W&WP November 2003

Mission Impossible

Re-invent your company now.

By Tom Dossenbach

A wide range of emotions surrounds the current state of the globalization of our industry and its effect on individual woodworking companies and their suppliers. This was evident among those attending the meeting on August 12 in Greensboro, NC, to explain the efforts to inflict antidumping tariffs on Chinese bedroom furniture imports. (See September Wood & Wood Products.)

As I mingled in the large crowd of around 450 suppliers, I observed many individual expressions of desperation. I could see a sense of urgency on their faces. I could hear it in the voices of suppliers who have served our woodworking companies so well over the years.

Numerous times that day I heard someone say something like, "It's about time somebody did something." I agree with this statement one hundred percent. However, the question I have to ask after hearing that statement is, "Who is the right somebody to do something?" Is that somebody someone else, or is it you? And, what is the something going to be, anyhow?

My problem with this whole issue of globalization is that many companies are currently operating without a positive vision that defines how they will fit in the 'New World Order of Woodworking' and much less with any plan in place to turn that vision into reality. These companies are simply adrift and riding this storm with no apparent destination.

The truth of the matter is that many people are looking for someone else to solve the problem. Some are willing to join others because there is definitely strength in numbers - or so we have always been told. But the essential issues that are critical to one's own success are unique. We may want to discuss the challenges with our "comrades-in-arms," but the real question is: "What are we (ourselves) going to do about this?" The answer will be found in the framework of four steps:

1. Analyze the challenge to your company,
2. Forge a new vision,
3. Re-invent your company, and
4. Implement the changes necessary.

Situation Analysis
The first step to deciding which direction your company should take at any major crossroad is to find out where you are today. Thus, it behooves each of us to make every effort to find out what is really going on in the industry. Where is the industry heading; how is that affecting us (our company) today and how will it in the foreseeable future? What are the trends?

It is not good enough to just make the statement that manufacturing is moving off shore. The "5-Why" questions that I have suggested before are applicable here. To understand what and why something is happening, one should ask the question, "Why?" every time a statement of fact (real or perceived) is made in your deliberations. As the answer is identified, the same question, "Why?" should be asked again and again - five times after each answer. Looking at the challenges to your business this deeply will give you insight that will result in wisdom to move forward in this four-step process. You must understand trends, not just be aware of them.

Logic is a powerful tool but it is not always the best path to a solution in business. Sometimes logic alone will not give you a complete understanding of the situation. For example, logic will tell you that the furniture manufacturing base is leaving this country and, with it, jobs, sales and profits. It will also tell you that most woodworking manufacturers' days are numbered. Many manufacturers will stop here with this conclusion remaining in a state of depression with a pessimistic attitude.

On the other hand, there are those who look to their intuition to move them past simple logic. These people will recognize that this trend must pose some opportunities for their company. They then will immediately begin to question what these may be. Intuition should tell every manufacturer and supplier to this industry that there must be new opportunities out there and it should pose the question, "Where is my place in this 'New World Order of Woodworking'?"

The next step answers this question.

Forge a New Vision
In drastically changing times, it is sometimes necessary to forge a new vision for your company. You have the tools to do this if you have done your homework during the situation analysis above. However, in order to successfully develop a vision, you must utilize creative thinking and step out of that box you have camped in for the past three years.

For example, suppliers to the industry see their sales dropping as more manufacturers close their facilities here in favor of overseas production. These providers of glue, sandpaper, lumber, packaging, hardware, machinery, equipment, software, and much more are really feeling the effects of globalization.

Just this week a supplier came to see me about this very issue. He was beginning to look at the marketplace a little differently. He actually had the audacity to change his vision of his own market from one in the furniture belt in the United States to a market encompassing South America, China, South East Asia and Eastern Europe. Is this an impossible mission for this supplier? Of course not, any vision is possible to achieve if it results from proper due-diligence.

This supplier was forming a new vision for his company — one of a global player supplying top quality products in the emerging 'New World Order of Woodworking.' The blinders came off and suddenly his market is the world.

Maybe this is not the right vision for your company, and it certainly cannot be for everyone. However, if you immediately think this is not an option for you because your company is too small, you need to get out of your box and consider forming strategic alliances with some of your fellow suppliers before giving up on this idea.

There are too many potential scenarios and visionary approaches for me to begin throwing out specific ideas in these few paragraphs that might breathe new life into a specific company. The good news is you have only one company to concentrate on and that is yours.

Re-Invent Your Company
I have heard that a company never needs re-inventing if it was based on a sound business plan to begin with. Wrong - unless your goal is to go out of business.

The dynamics of industry are sometimes so powerful that a total rethinking and restructuring of the business plan is in order. In fact, it is required for survival, and our industry has been undergoing just that kind of change for the past five years. Do not try to complicate the process of re-inventing your company. Just keep it simple by identifying the changes that need to be made in order to realize the vision you just forged in step two above.

It is not always easy to formulate positive change. Sometimes the change is harsh - like closing a plant and basically becoming an importer, merchandiser and seller as some have done. Often it will involve unpopular internal changes. Sometimes it will involve mergers or partnerships with former competitors. But change is necessary and change we must.

Re-inventing or restructuring a company for future success is a mission possible and there are but two things that can turn it into mission impossible. That is one's doubt and procrastination.

Implement Change to Achieve the Vision
The final step in our process is to enlist current employees and/or attract new people to share the vision and to re-invent the company with you.

Many plans of visionary people fall by the wayside because there is not enough support and dedication to make them happen. Our industry has been guilty of being sluggish in adapting new technology and using creative thinking in the past. I doubt anyone would characterize the North American woodworking industry as overachievers.

Now is the time for a company to set a new course if it is not heading in the right direction. Before the New Year arrives, analyze the challenges for your company and forge a new vision. Then you will be prepared to re-invent your company and to implement the changes necessary during 2004.

Remember: There is no mission impossible.

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