Woodworking industry sees solid recovery from pandemic
June 24, 2020 | 4:22 pm CDT
Most woodworking business either stayed open through the pandemic or have already reopened and returned to production.

Woodworking manufacturers have largely weathered the COVID-19 storm safely and most are back to full production levels.

A survey conducted by Woodworking Network reveals nearly half of woodworking plants managed to stay open at full production throughout the crisis. Another 12 percent are back to full production after having been shut down at some point. An additional 12 percent are at 75-percent production levels, and 13 percent say they are at between 50 and 75-percent production.

Only about 10 percent of manufacturers responding to the survey said they are at under 50-percent production levels. Only 3-percent are still shut down but hope to reopen soon, and only 2 percent permanently closed their doors as a result of the pandemic.

Optimistic outlook

In general, the industry is surprisingly optimistic about business moving forward, with many reporting enthusiastic comments such as, “Business is booming.” More than 34 percent reported they experienced some impact short term, but they expected to make a full recovery.

About a fifth of responds said they suffered a significant impact short term but are recovering. Some 19 percent said they suffered major negative impacts from the crisis and are uncertain about the future. But nearly 16 percent said they saw no impact at all from the pandemic.

Less than 2 percent said they experienced major permanent negative impacts, and another 1.6 percent said they were considering a permanent shutdown.

One respondent commented, “Our business has spiked. People are home and realizing they hate their kitchens.”

Manufacturers of kitchen cabiners, bath and custom cabinets made up about a third of the respondents to the survey. Most woodworking industry segments were proportionally represented, including architectural woodwork (14 percent), residential furniture (7 percent), commercial furniture (8 percent), and other wood products (11 percent). Other wood products accounted for 11 percent of respondents and dealers, distributors, and wholesalers were about 9 percent.

Business changes

Not surprisingly, the pandemic has forced many woodworking businesses to make changes to reopen and continue their operations. Nearly 69 percent have adopted social distancing policies for staff and 58 percent have instituted social distancing for the public. About a third are requiring masks for staff and 28 percent adopted work-from-home policies for some staff. Only 22 percent are doing temperature or symptom screening for employees. Fewer than one in five respondents said they are rehiring furloughed workers.

Looking ahead, more than one third of respondents say they are expanding into new or different markets. About 30 percent say they are shopping for new machinery. About a fifth say they are changing the layout of their production plant.

Interestingly, there is a somewhat mixed message from the survey on how the industry is handling personnel. More than 26 percent of respondents say they are looking to hire more staff. At the same time, nearly a fifth (19 percent) say they are reducing staff. One respondent explained the discrepancy, saying he was going with “machines to replace employees.”

Buying more equipment

For respondents looking to buy more equipment, the shopping list looks like this: cutting tools (45 percent), CNC routers (35 percent), solid wood machines (33 percent), dust collection (31 percent), sanding and finishing (24 percent), boring/drilling (18 percent), panel sizing (14 percent), and laminating equipment (12 percent).

They are also looking to resupply their operations: adhesives (82 percent), fasteners (79 percent), hardwoods (78 percent), finishing materials (74 percent), panel products (71 percent), hardware (69 percent), cabinet doors (41 percent), and drawer boxes (33 percent).

The largest percentage of respondents to the survey were smaller shops with fewer than 20 employees making up 69 percent of respondents. Operations with 20 to 49 employees accounted for just over 16 percent of respondents. Plants with 50 to 99 employees represented 6 percent of responses, and about 9 percent came from plants with 100 or more employees.

Shutdown frustrations

In comments to the survey, a number of respondents expressed frustration with the shutdown. Said one respondent, “I could have continued to work except for the mandatory shutdown. Other suppliers shut down and I couldn't get the materials needed to finish jobs.”

Others lashed out at government and politicians for handling of the crisis. “I really think the government over played the COVID response,” said one respondent. “We should have never shut down our economy for this. There will be much greater loss of livelihood, cars ,housing and cause more hardships for a lot of people.”

Still others found a business lesson in the experience: “I have been through four major downturns 1991, 2001, 2007 and COVID. Had I not had these 'experiences', our company may not have been prepared, keep debt low/under control and have cash on hand. I believe we will not know where the economy is for the next six months, (but) right now we are very busy.”

The survey was sent by email to the Woodworking Network audience of 41,000. A total of 216 responses came in, which represents a margin of error of 5.59 percent with a 90 percent confidence level on the data received.

You can see a full recording of the webinar reporting on the survey results. 

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editor of FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.