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The struggles of running a small shop

24. April 2018 15:33

By: Dan Moshe, Tech Guru and Caring Technology Company

If you are the owner, leader or manager of an entrepreneurial organization, it's a given that you want to see your business consistently run better and grow more quickly. But even the most successful entrepreneurs find that running a business can be more challenging than they expected. Many regularly grapple with a variety of problems – a lack of control over time, the market or the company; people not listening, understanding, or following through; profit (or lack thereof); an inability to break through to the next level of growth; and “magic pill” solutions that don’t prove to be very magical. If these problems seem all too familiar, you’re not alone.

I’ve found that this resonates even more in the woodworking industry since many of the small business owners are craftsmen at their core. They may not have any formal training in managing a business, but they are the masters of their craft. Typically, these two skill sets are not found in the same person.  Craftsmen are truly artists – they are creative and passionate. Businessmen, on the other hand, are analytical and logical. A creative-analytical person is truly unique and hard to come by, yet there are ways to harness business skills for even the most creative craftsman.

Successful small shop owners don’t necessarily have to possess the required skills to effectively run their business, because there are resources they can take advantage of.  One of the ways to help craftsmen manage their business is to create systems. These systems can be as simple as paper checklists or as robust as project management software. You could still be using a Rolodex to manage your contacts or perhaps you’ve implemented a full-scale CRM. Whatever you choose to use, systems help streamline processes and procedures so you can run your business – instead of it running you.

Learn more about creating systems to manage your business, in my seminar during IWF: “Are you running your business or is it running you?





Metal Resin Casting: Making a Metal Cabinet Pull or Finial in 30 Minutes or Less

23. April 2018 11:17

By: Scott Grove, Furniture Designer: ScottGrove.com

Why would you spend hours laboring over a one-of-a-kind piece of furniture only to add a piece of store-bought hardware that your neighbor has on his kitchen cabinets? This demonstration is about mold making and cold metal resin casting used to create or reproduce a cabinet pull or finial in just about any form or texture, whether it’s a found object such as a pine cone, a hand-sculpted object, or even your big toe.

For less than five dollars each and in 20 minutes time, you can make your own unique cast object that is durable and has the look and feel of real metal using smooth-on casting products.

This process can help to embellish your work with unique details and avoid chain-store-bought hardware, cabinet pulls, finials, or ornamentation. Adding these accent metal features can be the perfect icing on the cake. No special equipment is required and casting can be easier than baking that cake.

I’ll cover a few basic concepts and show you how to create simple forms out of cold cast resin bronze, brass, or aluminum using Smooth-On mold making materials. You’ll personalize your work even more and take it to the next level.

Join me for "Cold Metal Casting and Reproduction for Furniture Embellishment" on Friday, August 24th from 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


The decision to transition to in-house finishing

23. April 2018 11:13

By: Diane Shattuck, Gemini Coatings

Congratulations on making the big decision to transition to in-house finishing. You have crunched the numbers, but the cost of outsourcing is only part of the equation. It’s truly the cost coupled with your concerns about quality that pushed you over the edge.

Admit it: you are a control freak. You are willing to invest the money for an in-house finishing program because you can no longer afford to sacrifice quality. You need to control this part of your business as you control the rest.  And I’ll agree that that is important.

However, you are wondering if it is possible to profitably do this. Ultimately that’s the goal, right? I hope you’re in business to make money. Even though you love the craft of working with wood, at the end of the day there are bills to pay and mouths to feed. So how can you transition to in-house finishing profitably? Let me give you a few pointers:

Ask questions

Seek the advice of others who already do their own in-house finishing. Learn from them, particularly their mistakes. One place you can do this is in the Cabinet Makers Association’s online forums.  This is an invaluable resource for members who want to hear what others have done.

Find partners

It’s important here to differentiate between a supplier and a partner. A supplier is a sales person who simply pushes their product on you. A true partner is someone who cares about the success of you and your business.

Trial and error

Experiment with different products, recipes, and equipment. A lot can depend on your environment, the humidity, etc. but you won’t know unless you try.

Hire well

Admittedly finding a quality finisher isn’t easy. It’s one of the most critical functions in the production process, and taking the time to find an experienced worker is worth it.

To learn more about “Transitioning to in-house finishing – profitably” register to attend my seminar during IWF.



Lessons learned in Iraq aid in leadership role

19. April 2018 11:06

By: Guy Bucey, Inova

After two tours as a Marine in Irag, I came home in 2009 with a broken foot and PTSD. I started working with wood as a form of therapy.

After I was released from the military, I was looking for a job to harness my woodworking skills and new newfound passion for working with wood. Inova offered me a job as floor manager, and I jumped at the opportunity to turn his hobby into a career. Inova is based in Altamont, New York and specializes in wall beds and other niche small-space furniture.

I was fortunate to quickly work my way up the corporate ladder. I am now the Director of Operations for the company. Although I’m not exactly working with wood hands-on, I do love overseeing the daily logistics of the manufacturing plant.

My career in woodworking wouldn’t have been possible without Iraq. It was there that I learned the leadership skills that now drive my decisions made at Inova.

In Iraq, I learned that every Marine is a leader, so one of the first major changes I brought to Inova was to ditch the idea of factory workers versus sales staff versus office staff. Instead we brought everyone in as equal employees. Part of that process involved trusting them to address their own problems. One of the ways I helped them do this was by holding daily meetings for them to address their concerns.

 Another lesion I learned in Iraq was to lead from the front. At Inova, I don’t ask someone to do something that I haven’t done or wouldn’t do myself.

 I’ll admit that I did face some struggles while I was adapting to the civilian way of thinking. In the military the focus is on building up the weaker links, but in the business world if someone isn’t doing their job, you can simply fire him/her. I really struggle with the easy answer to just fire an employee.

 During my seminar at IWF, I will speak more about my experiences, both in Iraq and at Inova. I encourage you to attend my session, "The Power of Leadership: Keeping Employees Inspired for the Long Run" to learn more about my leadership style.


High-End Architectural Millwork

18. April 2018 13:38

By: Brent Hull, Hull Historical

As we continue into 2018, I want to encourage you to continue to strive for quality and beauty. I was in the shop the other day to check in on the progress of our current projects and found something that really made me proud of my guys. It was a solution to a door construction issue that no one will ever see, but could have been very ugly if they hadn’t fixed it.

Here’s what they did.

Background: Five years ago, we decided that every exterior door built would be made with stave cores parts. A stave core means the inside of the door is made up of smaller glued together parts. These parts make the door more stable.

We want everything that comes out of our shop to last at least 100 years and we think this type of construction is a superior method. It insures that our doors won’t twist and warp. Best of all, there is great historic precedent for this construction method. We have found in our restoration work that the highest quality doors from the late 1890’s into the 1930’s were made this way.

The challenge for this project was that we are building these doors out of quarter-sawn white oak. When the profile was cut into the stile our thick veneer was clearly visible on the edge illustrated by the sketch below.

However, our craftsmen realized the solution was to insert a wedge of quarter-sawn lumber into the edge so that it hides the joint, but also still appeared to be quarter-sawn on both sides.

I think this is a great example of a passion for craft. This passion drives us to build better and build more beautifully. I’m sure there are other great solutions for this issue. If you have any let me know.


How well do you understand diversity?

18. April 2018 13:33

By: Whitney Pyle, COO/Co-Owner: JG Bowers, Inc. and Advanced Cabinet Systems

Understanding all the various dimensions of diversity and how they impact the members of your organization will help you understand your workforce and build a more cohesive team and a more successful business. When thinking about diversity in the workplace, many times people only think about the primary dimensions of diversity; however, there are several dimensions of diversity that must be considered.

The primary dimensions of diversity are race/ethnicity, age, physical abilities/qualities, sexual orientation, gender, and religious beliefs. The secondary dimensions of diversity are just as important to consider. The secondary dimensions of diversity are work background, income, marital status, military experience, geographic locale, family background, and education. There are other dimensions of diversity that we don’t always think about, but that can have a great impact on our interactions in the workplace are language and communications – not just the language a person speaks, but also a person’s preference on how they send or receive communication with one another; appearance (including tattoos, piercing, and hairstyles), food preferences, and eating habits, allergies and other medical conditions, whether a person lives by the clock or is more lackadaisical when it comes to punctuality, preferred and most productive time of the day, flexibility, personal space preferences, how much of area do they require, smoking and non-smoking. Everything that makes up a person can be considered dimensions of diversity.

Each dimension of diversity adds a layer of complexity to individual identity. Together, the dimensions of diversity give definition and meaning to people’s lives and allow people to connect with others. Connecting with others is one of the best ways to ensure the long-term success of your workforce and your business as a whole. In coming articles and blogs I’ll discuss why it’s important to understand diversity and it’s many dimensions as well as how you can leverage diversity to benefit your company and your people.

To learn more on this topic come check out the "Diversity and inclusion in our Industry" at the IWF 2018 Education Conference.


Water occasionally

17. April 2018 12:04

By: Joe Knobbe, Senior Project Manager: Exclusive Woodworking, Inc.

At my company, Exclusive Woodworking, relationships are built over a period of years and nurtured on a regular basis. These relationships take years to grow, but once they’re established they only need frequent “watering”.

Admittedly, the architect and interior designer each have a certain aura. Architects are notorious for being aloof and intellectual, while designers' creative flair leaves them with a reputation of being fussy and difficult to please.

Unfortunately, those stereotypes scare some millwork professionals away, keeping them from making contact. When they do try, they are left frustrated, grumbling about how all those stereotypes are true. Occasionally, they'll bid on a project and waste hours trying to interpret specifications that seem to call for outdated products in all the wrong places.

Yet, there are others in the industry whose businesses flourish because of their connections to those two groups. Local architects and interior designers turn to them almost exclusively when they need help trying to write specifications for a project or are looking for design ideas.

Become a Resource

To be fair to the profession, architects must be visionary designers of structures and also technicians with at least some working knowledge of roughly 250,000 component parts of a project. Cabinetry and millwork is only a very small part of that total. It’s no wonder that the attention paid to the millwork specification by the architect often seems cursory.

This is where you come in. You can provide a valuable informational and educational service to design professionals that ultimately works to your mutual benefit. There is nothing better than a clear and accurate, use-appropriate product specification -- and nothing worse than one which is vague or sloppily written.

Have you ever seen in a spec for a project where they might call out a self-close, soft-close side-mount fully-concealed under-mount drawer slide full-extension with over-travel? Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration but I have seen similar specs in bid documents.

You could take the typical approach and send an RFI for clarification or you could take a different approach, like we do at Exclusive. An approach we use is when there is a spec for expensive material or hardware, we provide pricing based on the actual spec AND also alternative pricing based on other options we recommend.

This is just one example of using an opportunity to get in front of a design professional and using it to your advantage. To learn more, attend “Working with Architects and Designers” during IWF.




Working Plastics in the Woodshop; More isn’t always better.

17. April 2018 11:57

By Ralph Bagnall, Woodworking Consultant, Author and TV Host: Consulting Woodworker.com

Most wood shops rarely use plastics, and typically don’t have specialty blades designed for plastics on hand when they need to cut just a few parts for a project. Common woodworking blades will cut many plastics with suitable results, but which blade should you choose to cut with?

The woodworker’s first impulse is usually to use a fine toothed plywood blade of 80-90 teeth. It sort of makes sense; sheet plastics are often brittle, and we want the blade to cut with a minimum chance for chipping, so more teeth would seem to be the right choice. What is generally not understood is that heat is a far more important factor than impact stress in achieving a clean cut in hard plastics. Put simply, the more teeth in contact with the plastic, the more friction is allowed to heat the kerf, and the more likely the material will melt rather than cut.

It seems counter-intuitive, but a 50-60 tooth high ATB combo blade is a far more effective tool for cutting hard sheet plastics. The sharp points of the teeth score and define the edges of the cut before removing the waste  and the large gullets between the teeth keep the kerf sides from overheating through friction. Your cut will be better. Try it and see for yourself.

For more information about blades and bits cutting plastics, sign up for Session MFG7; “Working Plastics in the Woodshop”.


Leaders: Are They Born or Made?

11. April 2018 10:31

By: Christine Correlli, President: Christine Correlli & Associates

Here's How You Can Tell If Someone is an Emerging Leader—and What You Should Be Doing to Help Him or Her Develop Into a Great One.

You face tough customers and fierce competition. That, of course, goes with the territory in almost every business.

However, you also face complex organizational challenges—challenges that can only be addressed on the strength of dynamic leadership. Not just leadership at the top, but leadership in every department. This holds true for both large corporations, mid-size, and even small businesses.

More so, these challenges demand that you also look to the development of leaders for the future. This is due to the fact that the challenges of today will continue into tomorrow and be joined by new challenges still to come.

Finding and cultivating these future leaders is thus an imperative. How will you go about it?

Where to Put Your Focus

The starting point is to take note of individuals who exhibit high potential for leadership. Unimportant is whether these individuals are performing highly in whatever role they happen now to occupy.

The reason it is a mistake to prize performance over potential is that some people who are exceptionally competent at their jobs lack what it takes be a great leader. By elevating those who aren't cut out to be leaders, you risk the creation of department or companywide morale problems—and those can easily bring about a loss of productivity.

Consider this example. On the payroll of an average-sized company is a technician. Because he is the company’s best technician, it’s decided to promote him to the position of manager of the service department with the expectation that his excellent technical skills will translate into excellent leadership skills.

He eagerly and appreciatively accepts the new responsibility. However, in practically no time at all, it becomes evident that he is incapable of inspiring subordinates to act as a cohesive, functional, efficiency-driven, cost-conscious, innovation-minded team.

After a period of wishful waiting to give him a chance to “grow” into the role, top management finally realizes that pushing this technician to take on an assignment outside his area of expertise was a mistake. Now, someone in the company is going to have to play the “bad-guy” and remove an otherwise outstanding employee from his or her leadership post.

The job will go to someone else, but whoever gets it will be nervous about stepping into the shoes of a coworker who vacated not due to promotion but, rather, to demotion.

Additionally, the tech who lost the position will almost certainly be disgruntled, having suffered the indignity of being branded a failure. How much contagious bitterness he will spread throughout the company in the weeks and months ahead is difficult to predict. But spread it will, and almost surely to the detriment of the company—perhaps even to the extent of unsettling a number of loyal customers and reliable suppliers.

The corollary of this example is the employee who excels in his job but has no desire to be a leader. He’s promoted to that position regardless. A born follower at heart, he has no clue what to do with the leadership mantle thrust upon him. Things quickly unravel and, again, someone must act as the bad guy who brings news of demotion. Hard feelings surface and, once more, the company is in trouble.

Moral of these two stories: it is vitally important that you identify the right people for leadership roles—individuals who demonstrate actual potential to serve in that capacity.

Finding Employees with Leadership Potential

Here is a list of questions you should be asking yourself as you scout for individuals with the makings to become an outstanding leader. Does this person:

  • Demonstrate initiative beyond the current job position?
  • Proactively offer ideas and potential solutions to problems (thereby showing he or she is invested in the company’s success)?
  • Demonstrate accountability?
  • Possess interpersonal skills and work well with others?
  • “Make things happen” by being proactive instead of reactive?
  • Bend over backward to help customers and team members?
  • Exhibit unflinching reliability?
  • Think the same way you do when it comes to decision-making?
  • Motivate and influence others?
  • Appear capable of evolving into a strategic leader?
  • Express interest in developing or improving upon leadership and management skills?
  • Seem eager to take on more responsibility?
  • (Most importantly) Communicate clearly and concisely?

Your goal in asking these questions is to select as candidates for leadership development those individuals most likely to deliver results.

In the course of conducting your talent search, keep in mind that no rule requires you to only consider employees under the age of 40.  You’ll find great potential leaders among the ranks of your Millennial employees, yes. But you’ll also find worthy candidates among the gray-haired set. Always remember that the older employee who is intimately familiar with your processes, procedures, structure, culture, and perhaps even your customers may turn out to be an ideal individual to train for a leadership role.

Also, do not overlook the significance of America being a multicultural, multiethnic society—a fact duly acknowledged by federal and state Equal Opportunity laws which encourage you to strive for the most diverse workforce possible. So be sure to give minority employees careful consideration as potential leaders. Women also bring unique qualities and perspectives to the leadership table and, as well, enhance your ability to attract, hire, and retain top talent at all levels.

Women tend to excel in developing their teams. They also tend be servant leaders who believe their purpose is to serve those they lead, bring out the best in them, and help them to excel in all they do. They also encourage collaboration.

Beginning the Process of Leadership Development

Now that you have identified potential and emerging leaders among your employees, it is time to prepare them for positions at the top.

The process of developing a leader involves 10 steps. Happily, these steps are simple.

  1. Bring your emerging leaders together so that they can learn from one another. Invite them to jointly explore new ways of doing business, innovate better ways of conducting existing operations, cultivate stronger management/employee relationships, and strive to deliver highest quality service to customers, to the other members of the team, and to you. Challenge them to come up with approaches that can be adopted company wide to better support your sales team.
  1. Provide ongoing, repetitious training. The “one and done” approach to leadership training won’t cut it. The most effective way to provide training that continuously covers familiar ground (in order to hammer home the business concepts every effective leader must possess) is to offer instruction that has practical application to your leadership trainees’ day-to-day activities. The result of this training should be competency in each of these areas:
  • Strategic thinking
  • Effective decision-making
  • Managing and motivating employees
  • Change Management
  • Accountability
  • Culture transformation
  • Customer-service excellence
  • Conflict management
  • Execution
  • Communication Skills
  • Any additional training relevant to your company
  1. Send your leadership trainees to IWF Atlanta to see the latest technology and equipment and participate in the educational sessions.
  1. Send female leaders and emerging leaders to a “Women’s Leadership Event” or training program. You could also follow the example of smart companies that have benefited greatly by implementing in-house women’s leadership development programs or, put together one of your own.
  1. Designate a seat at your executive meetings to be filled by an emerging leader. If you have more than one emerging leader in your stable, allow them to sit in on a rotating basis—welcome a different emerging leader each time the top executives meet.
  1. Request that each emerging leader’s supervisor monitor his or her progress, and update you on it at regular intervals. Make the same request to your HR department.
  1. Instruct your emerging leaders to communicate with one another often in order to share their challenges and be able to help each other.
  1. Assign to your emerging leaders the responsibility for devising viable solutions to one or more of the company’s most pressing problems. When you do, you will be amazed at the results.
  1. Set up shadowing. Have your emerging leaders spend a full day tagging along with an executive to see up close exactly what he or she does to contribute to company success. Have them shadow other key individuals as well.
  1. Welcome your emerging leaders into your meetings. Solicit their thoughts about the hits, runs, and misses of the previous week. Encourage them to offer their views about what they might have done differently during those last five business days to achieve greater success.

One final point. If your company is family owned and you’ll one day be passing the baton to a son, daughter, grandchild, or other relative, be sure to have in place a succession plan that includes the 10 leadership development steps listed above. Your heir apparent needs to be fully ready, willing, and able to step into your shoes and carry your legacy forward. Leadership development of family members is a matter you cannot ignore.

It has been argued that great leaders are born, not made. But that is incorrect. Because even natural-born leaders must be trained before they can successfully occupy the big office or be in front of a counter.  You owe it to your company—and to yourself—to properly and completely train individuals who are legitimately suited to become leaders. Otherwise, you may be doing nothing more than courting disaster.

To learn more about this topic, check out the "Are You a Boss? Or a Leader?" session at the IWF 2018 Education Conference.

© 2018, Christine Corelli & Associates, Inc. Christine Corelli has had a distinguished 25 year career as an international keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, and business columnist. She has authored six books, including the best-selling, Wake Up and Smell the Competition - now in it’s fifth edition.  Corelli’s clients are characterized by Fortune 500 companies, major trade associations, and an abundance of mid-size and small companies. To learn more visit https://www.christinespeaks.com - To contact her for an upcoming meeting or event, call (847) 477-7376.




Buying that big machine

11. April 2018 10:21

by Matt Krig - Northland Woodoworks

Congratulations! You made the decision to buy a new machine and have taken an important first step. However, regardless of whether you are upgrading existing equipment or venturing for the first time in the world of automation, there are several things you need to consider.

Do your research.

Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions, repeat. Don’t ask your machinery sales rep, either; ask your peers. I am a member of the Cabinet Makers Association, and they are a great resource, including an online forum which is invaluable for these types of questions. Whatever you do, seek out people who have been there and done that. They may tell you what not to do, which sometimes is more meaningful than being told what you need to do.

Buy more than you need.

It’s important to plan for the future when you make this type of capital investment. You want your business to grow – that’s why you are buying the machine in the first place.  If that’s the case, then you should buy more machine that you currently need.  Obtaining additional horsepower now will save you the trouble of going through this process again in a few years.

Know the ancillary costs.

Your total spend will be a lot more than the sticker price of the machine and the install. During your research, find out what other costs are involved. This includes power requirements, air, dust, software, etc. The unexpected may still occur, but you can minimize the stress by preparing in advance.

Be prepared for downtime.

The install will take longer than promised. That’s a guarantee. Prepare for the worst case scenario, and hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Admittedly there will be delays, but you still need to keep your production going. If you are upgrading existing equipment, do not sell that machine until you are fully operational (for some time) with the new one. If you are buying your first machine, continue to produce as you have been, even though it may be slower than what you want to do with the new machine. Accomplishing some work is faster than not getting anything done.

Take advantage of training.

Be sure to do the necessary training to operate the machine, and document it. The idea is that you can then train others.  You only need one slot in the class, but then you can share what you learned with others in your company who will run the machine now or later. Also, if there are training updates, take advantage of those too. Incremental changes can really impact the machine’s efficiency, and you want to get the most bang for your buck.

Schedule preventive maintenance.

You can’t afford downtime, so arrange for preventive maintenance right way. Schedule when it’s convenient for you, instead of in a crisis when the machine goes down in the middle of an important project.  A small interruption now will save you a ton of time and money later.

To learn more, attend the IWF seminar “Buying that Big Machine”.  The session is presented by a panel of shop owners, including myself, who have been through this process and want to share with others what they learned and what they wish they had known.