followed that directive. While 47.2 percent of respondents report their state has declared them essential, that is far from universal. More than 16 percent said their state has designated some businesses as essential but not theirs, and 15.3 percent said there are no such designations in their states. Some 8.9 percent reported they have been ordered to close.
Communication with workers is important in any crisis, and 55 percent of the respondents say they are providing employees with daily updates. Nearly half (47 percent) say they have updated cleaning and social distancing instructions. But 34.7 percent say they are waiting to see what happens. And 14.4 percent said they have already laid off non-essential staff. Nearly 11 percent said they have already ordered major layoffs.
As woodworking businesses struggle in the crisis, one of the biggest concerns raised by the survey is what relief is available to help them. Nearly half (45.6 percent) said they aren’t sure if there is any state relief available for them. Among those expecting state aid are 19 percent whose states are offering streamlined or enhanced unemployment benefits, and 15.5 percent who report their state is offering emergency loan programs. But more than 17 percent report no state relief at all.
A surprising number of woodworking businesses are trying to contribute directly to efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 17 percent said they contributed excess N95 masks and/or nitrile gloves to supply local healthcare workers. And almost 3 percent are actually re-purposing manufacturing in their businesses to make healthcare products. The most common of these products is face shields, but one respondent reported making 450 surgical gowns. Others are making masks and hand sanitizer. Another is making emergency shelters and safe screening kiosks.
How the survey was done
This survey was conducted online by the Woodworking Network in a series of emails to a sample size of 42,373 over three days. The survey generated 562 completed responses, which indicates a margin of error of 3.447 percent with a 90 percent confidence level.
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