Sanjit Dosanjh, West Fraser’s (Trading as Norbord) national sales manager for the UK & Ireland, examines the relationship between merchants 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 that, since the start of the pandemic in 2020 has seen supply chain issues and fluctuating prices. This is all at a time when wood is embraced as the low carbon option in building toward a sustainable future.
Production of OSB (oriented strand board) has been ramped up to fill the gap in the market left by import restrictions on products In turn, merchants are helping their customers switch to the most appropriate, often locally sourced, sheet materials.
It is vital that accurate information reaches right through 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 housebuilders, to explain what is happening and why. Pricing is a key topic. We watch the markets closely to understand the influencing factors and ensure merchants can make the margins they need, at a price point that is viable for their customers. It is a juggling game with many issues to consider – bark beetle damage, raw material issues, energy prices and chemicals costs.
As the building industry faces rising labour costs and skills shortages, innovation in wood products is increasingly essential. Collaboration with merchants and the customer base is helping manufacturers better understand where new products are needed and enables them to be brought to market.
For the merchant, it is ultimately about having the right products in stock. As an industry, we can suggest to merchants what they order because we see where the trends are going. We are also able to train their staff so that they ask the right questions of their customers. For example, a customer may be buying an MDF sheet but, if it is to be used in a bathroom, they may need a moisture-resistant product instead of a standard product. It is these little things that help customers and build the merchant’s reputation.
Over the past 12-14 months, we have been doing a lot of training online. We are now increasingly asked by our merchants to train people who have come into the business and want to have the knowledge to sell timber products effectively. We are also aware of merchants with timber specialists and timber specialist branches that help them maximise sales and increase margins.
Although price is still a significant factor, we are seeing more and more people wanting to buy sustainable products. For the timber industry sustainability is key, and we are here to help merchants achieve their goals on their carbon zero journey. Equally importantly, we have to enable them to pass the sustainability message on to their customers: the housebuilders and tradespeople.
Two-way communication between the industry and merchants is essential, be it 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 is about using data, thinking outside the box and being more consultative.