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Where or Where Woodard?

December 20, 2007

As you have probably heard by now, Craftmade, a manfacturer of upscale fans and lighting, including outdoor lighting, has purchased Woodard. I wonder how this is going to affect Woodard and the industry.

I remember when the original family that owned Meadowcraft sold the company. At the time Meadowcraft was one of the best, if not the best, manufacturer of wrought iron outdoor furniture in the country. Even today, there are few, if any, manufacturers that produce the type of furniture we got from Meadowcraft before it was sold. After the sale, the company changed its philosophy and looked to get into big boxes. Quality changed for the worse; so, we were forced to look for another brand. We settled on Lyon Shaw, another family owned company.

Lyon Shaw was a service-oriented company that made a good quality product. With the changes in Meadowcraft, Lyon Shaw grew. The interesting part is their growth didn’t adversely affect their product or service. However, after a few years, Woodard bought Lyon Shaw and incorporated some of the line into their existing line. Woodard also kept the Salisbuy Lyon Shaw plant open but converted it to an all aluminum plant over the years. Today, there is but a whisper of the Lyon Shaw line left in Woodard’s catalog and the Salisbury plant has been long closed.

We all know the Brown Jordan story. At least it has a happy ending. . . as of today. What a roller coaster ride, but if you were able to hold on, Brown Jordan has reimagined itself right back to the high end line it was before it changed hands and leadership so many times in the recent past.

California Umbrella produced all American made umbrellas, making everything in their own plants from center poles to raising cranks. What a great line! You could change umbrella covers when they went bad. Parts were modular so you could change a broken raising mechanism or any other part rather than having to replace the whole umbrella. Woodard bought California Umbrella and tried to incorporate the umbrella line into the furniture line. They kept the California plant open for several years, but eventually, they closed it and stopped making the umbrellas.

I guess I could go on for several more paragraphs or pages describing buy outs that didn’t work. That is not to say some buyouts don’t work; it is just the list of "did work" buyouts is much smaller that the "didn’t work" list. Some people would say I have become cynical over time. Reps for the new purchasers of old companies will be quick to assure me, "Nothing is going to change, but if it does, it will be for the better. Give it a chance and place another early buy."

In this case, Craftmade says that purchasing Woodard allows them to expand into the outdoor field in which they already have experience because they sell outdoor lighting. I am not sure I understand this logic since an outdoor light is as different to an outdoor chair as a sardine is to caviar. But, maybe they know something I don’t. Anyway, I wish Craftmade and all of my friends at Woodard the very best and hope they are on the "did work" list five years from now.

As an aside, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanza, I hope this season allows all of you to step back from the rush of business and enjoy the fruits of your labor with your families and friends. With 2008 just around the corner, my hope for all of us is for a peaceful and prosperous new year.

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce