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A small giant hopes to expand in Woodstock

The Joinery
by: Merry MacKinnon, The Joinery’s founder, Marc Gaudin, seen here next to the handcrafted wood furniture showcased at his business on Woodstock Boulevard, says he wants to expand The Joinery building, which once was the home of Standard Appliance.

When Marc Gaudin discusses the future of the handcrafted wood furniture business he founded in 1982, he refers to a book called 'Small Giants--Companies That Choose to be Great Instead of Big.'

'My vision is not to be a 150-employee company,' says Gaudin, who describes himself as 'Head Slacker' at The Joinery, 4804 S.E. Woodstock Boulevard.

But while Gaudin wants The Joinery to be 'a small gem instead of a big stone,' that should not be interpreted to mean that he isn't planning to grow the company. Actually, he says he's aiming for what he considers a modest growth rate per year: 'We need growth; three to seven percent annually would be comfortable.'

One of The Joinery's potential growth strategies would likely include advancing the business through more efficient woodworking techniques, Gaudin predicts. 'To stay competitive, it might be that we buy a machine, instead of hiring more people,' he explains.

But to sustain growth on into the future, Gaudin believes he needs to expand The Joinery's building, on the block between S.E. 48th and 49th Avenues. 'I'd like to have more showroom and shop space,' he explains. 'We're pushing the limits right now.'

Gaudin makes the case that his is a worthy company that is willing to accept lower growth in return for acting responsibly toward its workers, the environment, and the community. Along with having a quality product, there are a lot of ways that The Joinery meets the high standards typical of 'small giants', he says.

The company, for example, is committed to sustainable environmental forestry. 'We're topnotch when it comes to being green. We do 100 percent wind power, and build with certified Collins woods in many species.'

And, the craftspeople in the workshop strive for what Gaudin calls 'wood optimization'. 'None of our wood waste goes into the dumpster,' he says. In fact, as many passersby know, and as others may have read in a previous article in THE BEE, small scraps of wood end up in a bin outside the building, free to anyone who can cart them away.

Also, every month, The Joinery gives away 3,000 pounds of wood chips--mostly to a wildcat sanctuary in Sherwood. Separating the tiny chips from sawdust flour costs more, 'but we made an investment in doing the right thing,' Gaudin says, adding that The Joinery has consequently reduced the amount of sawdust that's sent to landfills by 40 percent.

Plus, through volunteer work with 'Meals On Wheels', good maintenance of its rentals, and representation in the Southeast Portland Rotary Club, Gaudin says The Joinery has sought to be a contributing part of the community. Also, the business donated over seven percent of its net profits last year to charitable organizations, and gave breadboards to 75 schools for their fundraising auctions, Gaudin says. 'We love it here, and we want to be a good neighbor.'

But while Gaudin's company has built goodwill in the neighborhood, he's not sure how the neighborhood will react if he applies for a zone change on four adjacent residential properties. The Joinery owns those four rental houses behind its building--which, together, consist of the entire block.

'The costs are tremendous to get the zone change,' says Gaudin, 'especially if I run into opposition.'

He hasn't applied for the zone change yet; but, he adds, 'This is a good opportunity to drop the seed.'

Initially, Gaudin did retain Soderstrom Architects to look at expanding The Joinery's building into its parking lot. But then the question of where to put the business's trucks arose. 'The easiest thing would be to build back,' he says. 'We store much of our lumber and finished product off-site. In reality, I'd like to store that here.'

So, in what could feel like déjà vu for some Woodstock residents who remember when Standard Appliance owned the site, Gaudin is probably going to seek from the city a zone change. 'I haven't thrown anything out to the neighborhood, yet,' says Gaudin, aware that in telling his plans to THE BEE he has now done so.

If The Joinery doesn't expand, Gaudin says, 'My inclination would not to be to move.' But he figures the company, with its ongoing modest growth, could realistically only be sustainable at that location for another four or five years.