We hear a lot in the news about the income gap widening. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. We have a shrinking middle class, with less time and space for hobbies not involving a phone. Kids sports schedules fill up evenings and weekends. The ability to use wood to create something is disappearing. Wood shop, Lincoln Logs and Jenga have been replaced by computer courses, Lego, and video games. What does that mean for Hardwood products and markets?
Well, it clearly means that we are going to lose market share to cheaper products. Solid Hardwood products are more expensive, usually require more to install and often require more maintenance. It also means we are going to see less use; as hobbyists, artisans, craftsman, and tradesman disappear or pick other materials.
The question is what are we going to do to grow and stabilize the Hardwood industry? Promotion is only part of the solution; you also must have someone who can use the Hardwood we are promoting.
The Real American Hardwood “Build Your World” campaign can get the attention of consumers but if they never cut, sanded, glued, nailed, stained, or used wood how are they going to start? The answer is either, pay someone who does or learn to do it themselves. While the rich can afford to pay someone, the poor cannot and we are stuck losing their market.
If you are at the upmost limits of your budget, would you spend extra for real wood? I can tell you from experience that I didn’t. I have bought laminate flooring twice. Once I installed it by myself and once, I paid a contractor to do it. Price was the deciding factor both times. Now I enjoy solid Oak flooring.
As for my hobbies, I took a high school wood shop and even took a university wood working class. I enjoy working with wood. I have a Hardwood table in my office that I built. But I haven’t created anything new in 20 years due to lack of time, (caused by keeping 7 kids alive) and lack of proper tools.
How do we sell Hardwood products to the lower- and middle-class income brackets who want to use wood? Lower their cost (for products or installation) or provide them with training. (While raising their income is also a solution, the current pandemic inflation and market collapse shows that it is not a long-term solution.)
Lower Their Cost
Prices can’t get much cheaper on our side, in fact our intent is to raise profitability, so the cost savings must come from the value-added side or the installation. Hardwood product innovation needs to focus on simplifying solid Hardwood installation or replacement of flooring, cabinets, and decking.
Provide Them with Training
Training people to use or install wood is a difficult issue. Who is going to do it, who is going to pay for it and where is it done? I propose that we as an industry take this opportunity to provide training. If not us, who? High schools, universities, and junior colleges, for a few, but we need to build a market. It is our market, we have the wood, we have the expertise, we need to offer the training.
We have to offer simple woodworking classes. We need a curriculum on how to build with wood that we can offer to everyone. We need to keep it simple, connecting, (gluing, nailing, screwing) finishing (sanding, staining) and machining (sawing, drilling). How to build a cutting board, coaster and assemble a stool or coat rack. They will feel a sense of pride in making something and hopefully inspired to make more.
Where do we teach this class? Anywhere we can, at our facilities, at distribution warehouses, at schools and community centers, even at lumber yards, at churches to youth groups, at homes of those who have the tools or other locations. It can be flexible and taught once a week in the evenings, rotating around. The critical thing is everyone needs to do it. We need 2,000 classes a week across the USA and Canada.
What is it going to cost us? Well, it needs to be free to first time attendees. It will cost wood, tools, stain, instructor and liability insurance, but the cost is a small investment compared to TV ads and other promotions. There are plenty of ways the NHLA can get sponsors and grant funding to help offer this too. The up sides to teaching woodworking, outweigh the costs.
Why Knot Teach People How to Use Our Wood.