The double whammy of an economic recession and a housing downturn has seriously tested the mettle of woodworking executives of all sizes and species.

No doubt some managers have found themselves shell shocked. Many were in the process of advancing their businesses to new heights when a sudden reverse of the economy forced them to retract, frequently requiring them to make very difficult personnel decisions.

But the economy has settled down and slowly but surely, despite a fit here and there, is moving forward. Wise, opportunistic wood product managers never lost sight of the need to stay abreast of the market's sways with an eye toward finding the silver lining in the darkest of clouds. This is to say, they looked for chances to steal market share from competitors who hunkered down waiting for the storm to pass or tested the waters of new markets when freed capacity made it possible to experiment.

A Hitlist of Free Advice
I'm not a manager of a wood products company and I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. But I have had ample opportunities to connect with industry leaders on multiple levels. It has given me a renewed appreciation for the need to stay rooted in the basics from which to make the important decisions that can help propel a business.

So here's my free advice for getting matters back in focus to address the challenges and opportunities of the recovering marketplace:

* Recruit the best employees and treat them fairly because they are your best asset or your biggest liability.

* Open communication is a key to your company's strength. Once your employees become distracted or troubled about company policies or other matters that impact their performance, it will reflect on overall performance in a negative way. Happy employees are more productive, make fewer mistakes and tend not to quit.

* No matter how long you have mastered your craft, never believe that you have all of the answers. Focus at what you are good at and listen and learn from others. Even the newest employee might have an idea or vantage point that at the very least needs to be considered.

* Never lose sight of what makes wood such a unique and wonderful material for your products. Optimize it in your plant and in the market place.

* Don't be a great loss leader. If you don't make money, then it's just a hobby.

* Harness the power of new technology. The way of doing business and successfully competing is changing rapidly. Attend trade shows and conferences to stay on top of what is new and to network with your peers.  
* Investing in new technology in many cases can help you become a greener company by reducing waste and increasing productivity.

* Not only get greener, get leaner. Even if you can't afford an expert consultant, you can afford a pad of paper to walk your operation and identify wasted effort and product. Effective lean thinking is not only on the shop floor but in the office and other facets of the business.

* Once you've caught the lean bug, don't let it go. Always focus on doing better. Continuous improvement is a must for long-term health and growth.

* Know your customer, know your business.

* Never lose sight of the goal!

Read more of Rich Christianson's blogs.

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