R. Kent Gilchrist is hearing it at committee meetings.

He’s also hearing it at chapter and board meetings of the Architectural Woodwork Institute, the nonprofit trade association that represents nearly 4,000 members, comprising architectural woodworkers, suppliers, design professionals and students around the world.

And the message was repeated again in late September when AWI members gathered in Salt Lake City for their annual convention.

“At each of these meetings, we usually take time to go around the table and ask how people are doing in the business,” said Gilchrist, president of AWI and also president of the Carmel, Indiana-based Fremont Interiors, which designs and fabricates fine architectural woodwork.

“The general feeling is quite positive.” That’s not to say everything’s perfect. Pockets of the country remain slow. Others are booming.

“People in the Miami area, for example, are seeing more tower cranes than anyone’s seen in a long time,” Gilchrist said. “I’ve heard from many people around the country who don’t feel that they have the time to properly research projects in order to bid them.

“I like to tell our members in the slower areas that all they need to do is phone a friend in some of these hot areas because there’s work to be had.”

Each year, AWI releases its “Cost of Doing Business Survey.” This year’s version reflects what Gilchrist has heard around many tables: Business is improving in the design/build industry.

Survey results suggest an improving business environment among architectural woodwork business owners. Overall sentiment among AWI’s manufacturing members is high.

Specifically, the survey found that:

•    Sales pipeline sentiment for the next six months is 12 percent higher than in the last six months.

•    High-profit firms have operating margins of 17 percent compared with the average operating margin of 5.1 percent.

•    Backlogs of orders are comfortable, with high-profit companies with sales of more than $10 million reporting 12-month backlogs. Smaller companies are maintaining backlogs of four to seven months.

•    Capital investment was strong in the last 12 months, with 58 percent of AWI members investing $50,000 or more and 37 percent dropping more than $100,000. Investment outlook for the next 12 months forecasts that 21 percent of high-profit firms plan to invest $100,000.

•    Almost 30 percent of respondents plan to increase their workforce by 10 percent or more in the next year.

“The consensus is that things are good,” Gilchrist said. That’s due in large part to the rebound after the Great Recession.

“There was a lot of money held back in the commercial market,” Gilchrist said. “People didn’t want to spend money to expand, upgrade or relocate their facilities. That’s changing.”

The upsurge also is due to the routine cyclical upgrades that occur about every five years in the hospitality industry, he said.

Technological advancements also are drivers.

Next year is an election year, a cyclical event that most industries, including those that AWI represents, fret over.

“Generally, there is an election-year impact on business,” Gilchrist said. “I’m not certain what that impact will be on the commercial market, if there’s one at all.

“But on the residential side, every election year that I’ve experienced has slowed business. That’s not based on any kind of science. It’s just that people tend to get pulled in by the uncertainty of the whole process.”

Heading into that election cycle, AWI is growing, Gilchrist said.

It’s picked up new members who represent interior finishings, acrylics, metals and lighting companies.

The organization is built on a strong network of regional and state chapters. Most are made up of manufacturers and suppliers, while others also include the design sector.

“When you have that triad, you really have a strong chapter,” Gilchrist said. “I’m in the Ohio Valley Chapter, and we always include architects and contractors with the suppliers and manufacturers in our meetings and activities.”

 

 

Moving forward, AWI will continue its strong focus on industry standards, which has long been a hallmark of the organization.

Since 1961, AWI has written and published standards for the architectural woodwork community. Each is built on consensus across national regions, and each new edition improves upon its predecessor to keep pace with industry changes.

Last year, the AWI board decided it was time to take its standards to a higher level by becoming an accredited developer of standards for the American National Standards Institute. The goal is to achieve ANSI approval of future architectural woodwork standards.

Though the AWS Edition Two standards became effective in October 2014, the work of writing standards for the industry is never left idle.

The AWI’s technical committee is working on the next generation of standards. Procedures for ANSI-approved standards development will further AWI’s initiative to expand interaction with stakeholders of the industry, Gilchrist said.

“We won’t put our architectural standards on the shelf, but as things change and technology changes, we want to be in a better position with ANSI standards,” Gilchrist said.

 

Survey results suggest an improving business environment among architectural woodwork business owners. Overall sentiment among AWI’s manufacturing members is high.