WOOD 100 Firms Share Concerns for the Future

Finding, keeping and training quality employees ranked among the top concerns of the WOOD 100 participants. Employee recruitment and retention was cited by 63 company executives, 35 of which noted it as their top concern. Several respondents pointed to low unemployment levels as a problem in finding employees. "With the unemployment level near zero in the area, finding qualified help is becoming an even greater problem than in the past," one respondent said.

The economy was listed as a top concern by 24 of the WOOD 100 executives. Some said they worry about the economy because it is something they cannot control. "It's when things are very good that companies become complacent," wrote one executive. Employee skills, a perennial top concern in the WOOD 100, was a top concern for 16 companies this year. One of the causes for concern about employee skills was the increasing use of high-tech equipment. "In our trade, we do not find carpenters/cabinetmakers that can handle both knowledges: computer/cabinetmaker," one person said.

Following are selected comments from WOOD 100 participants on how they plan to address their top concerns.

Employee Recruitment/Retention
"We are going to increase our starting wage and start their benefits earlier. We usually lose our employees within their first year, (and) seldom lose any after that."

"We are reaching out to other parts of the United States as well as using some of the services of the recruitment companies while continuing with our stringent recruitment policies internally. With respect to retention we are offering better benefits (increased employer contribution portion on medical and introduced 401K plan as of this year.) We are also taking employee relations more seriously and implementing activity days to create better morale and team spirits among our people.

"We are now offering a better employee benefit package. (We are) recruiting and training from not only classified advertising but also through the Internet and local schools.

"We continually award employees for top performance and efficiency within their departments."

"With very low unemployment in our region, recruiting will have to expand geographically. We will also extend training programs and offer incentives for quality, work ethic, attendance and attitude. Plus we will set up employee bonus program for referrals and extend benefits to retain highly valued workers."

"We have instituted our own apprenticeship program. We hire inexperienced personnel from technical schools or trade schools that have basic woodworking knowledge. It is up to our department heads to recognize employees that exhibit a talent in their work and to mentor their growth within the company."

"Efforts to improve wages and benefits will hopefully help us retain the most skilled employees. Secondly, aggressive recruitment at the high school level through school-to-work initiatives will be used."

"We are doing more training, are instituting a gain-share program, working on employee recognition programs and will be hiring a human resources person."

"We have set up a recruiting program and are building relationships with schools and employment agencies within the area. In addition, we are providing more human resources support for our employees."


"By being aggressive with our lease rates, we hope to own all our equipment in the next two years. Should the economy get soft, we will be in the position to continue in the long term."

"By working to develop strong relationships now with distributors, we hope that if there is an economic downturn, they will rely on us as a tried-and-true supplier of product."

"Establish a presence in in profitable, new market segments. and identify new business opportunities among current customers. Together with an outside marketing firm, we are pursuing these objectives using advertising, direct mail and customer retention efforts."

"We will continue to look at diversifying our product lines in order to secure new customers and look at ways to improve our production methods to increase our productivity."

"We are prepared to downsize to meet whatever conditions occur at the time."

"We feel we not only have to keep our belts tight, but we must cut ways to cut labor hours without compromising our end product. We feel we are working toward that goal through new machinery."

"We try to keep a customer base large enough to be recession-proof."


Employee Skills
"We have an in-depth training program that is mandatory for all new employees who want to advance. The most experienced and senior employees teach the younger ones. We also encourage and pay for additional training outside of the shop. This includes professional seminars as well as community courses in math, English and other subjects."

"Supervisors will need to take a hands-on approach to the unskilled employee by devoting as much training time as is needed to make them productive employees."

"Training programs at all skill levels will help us retain employees, and the purchase of new equipment will help us replace reliance on lower skilled labor."

"With unemployment at 2 percent in our area, it's very hard to find quality help, so our training program is extra long."

"We hired a plant manager to ensure that key skills are being developed and qualified personnel hired."


Price Cutting by Competitors
"We will continue to maintain quality and service. In our industry, clients are looking for service as well as a quality product. They are willing to pay a little more for the added service."

"We will stay focused on what we do best -- service and product innovation."

"We continue to emphasize the full solution with our customers. Providing more service and higher value solutions helps us maintain our price in the market."


Wood Quality/Availability
"Working directly with a lumber stockbroker on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange allows us to stay informed on wood quality, availability and cost changes."

"We are continually expanding our vendor pool to guarantee the highest quality material at the most competitive pricing. By expanding our purchasing options we protect ourselves from poor quality and high prices."

"We will continue to work closely with the Forest Stewardship Council and SmartWood to encourage voluntary third party certification to ensure a sustainable supply of quality hardwoods."


Health Benefits Costs
"This year, we will review our present program and other available programs. With this information, compared to the needs of the company, we hope to move toward that right package at the right price."

"We can only limit the number of our employees, as quality health care benefits are key to retaining many key people."


Design Copying
"We try to keep our production costs down, which allows us to keep our prices low, thus discouraging product copying by our competition."

"You must manufacture and sell new styles fast as possible before you are copied."



Not Your Typical WOOD 100 Member

In terms of averages, the "typical" WOOD 100 member has 96 employees and grossed $8.26 million in 1997 compared to $6.26 million in 1996.

Our top-ranked company, Byrne Millwork, is anything but typical and proved remarkably efficient in 1997. It has 24 employees, far fewer than the average of 96, but grossed $6.07 million in sales -- not much less than the average of $8.26 million.

President Paidin Byrne is also remarkably prescient, having predicted 400 percent growth in last year's report. The company actually saw sales grow 408.5% -- a new record for the WOOD 100. "How did they do that?" one might ask.

"The orders were already in the works," said John Scholl, senior project manager for Byrne Millwork. " We were working day and night to finish them by Labor Day." Scholl credited quality control as the main factor in Byrne's success in 1997, but it sounds like good old-fashioned hard work had something to do with it, too.

WOOD 100 All-Time Top 10

Byrne Millwork's increase of more than 400 percent gives it the highest sales increase of any company in the nine-year history of the WOOD 100. Previously, the top company had been Michigan Cutting Specialists, which posted a 279% increase between 1992 and 1993.

Company/LocationYear Featured% Gain
1. Byrne Millwork Inc / New Castle, DE1998408.5%
2. Michigan Cutting Specialists/ Shelby Township, MI1994279.0%
3. Wood Cabinet Components / Eugene, OR1991273.4%
4. BK Hardwood Ltd./ Jenison, MI1994256.4%
5. Monarch Industries Inc. / Providence, RI1994248.2%
6. Hanson Woodworking Inc. / Faribault, MN1993207.5%
7. Precision Panel Products Inc./ Largo, FL1994184.4%
8. Gateway Cabinet / San Diego, CA1991183.6%
9. Evans Cabinet and Door Co. / Brenham, TX1994177.3%
10. Greenfield Millworks / North Little Rock, AR1991175.0%











Graybar Batting 1.000

West Allis, WI-based company's WOOD 100 streak extends to nine in a row.

Craig Graybar Furniture Works is nine for nine in the WOOD 100 list of fast-growing wood product companies.

The West Allis, WI, manufacturer of classically-styled custom furniture has averaged more than 26 percent sales growth over the last nine years and is the lone member from that first WOOD 100 class to have earned a spot on each of the WOOD 100 surveys.

Echoing the contest's catch phrase, "Not the Biggest, the Best," Graybar Furniture Works has grown more than 700 percent since 1988 and topped the million dollar mark for the first time in 1997. Sales are projected to increase another 20 percent this year.

Consistent growth has been attained in part by the company's pledge to treat "each customer as if he or she were our only client," said company president Craig Graybar in the 1990 survey. As a result, repeat and referral customers make up approximately 80 percent of Graybar Furniture Works' business. To attract new customers, the company has implemented a marketing program that includes radio spots.

"We now emphasize radio advertising directed by each station's demographic match to our customers," Graybar said.

One such radio commercial was heard by an elderly woman who needed to find a company that could repair her antique furniture. As she was praying for guidance, a commercial for Graybar came on the radio. She took the coincidence as a sign of God's will, Graybar said.

With advertising, repeats and referrals and perhaps a prayer or two, all Graybar can say about the coming year is: "Wait 'till (you see) next years' sales."


1998 WOOD 100 Class at 5-year high
The following charts summarize some of the data collected for the 1998 WOOD 100 survey. This year's average growth returns to the upper end of the range after two down years in 1996 and 1997. The average number of employees also rose in 1997 to 96, the third highest in the report's history.

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