By Karen Koenig

Wood & Wood Products catches up with Sauder Woodworking's Kevin Sauder to learn about his experiences in the industry and how he is applying them to the company's overall strategy.

Q: Sauder Woodworking is a family-owned business. Did you always envision having a career in the furniture industry? What steps led you to this point?

A: I was always interested in business and engineering, though I wasn’t certain I wanted to have a career at Sauder. I had a great experience working in computer systems and marketing for Northern Telecom (now Nortel) for three years after grad school. I could have been quite happy in the telecommunications industry, but in 1988 my dad presented an opportunity at Sauder that seemed very exciting.

He wanted me to focus on sales and marketing for the newly forming office superstore retail channel. I started selling to retailers like Office Depot when they had only 12 stores and I’ve enjoyed the journey ever since.

Q: What experiences have helped you to be successful?

A: I am better able to keep the current economic situation in perspective since I lived through the crazy RTA boom years in the late 80’s and the retrenching years since 2001. Also, raising two teenagers, including one with autism, has taught me patience and humility.

Q: What has been your proudest achievement as it relates to the industry?

A: Winning vendor of the year awards from many of our top customers like Wal-Mart, Office Depot, Target and Shopko. It tells me that our company has delivered on its promises of innovation, quality, sales performance and service.

Q: What has been your greatest challenge with regards to staying successful in the RTA industry, and how have you overcome/or are overcoming it?

A: The industry has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. Sauder experienced great growth and profitability in the 80's partly because we had little foreign competition, dozens of growing mass merchant retailers, and limited call for private-label and exclusive products. In recent years, we’ve had to adapt to fewer, more powerful retailers, aggressive foreign competition and more complex product lines. We succeeded by making strategic acquisitions, focusing on lean manufacturing, reducing costs, and improving merchandising and product development processes.

Q: What would you like to see President Obama do in his first year in office to help your company, and why?

A: I am hopeful that President Obama will guide an economic turnaround in late 2009, accelerate innovation, keep additional regulations and trade barriers to a minimum, and restore confidence in our public and private institutional leaders. (Maybe that’s asking too much, but it’s worth hoping for).

Q: What are your goals for Sauder Woodworking over the next five to 10 years?

A: I would like to see Sauder get its core RTA business back to a more sustainable level of profitability, address additional markets and product lines with innovative concepts, continue world-class manufacturing in Ohio, improve supply chain management and sourcing with Sauder Asia, and keep our employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers and communities proud of what we do.

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