Investments in new technology and an increased emphasis on customer service are the two top factors driving the success of this year’s WOOD 100.

The past year has been tough. The economic depression that strangled the country has had a significant impact on a woodworking industry already reeling from foreign and domestic price cutting, added government regulations, and source and supply issues.

In order to survive, many woodworking companies have been forced to change the way they do business by becoming more productive, leaner and, in many cases, greener.

The companies in this year’s WOOD 100 typify this trend. Increased productivity was cited second among the factors contributing to the WOOD 100 companies’ success in 2008, exceeded only by customer service. In providing information for our survey, a vast majority of companies specifically attributed the purchase of high-tech machinery, including CNC routers, saws, finishing and sanding equipment, and software, for helping them improve sales in 2008.

“We increased productivity by the use of advanced technology in our production equipment,” said Andrew Campbell, president of Eastern Millwork Inc. The New Jersey-based architectural woodworking company not only updated and replaced much of its older machinery in the past year, but improved its technology through software purchases.

It was, by far, not the only one.

“As time passes, technology is improving and becoming more affordable, allowing us to make the necessary upgrades, said James Shaw, president of Shaw Woodworking in Cotuit, MA. “Recently, we invested in new machinery and designed a new shop floor layout to allow for more efficient manufacturing practices. As a result, we have been able to manufacture products faster, leaner and at a better price.”

Accent Cabinets also benefitted from new technology. Tamara Overstreet, president of the Conroe, TX-based company, said, “We will continue to find ways to streamline our process through higher efficiency, better scheduling and new equipment. Continuing education for our employees will also help make [us] more productive.”

“We have streamlined processes while maintaining quality, which is our main focus,” added John Manchen, estimation and project lead management for Khoury Inc. “In essence [we are] working smarter, not harder,” he said.

“To remain competitive we’ve had to adjust to the market by maintaining and improving efficiencies where possible and continuing to provide good customer service,” said Richard Stokes, project manager for Defiance, OH-based Spyker Mfg. “Being as organized and efficient as possible translates into being able to deliver our casework in a timely manner and meeting project schedules — something that is usually just as important as having exceptional quality.”

Lean manufacturing also played a role in Mishler Studios’ success. “We are trying to eliminate wasted time in the manufacturing process,” said Rob Mishler, president of the South Whitley, IN, company. “That is actually the silver lining of the economic slowdown — it gives us time and motivation to study our techniques and implement improvements.”

Optimism for 2010

Although almost half of the companies surveyed projected no growth for 2009, over 60% of those surveyed predicted sales to be good or excellent in 2010.

“The economic conditions that we are all faced with are a steep, uphill climb,” said Brad Gilbert, owner of Gilbert Veneers in Escanaba, MI. “Most of the markets are currently suffering from the decline in the housing market, but optimism seems to be toward the fourth quarter of 2009 for any true pick up.”

“We have everything in place that we need in order to meet the demands of our customers,” said George French, president of Cabinet Max Corp. in Baltimore, MD. “Because of intense competition in our area, we are having to cut profit margins in order to win jobs. Some of our competitors are bidding below cost and we expect they will soon be in a position where they are no longer a threat. We will wait for [them] to realize their mistakes and make adjustments to future bids. We will not make the mistake of lowering our prices to anything less than profitable.”

“We have little control on the economy, but we do have a direct control on the quality of the products that we build. If we satisfy our customers, they will stay with us,” said Jorge Lagueruela, president of Trinity Furniture Inc., Trinity, NC.

“We’re going to hope the economy improves and continue moving toward additional niches,” said Jimmy Stidham, vice president of Corbin, KY-based Stidham Cabinet Inc.

Wade Vonasek, Karen Koenig and Brad Walseth contributed to the WOOD 100 report.

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