WOODCENTRAL ADVERTISER PROFILE
A VISIT TO WOODCRAFT SUPPLY
A company with 75 years of service to woodworkers.
by Ellis Walentine
Recently, I traveled to the Ohio River town of Parkersburg, WV (population 33,000), to pay an official visit to Woodcraft Supply Corporation, one of WoodCentral's major sponsors. Despite the gloomy weather outside, spirits at Woodcraft headquarters were cheerful as the company was busily filling orders for its 76th holiday season.
Founded in Boston in 1928, Woodcraft is the oldest and fastest growing retailer of fine woodworking tools, supplies and equipment in the US, according to Shawn Draper, VP of Marketing, who gave me a cook's tour of the corporate office complex. The company sells over 8,000 different items through its mail order catalogs and its retail store franchises. Woodcraft mails over 3.2 million catalogs per year to a customer base of over 3.6 million people - in 50 states and 117 foreign countries -- including more than a million customers who have placed an order within the past six months. No wonder the Woodcraft name is so widely recognized in the woodworking world.
Not as well known is that Woodcraft is a division of a holding company called SBR, which also owns Symington Building Products (the largest replacement window company in the US), as well as Hylite (manufacturer of plastic "glass" blocks), and the two largest makers of cast architectural trim and moldings, Style Solutions and Fipon.
Within Woodcraft itself there are several distinct enterprises going on simultaneously, all contributing to the company mission. Besides the mail-order business, Woodcraft has a total of 77 franchisee-owned retail stores, with three more expected to open their doors by the end of calendar year 2004. Currently, the company is adding franchised stores at the rate of about a dozen stores per year. Most of the stores not only sell the full Woodcraft line of products, but they also offer classes and seminars on woodworking topics to members of the community, in an effort to become the local focal point for woodworking activities.
The retail stores are also the distribution points for a groundbreaking Woodcraft initiative that is aptly titled "Woodcraft U." The company has teamed up with the West Virginia University at Parkersburg to offer a full curriculum of credit courses, whereby participants can learn woodworking skills and earn university credits at the same time. The curriculum includes a progressive courseload of 100-level through 400-level courses in ten different areas of interest: Bandsaw, Carving, Finishing, Joinery, Router, Scrollsaw, Sharpening, Tablesaw, Turning and "Elective." I counted 66 courses in all on their course catalog page. The university is accredited by the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges.
This focus on education is a key part of Woodcraft's business strategy. According to Draper, the educational program has resulted in a 300% increase in product sales in the stores where it has been offered. Last year, 36,000 people availed themselves of the educational opportunities at local Woodcraft establishments.
Shop Instruction Network
Another recent initiative along educational lines is the formation of a high-school shop instruction network. Woodcraft has teamed up with the New England Association of Woodworking Teachers (NEAWT) to provide a clearinghouse for information about woodworking education in the schools. The initiative is designed to promote the exchange of curricula and resources among woodworking instructors, with the long-range aim of restoring woodworking education to school programs. The ultimate objective, of course, is to create and educate the next generation of woodworkers.
Along those same lines, Woodcraft offers project packages, called "My First Project" - simple things like birdhouses, airplanes, step stools and sailboats - for kids. They plan to market this new product concept aggressively next year.
Draper also sees the women's market as a growth area for the company, citing an 85% growth in sales to female customers in just the past five years. Clearly, Woodcraft is keeping a close eye on trends in woodworking, in order to anticipate new developments and tailor their product lines to a changing clientele.
After touring the marketing, product development and education departments, I was escorted to Woodcraft's main warehouse and distribution center, where all catalog orders are assembled and shipped. The existing warehouse has 86,000 square feet of floor space and is about to be expanded by another 25,000 square feet to accommodate the growing business. The distribution center also serves as the restocking point for the company's retail stores.
One thing that struck me while walking through the warehouse was the large amount of wood stockpiled on shelves and skids everywhere. Woodcraft has a thriving mail-order wood business, especially for exotic species.
In one corner of the warehouse, they have a large loading dock and a well-equipped shop dedicated strictly to converting rough lumber to the finished sizes and shapes the company sells through its catalogs and stores. In addition to the exotics channeled through the main distribution center, most of the stores also sell domestic species, but they generally obtain them locally, to avoid the extra cost of shipping them in from Parkersburg.
In addition to shipping and receiving and wood processing, the warehouse facility also houses the technical service department, where trained technicians field phone inquiries from Woodcraft customers.
As most WoodCentral visitors are aware, Woodcraft has just expanded its influence another notch with the introduction of Woodcraft magazine, a bi-monthly edited by former Woodshop News editor, A.J. Hamler. The new magazine is headquartered at the Woodcraft corporate campus, and has its own staff of editors, art directors and sales people.
The magazine, whose first issue just came out in November 2004, is targeted to all hobby woodworkers, from beginner to advanced, with projects designed to appeal to these different levels of skill, including non-fuirnituremaking projects and techniques such as the lengthy bird-carving article in Issue 1. A.J. is using both in-house and outside authors, many of them chosen from WoodCentral visitors. It seems that WoodCentral is a good place to be noticed by editorial types who prowl our boards and shop shots regularly. Keep up the good work, folks!
A Culture of Respect
One thing I heard repeatedly during my visit was about the "people-oriented" corporate culture at Woodcraft; that is, how the company provides generous benefits and profit sharing and treats employees with dignity and respect. This supportive company attitude helps assure employee loyalty and productivity, while making Woodcraft a coveted place to work.
All in all, my day at Woodcraft headquarters was a worthwhile pilgrimage. Not only did I meet the key people in the company, but I also got a chance to see A.J.'s new magazine headquarters and find out more about the direction and aspirations of this large and growing supplier to the woodworking world.
. . . Ellis Walentine
[EDITOR'S NOTE: We will be visiting other major WoodCentral sponsors as time and resources permit. Meanwhile we cordially invite you to patronize all our sponsors. Tell them WoodCentral sent you!]
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