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What makes an industry thrive?

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CKCA by Sandra Wood
CMP, Executive Director, CKCA
Over the past year, CKCA has talked about the ingredients for success in our industry as we reflected on 50 years of industry innovation.
Successful manufacturers talked about the value of building business relationships across Canada. CKCA members spoke at events and shared their stories on business longevity. Industry experts presented topics from pricing to lean manufacturing to artificial intelligence. Manufacturers and suppliers toured other manufacturing facilities across Canada to learn from their shops and many participated in manufacturers’ roundtable discussions where they talked shop, shared ideas and solutions. Trade shows connected manufacturers to new products and publications and social media offered news, insights and trends. It is clear there is always a lot going on in this industry, keeping up can be a challenge. But I think you would agree that the one constant in business is change and those who are not prepared to learn and adapt put their business at great risk.
Part of a bigger picture
Business owners wear many hats and some say too many.
Start-ups, amalgamations, sales and closures are common. But there are plenty of companies in our industry that have celebrated long-term business anniversaries and many of those are family operated through the generations.  We know we have an aging demographic. Increased costs to adopt new technologies with added pressures of running a business where labour shortages are talked about daily, mean even the most successful companies cannot remain idle. Over the next 10 years we could see an unprecedented number of business sales and while technology and artificial intelligence can address some of the labour shortage issues, statistics show those shortages will increase.  
Will our ability to adopt new technologies be affordable and fast enough to keep up with the continual decline in qualified labor and the pressures of cheaper foreign imports? Can our competitive nature allow us to overcome fear, see a bigger picture and realize the sum is bigger (and has more leverage) than its parts? Industry competition is alive and well, but is it enough to keep complacency at bay? CKCA member, Gajen Arumugun of Lucvaa Kitchens says, “we are competitors, and we are not enemies.”  
Do you have time to think beyond your own business and consider how the industry is progressing?
Progress doesn’t drive itself
CKCA looks at the big picture.  Fifty years ago our founders were business people like you. They knew the industry would progress and thrive if it came together, networked and learned. They believed that a collective approach to addressing issues facing the industry would yield the best results. Progress would not drive itself; it would come from a collective effort. To this day, that remains true.   
CKCA member, Phil Hanna of ProPly Wood Products spoke at CKCA’s regional event in September 2017 and said: “The only way an industry survives and thrives is through unity and collaboration on all fronts. This is why organizations like CKCA are so important.  We need to reach out to the people who aren’t here today and make our industry as strong as it can be.”

A foundation for the future
Recent changes in trade agreements have left many business owners with uncertainty. We have seen the demise of some industries in Canada and we’ve certainly seen many small businesses close because they could not compete with large conglomerates.  But our industry has thrived for more than 50 years and we have seen significant growth in spite of the many pressures. Perhaps the answers to how to keep your business and the industry thriving can be found in the shared advice of our experienced manufacturers and suppliers.
Here’s a snapshot of some of the advice we received through our 50th anniversary survey.  Some of this will be familiar; other points may give food for thought.  Any industry is the sum of its parts and will only thrive if the businesses within it do too. There is much work to do, but the good news is we have a solid foundation on which to continue. Could an industry’s ability to thrive be based on its ability to share knowledge and work collectively? The past tells us it is, but you are in the driver seat now and how the industry’s story unfolds is up to you.
A complete summary will be made available from the CKCA. If you want a copy, please contact
We would like to thank all those who participated in this survey. Your collective wisdom and practical insights will ensure a future for our industry.

Question: What kept you up at night when you first started your business?
Answer: Finances, having enough cash flow, enough work, weathering recessions, keeping the doors open.  

Question: What keeps you up at night now?
Answer: Finances still mentioned, but labor shortages listed consistently.

Question: What key pieces of advice would you like to pass along to the next generation in this industry to help them succeed?
• Embrace technology.
• Willingness to learn and get out there to see what is happening in our industry.
• Be a leader within 
the industry.
• Work hard and surround yourself with good people.
• Have a vision.
• Adapt.
• Break routine to keep perspective.
• Know your products.
• Keep the needs of the customers foremost.
• Never take a customer for granted.
• Know your products, know your competitors’ products.
• Believe in yourself.
• There will always be negative people around you, weed out the ones that don’t know what they’re talking about.
• Treat people the way you would want to be treated.
• Stay focused on the job.
• Build a team because you can’t do it alone.

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