Watch video from the Best of the WOOD 100 presentation at AWFS Vegas 2007.

Astute companies achieve success by having great customer service, knowledgeable, hardworking employees and the right equipment in place to handle the productivity.

Yet, the unpredictability of the economy can throw even the best laid plans into a tailspin. It is for this reason that, for the eighth straight year, the economy ranks as the top concern for WOOD 100 companies. Overall, this category garnered 70 responses by companies, including 44 number-ones. (See chart below.)

Because the WOOD 100 companies span all demographics — markets, employee sizes and revenue levels — the opinions expressed by the executives provide a true snapshot of the woodworking industry.

In addition to the economy, other top issues facing this year’s WOOD 100 companies are: employee recruitment and retention, the cost of health benefits, availability and cost of raw materials, and imports.

Top Concerns of Industry Executives
Concern 1st 2nd 3rd Total
Economy 44 12 14 70
Employee Recruitment/Retention 18 22 7 47
Employee Skills 6 18 11 35
Health Benefits Costs 2 7 20 29
Profit Margins 10 7 8 25
Lumber/Composite Panel Costs 4 11 7 22
Price Cutting by Competitors 4 3 10 17
Wood Quality/Availability 3 8 6 17
Wood Product Imports 2 3 7 12
Other 6 3 0 9
Workers’ Compensation Costs 0 3 5 8
Design Copying 1 1 3 5
Government Regulations 0 2 2 4
Other concerns include: negotiating with vendors, keeping purchases and volumes higher, controlling growth, marketing strategies, cash flow and flexibility for change

Dealing with the Economy

Everyone agrees, the economy is unpredictable. Executives try their best to predict what will happen next week, month or even year. Taking into account the unpredictability of natural disasters and rising costs of fuel and raw materials, these executives say they do their best to minimize the effects on their company.

“I have always believed that our industry follows behind a little from what the economy is doing,” says a Midwest architectural millwork and store fixture executive. “We don’t have any control of the economy, but we work hard to make sure we take care of our employees.”

Cutting waste, increasing productivity and tightening controls on costs were cited by many executives as ways to offset the unforeseen. One Northwest furniture manufacturer says, “We will try to hold our pricing at its current level unless the costs of materials go out of sight.”

Another solution, says a Southwestern architectural millworker, is to “continue to implement lean manufacturing to reduce costs and improve service, and continue to build relationships that will see us through hard times.”

Many others say they are incorporating new products while cautiously exploring new customer bases.

“We are opening the doors to new customers that we’ve previously stayed away from, but we are more vigilant about only dealing with customers who have a strong and positive history of dealing with subcontractors,” says an East Coast commercial casework executive.

Adds one Northeast architectural millwork executive, “We will continue to seek a more diverse product offering.”

Employees Keep It Running

Finding skilled employees and then retaining them is a challenge for any business, but particularly so for an industry like woodworking that relies on a combination of manual labor and technical skills from its personnel. Not surprisingly, employee recruitment and retention easily takes second place in the list of concerns by WOOD 100 executives, garnering 47 overall votes.

To obtain and retain good employees, many companies are offering incentives, including better benefits, while practicing more targeted recruiting techniques.

“Finding young, eager people who are willing to learn a skill or trade is our focus,” says one Southwest commercial casework manufacturing company executive. “We consider our shop to be a ‘training facility’ to some degree. Computer knowledge and a good work ethic will take a person a long way in our shop.”

A Midwest commercial casework manufacturer says he retains good employees “by continuing to provide a safe, comfortable work environment where employees are appreciated. We have created a setting that encourages employee loyalty,” he says. “Also, by investing in automated machinery, we have been enabled to maximize the skills of our existing workforce.”

“We are offering more employee benefits and incentives,” adds a Canadian cabinet manufacturing company executive. “We are always trying to improve the way we treat our staff and create a real team environment."

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