Talking Wood with a Lion – Part II
In the first part of my chat with Chuck D. Ray, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Wood Operations Research, The Pennsylvania State University (I call him a lion because that’s Penn’s masoct), I got his feedback on 2 of the biggest issues faced by professional woodworkers: quality wood source availability (how hard it’s become to get consistently good wood products), and the issue of rising wood costs hurting business profits. Click here to read Chuck’s thoughts on these issues from our earlier conversation.
Chuck also had some interesting tips on resources for small business owners like us regarding wood products:
P.K.: What are some of the resources that I can utilize to help my small wood products company?
- There are a number of great woodworking sites on the Internet, and I would spend evenings browsing these sites, taking notes, and thinking how they can be implemented on my shop floor.
- Another great source of help is to become involved in local and regional wood industry associations. Involvement with them takes some investment of personal time, but it is the best way I know of to learn of other companies’ experiences as they experiment with new ideas.
- Equipment vendors are sometimes a good source of new ideas, and I would suggest you milk them for their overall knowledge while they’re in the process of selling you their product. Be careful here, though, and recognize that their “knowledge” is usually biased toward a solution involving their product, which is why I would make it a rule to interview at least three different vendors for every purchase made for the shop.
- Finally, consider utilizing consulting engineers for the larger process re-design projects. Or better yet, hiring one as a permanent company partner or employee, if you’re big enough to afford one. I’ve said many times that if I had a manufacturing company with ten employees, one of them would be an industrial engineer…and that I’d add another for each additional 25 employees as my company grew.
P.K.: Chuck, I would say that you forgot to mention that colleges, such as Penn State’s School of Forest Resources, have great wood products programs that can help just about any size shop. I would encourage wood workers to investigate what their local colleges and university extension programs have to offer. I know the folks working in these programs are always willing to lend a hand.
Chuck, what do you see as the biggest challenge for the wood industry and what is your answer to that challenge?
- Great wood products sell themselves, at least when the economic conditions have people in the mood to make a purchase. I actually think that our greatest challenge is the rising cost of doing business, in the form of regulation, taxes, and illogical market subsidies for competing products. Unfortunately, turning this around requires the wood industry professional to get involved in local, state, and perhaps even federal politics and most of us are in the wood business because we hate that stuff. But then again, that’s what our industry associations can do for us. If you want make a difference, and perhaps help your company and employees in the process, get involved.
P.K.: Your last comment is very interesting and you’re right. Wood workers aren’t usually found walking the halls of our capitals, but proper representation through trade associations would help the entire industry and seems like the right solution.
Overall, it sounds like your saying don’t fight battles you can’t win; adapt to the supply of changing wood species; become more efficient and get involved in industry associations that can provide your shop with a political voice. Wow, this tells me that the today’s successful woodworkers need to know more than just woodworking. We aren’t our father’s woodworker.
Thanks Chuck. You gave us some good insights from your viewpoint.
Patrick Kennedy of Superior Woodcraft is a CustomMade.com affiliated maker and a frequent contributor to the Pro Shop blog. Chuck D. Ray, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor specializing in Wood Operations Research at Pennsylvania State University – if you’re wondering, that’s why he’s a lion. Both of us are interested in hearing your views. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE RISING COSTS OF DOING BUSINESS AND WHAT MEASURES HAVE YOU TAKEN TO FACE THIS CHALLENGE IN YOUR OWN BUSINESS?