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Maybe it was divine intervention.

Little else else could explain how a manufacturer of church pews in northwest Ohio became the 800-pound gorilla in the red-hot ready-to-assemble furniture category.

Of course, there was help from savvy marketing, coupled with an almost uncanny ability to anticipate changing lifestyle and retail trends-attributes Kevin Sauder and his staff at Sauder Woodworking seem to have in abundance.

Attention to detail hasn't hurt, either. For instance, Sauder's products-from computer workstations to entertainment centers to stand-alone wardrobes-are famous for their easy-to-follow assembly instructions.

"We are alone in saying that the instructions are every bit as much a part of the product as the wood we put into it. We test them all on sixth-grade classrooms," says Mr. Sauder, VP-marketing and sales.

Another element of Sauder's success has been the company's positioning of its product not as a cheap alternative to factory-ready furniture but as good furniture that just happens to come in a box, says Mr. Sauder, 37.

"It is furniture first, and we sell it as such," he says.

Backing up that assertion is a consumer and trade print campaign from agency Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago. Consumer ads, taglined "Good furniture made possible," run in a variety of publications, including Better Homes & Gardens, Country Living, Sunset, Money and Home Office Computing. According to Competitive Media Reporting, Sauder spent $3.9 million in print last year.

These tactics helped boost total sales from $191 million in 1986 to a whopping $500 million last year.

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