But CEO Bill Gittler Jr. could see the Chinese writing on the wall.
The company's revenue fell from $46 million in 2003-04 to $38 million in 2004-05, a 17 percent drop, Gittler
But over the past five years, Catawissa Lumber
executives have been pursuing a bold new strategy.
In part, they have been establishing business ties in China in hopes of selling wood components to furniture makers there.
The company is trying to "survive in an industry that is very troubled and declining in our country," Gittler
Catawissa Lumber's first major overseas success is a new line of high-end furniture, handmade by Chinese artisans, called Catawissa/Baili Fine Arts & Crafts, released last fall.Gittler
discovered Beijing-based Baili
, whose owner was looking for hardwood supplies and hoping to enter the American market, through a consultant.
The two companies soon partnered to create the Catawissa/Baili line, made of Appalachian cherry hardwood and designed by Baili's
is hoping other Chinese manufacturers will soon think, "If Baili is buying panels from the U.S. and is successful at it, gee, maybe we should buy from Catawissa
Gittler's first hard look at the Chinese market came in early 2001, when he
attended a trade show in Guangzhou, at the heart of China's furniture-making sector.
The Chinese trade association assigned him a translator, a savvy engineering student, who helped him set up his
booth at the show and served as his
contact with potential customers.Gittler
was inundated with inquiries.He
recalls talking via translator to a Mongolian woodworker whose company crafts intricate stairs, and a western Chinese businessman whose firm specializes in furniture for disabled people.He
could see that both were craftsmen, their hands rough and colored with wood stain.That's unlike most American owners, he
spoke at length, through the translator, to a man from northern Vietnam interested in Catawissa's products.
The man then turned to Gittler
and spoke in perfect English, he
recalled with a laugh.Gittler
came away from the eight-day show encouraged.
Chan's company, Asia Marketing & Management
in Philadelphia, was helping medium-size manufacturers do business in China, Gittler
says.Soon after, Gittler hired Chan as a consultant.
"We could not have gotten where we've gotten without James Chan and his contacts," Gittler
...It was one of Chan's Chinese contacts who found Baili for Gittler.
paid all the costs for Liu to make four sample pieces of furniture.
was doubtful about using our product," Gittler
says."But when we gave him those four initial samples, he
saw the advantage of it."
Soon after, the companies partnered to produce the Catawissa/Baili line.Gittler formed a new division, Catawissa Trading Co., to buy and sell lumber, wood components and furniture.
The Catawissa/Baili line is targeted at the "designer portion" of the furniture industry, Gittler