E-letter: Own the boots

I wonder if the business environment is actually any different than it ever is. Sure, we are threatened by imports, trade deals, dollar exchange, governmental regulations and fly-by-night operators. And, while it may seem that the pressures are more overwhelming than they were 30 years ago, I think if you checked the editorial pages from back then you would find the intensity about the same. There is no “easy money” in business.

Kerry Knudsen

Kerry Knudsen

Still, one cannot help but wonder about the “China threat,” what new law the government will dream up or how politics in the States will affect business.

I ran across an old saying in a garden book a while back. “The best fertilizer is the bootprint of the gardener,” it said. I like that. It says you can use all the technology, all the fertilizer and all the education you like, but to make a garden you need to have the eye of the master.

I think one thing that has changed is the huge wealth of our country. It’s almost unimaginable. It is easy to look at the super-rich and try to make sense of their successes, but a better barometer may be the lower-middle to poor.

For example, the big-box stores are now offering granite and marble for the DIY market, and the residential builder market offers the same in their “good/better/best” options. Everybody has computer access, a cell phone and a flatscreen TV. Even the spare-change artists are driving a Mercedes.

More on-point, we seem to have arrived at a place in time where people can afford to live with their parents if they don’t approve of the jobs they are offered. In other times and places, if you could not find a job in your desired field, you worked at something else unless and until something more suitable came up. Not so today. I should have kept a file of what I have received on resumes. You can’t tell whether they are looking for entry-level work or trying out for a spot on Jimmy Fallon.

 

My guess is that the “China threat” will resolve itself. Today, far from being a bone-crushing juggernaut to destroy business in Canada, China is having its own economic pressures. In addition, China’s interest in joining the world economic community has led it to commit to workers’ safety, minimum wages and better quality. All of these issues have put pressure on prices, and China is now complaining that its manufacturing is moving offshore to Vietnam and Malaysia.

Is the competition from China over? Not a bit. However, the ebb and flow of raw materials, transportation, labour, markets and economics will have more to do with competition in the future than they have in the past. The old adage used to be that you either build your business near the material-supply source and transport, or you build near the market and transport. Unfortunately for China, they have had neither raw materials nor market access when it comes to competing in Canada. Sooner or later, the piper gets paid.

Naturally, the demand for low-cost/low-value goods will continue, and there will be exploiters getting access to that demand. However, installing granite or marble is more than just a tape measure and a bottle of glue. And, when low-to-middle income families try to buy the “expert” installation advice offered with their Home Depot stone products, at least some of them will find that the best advice, like the best houses, cars, phones and televisions, come with a price.

 

That price is the bootprint of the gardener – the professional that has paid his or her own dues to know how to design, create, install and provide service for a narrow line of products.

The pity is, those people that are sitting in their parents’ basements waiting for Prince Dream-Job-Charming to show up are losing not only time, but all the experience having to work for a living provides. As former U.S. presidential candidate and senator, Marco Rubio, said in an early campaign speech, plumbers make more money than philosophers. We need more plumbers and fewer philosophers. I like that.

There is another old lyric that popped into my head while writing this. From an old Nancy Sinatra song: “what he knows you ain’t had time to learn.” It seems à propos at the moment. It is something the importers, the offshore producers, the big boxes and the rest will never know. It’s the bootprint of the gardener. The man or woman that has taken the time to learn and will forever be necessary to fix the screw-ups of the know-it-alls.

In all, the “occupied space” sector in Canada is doing quite well at the moment, and is giving every indication it will continue to strengthen. Competition will remain tough, but it’s clear that some of the pie-in-the-sky dreams of the amalgamators and agglomerators and consolidators and the digitizers will fall short. Somebody still needs to know what is going on.

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Comments

  1. Hear, Hear, Not only does Kerry have something valuable to say about the woodworking industry, he also has his finger on the pulse of the New Millenniums. June 2002 Woodworking magazine published an article on my manufacturing company. What a long road it’s been from that time. Then we manufactured everything in house. Today we still manufacture exclusive products with that company, but under the guise of an additional company, we conduct business in a far different way. The new company could best be described as a sourcing, project managing, design firm bent on producing only the best in kitchen renovation. The tools are still in the back but not being used by myself any longer. 32 years of experience, additional education and accreditations provides a simpler way of life. The design, and project execution world is where I live now. I think you’ve got something there Kerry.

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