Collaboration between lumber industry and merchants key to success – Builders Merchants Journal

Sanjit Dosanjh, West Fraser (Trading as Norbord) Country Sales Manager for UK and Ireland, examines the relationship between traders and the timber industry.

The relationship between the timber industry and the merchant sector has never been stronger. Through effective communication and understanding, we have navigated a turbulent market which since the onset of the pandemic in 2020 has seen supply chain issues and fluctuating prices. All of this at a time when wood is seen as the low-carbon option in building a sustainable future.

Production of OSB (oriented strand board) has been accelerated to fill the void left in the market by product import restrictions. In turn, traders help their customers switch to the most appropriate, often locally sourced, sheet materials.

It is essential that accurate information reaches throughout the supply chain. Within the timber industry there is considerable expertise, so we work closely with our merchant customers and talk to their end users, including home builders, to explain what is happening and why. Pricing is a key topic. We monitor the markets closely to understand the influencing factors and ensure traders can achieve the margins they need, at a price that is viable for their customers. It’s a juggling game with many issues to consider – beetle damage, raw material issues, energy prices and chemical costs.

As the construction industry faces rising labor costs and skills shortages, innovation in wood products is increasingly essential. Working with merchants and customers helps manufacturers better understand where new products are needed and bring them to market.

For the merchant, it is ultimately about having the right products in stock. As an industry, we can suggest to merchants what to order because we see where the trends are going. We are also able to train their staff to ask the right questions to their customers. For example, a customer may purchase an MDF board but, if it is to be used in a bathroom, they may need a moisture resistant product instead of a standard product. It’s these little things that help customers and build a merchant’s reputation.

Over the past 12-14 months, we’ve done a lot of online training. Today, our merchants increasingly ask us to train people who have entered the trade and wish to acquire the knowledge necessary to sell wood products effectively. We also know traders with wood specialists and specialized wood branches that help them maximize sales and increase margins.

Although price remains an important factor, we see that more and more people want to buy sustainable products. For the timber industry, sustainability is key, and we’re here to help traders achieve their goals on their zero-carbon journey. Just as importantly, we need to enable them to carry the message of sustainability to their customers: homebuilders and craftsmen.

Two-way communication between industry and traders is essential, whether in sales, marketing, training or any other aspect of the business. We are happy to have conversations with our merchant customers to help them close timber sales. It’s about using data, thinking outside the box, and being more consultative.