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Monday April 08, 2013
Nearly 3 years has gone by since the last time I wrote in this section. That generally means ďtoo busy to be concerned with documentation and marketingĒ. In my own case, work has been pretty steady, but also Iíve gotten tangled in municipal politics. Takes about 20 hours a week and is utterly different from running a small business. In the window and door industry, Iíve seen further corporate concentration and a steady decline in the number of small shops doing custom work. Meanwhile it appears that the opportunities for these small custom shops should actually be increasing. Large corporations donít have the credibility advantage over small companies that they once did. Buying local and using natural products are important to many consumers. It all makes me wonder why Iím more on the fringes of Ďnormalí than ever, and also why young woodworkers arenít doing this kind of work.
The fact remains that wood windows with a painted exterior finish are a niche market. I suspect that aesthetics is a diminishing factor in the decisions of most buyers. And aesthetics is what weíre all about- that and energy efficiency.
Iíll be dealing directly with the decisions of young woodworkers in about 10 years when I take steps to pass this business along to someone else. Itís called succession planning, kind of a dry term for thinking about how to interest the next generation in your fascinating and profitable enterprise.
Friday June 18/10
These are strange times. The phone has stopped ringing, the emailbox is mostly empty, and Iím wondering why. We are having the slowest half-year that I can remember, and of course that leads to questions about our product, about the economy, about our customers. My suppliers of lumber, glass and hardware tell me that they are slow too. Most donít like to say how bad things are, but my whining encourages them along a bit. We can survive ups and downs in work load here because we can reduce expenses, but that reducing of expenses means that the slowdown spreads in all directions.
One theory of why nobodyís calling is that thereís just too much bad news out there, about oil spills, the economy, pension fund reliabilityÖpossibly my demographic is finally getting pessimistic about the future. Windows are a medium to big ticket purchase with a long payback.
Another theory is that Ontarioís new HST is perceived to increase the price of everything. In fact it doesnít immediately change our prices because weíve always charged the 2 taxes, or 13%. Iíll probably actually reduce prices because capital purchases will now be 8% cheaper for business.
Another theory is that wood products are heading quickly out of fashion, have been for years. I canít do much about that- I love working with and being surrounded by wood, real wood not pressed boards and laminates.
Another ďtheoryĒ is that I never actively market my stuff, a view stated by my wife. Weíre stuck in the bush and invisible. I choose not to believe this theory.
April 28, 2010
I'm realizing once again how fortunate it is that I stumbled on windows and doors as a wood product to make a living with. It's actually possible to make a decent hourly wage if the job is large enough and nothing goes wrong. Not so with other products I've tried in slack times in the past - the current one in this somewhat slack time is sawhorses. Previously there have been cedar deck chairs, CD storage shelves, wine storage boxes, bookshelves,.... In every case it becomes obvious that there's too much labour involved to price the thing reasonably.
Who would pay $120 for a pair of wooden sawhorses? Only an aficionado of fine sawhorses. So far, I've got them down to 1.5 hours per pair. Perhaps if they were made from mahogany and advertised in the New Yorker. Perhaps if I bought a sawhorse making machine and got the labour down to 4 minutes. But the cost of the machine would require sales of MANY sawhorses, precluding future window building.
The solution is to sell them at a loss, or at least for a wage of about $15 an hour, and wait for sales of our "core product" to strengthen. In the meantime I get to keep meeting the public, using the shop, and bringing in a bit of cash. This has all happened before.
March 26, 2010
Another big auction notice in the mail yesterday, a furniture factory in Toronto going out of business. I scan the pictures looking for a machine I might want to pick up at a good price, realizing once again that Iíve got a complete set of what I need. This auction will draw buyers from overseas probably, with itís CNC routers, laminate shears and stitchers, presses, tenoners. Another 200 Ontarians out of work. It is so discouraging to see this big industrial sector in Ontario crumbling. Over-supply, too much cheap IKEA stuff for sale, and the seeming disinterest most people seem to have for buying and owning things of value. I feel very fortunate being a small niche supplier of solid wood products. Most wood shops donít work with much wood. I've often wondered why my business has stabilized at a certain size, not the size I used to dream of making it. It probably has to do with stubbornness at doing what I like and not seeking out opportunities when they were evident. I'd still like to attend this auction-as an education if nothing else.
March 21 2010
I'm measuring windows for a couple of 19th century Ontario farmhouses, and realizing how differently we think about windows now. In these older buildings the brick or stone was built up around a heavy window frame, which actually became the formwork for the masonry. The frame was a 3 x 8 or so, and the sash were placed between applied stops, and then moved up and down. This heavy frame had to be precisely built, and not move during construction. These houses are often 'triple brick'- no interior frame construction.
The difference now is that we NEVER want structure to interfere with the window. The window must 'float' in an opening, secured with a few shims and fasteners. Many windows are installed with flanges against the outside surface, so no shims are necessary (we donít do this).
I got into trouble 20 years ago with an old farmhouse - first time Iíd seen the window-frame-as-formwork issue. I blithely assumed the old frames could come out, as the owner wanted, then built 20 or so windows and delivered them. Of course it was a horror to discover.... Luckily I was planning my new shop, so I suddenly had all the windows. The customer had to wait another few weeks.