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    Less recovery, more discovery

    Monday, 11 August 2008 10:51 by Simon Fineman

    I'm told its bad PR to admit that the hardwood market is down, so let's just say it's changing.  This is quite a good way of putting it actually.  I so often hear the question "when do you think there will be a recovery?"  My answer...never.  In my experience markets do not recover, they change. 

    In an economic downturn even robust markets like those for hardwoods will drop off.  Stakeholders have a choice; they can either sit back and wait for the recovery or they can search for new opportunities.  In a traditional industry there is always a belief that it's only a matter of time.  Optimists sit back, waiting on the return of the good old days.  The brave go for a more adventurous strategy and stand or fall on the outcome.

    To me, survival in business is all about adaptation.  As I say, markets don't recover, they change.  What emerges after a downturn is a new business environment and it's never the same as it once was.  Markets are forever in a state of flux with new products, trends, fashions and technology changing the shape of trade for ever more.  If you wait for the recovery you miss the boat even if the market for your product does pick back up a little.  I say it will never recover - not to previous levels anyhow.

    The greatest trading companies change with the times.  Even their core products can gradually fade away to be replaced by new ranges, that themselves will possibly only last until the next great downturn.  The secret is to discover the right blend and keep your business vibrant and adaptive.  This does not necessarily spell the end for traditional markets, like those for hardwoods, but it does position them firmly in the descent mode.

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    The rise and rise of certification

    Friday, 8 August 2008 10:49 by Simon Fineman

    Timbmet has always employed an environmental manager.  This person’s main task has been to deal with customer questions about the environmental credentials of our hardwoods. 

    In the early days, before widespread certification, individual customers would phone in with their questions.  With the evolution of credible third party certification schemes the parameters have changed.  Today, the main task is simply auditing our suppliers, and even that task is becoming less and less relevant.  The plain fact is that if consumers of timber products want comfort in the sustainability of the product the only proof to rely on is certification.  As a responsible importer our challenge is to offer the market as much certified timber as possible at competitive prices. 

    Frankly, much as we would like to sell exclusively certified timbers we understand that if the price differentials are too high nobody will pay.  That said, we have still managed to cover an amazing 46% of our inventory with competitively priced certified timbers. 

    Ooh!  What of the rest I hear you ask?  It’s coming gradually but the major region that would push us towards 100% is undoubtedly the USA.  Although our American cousins have a fine track record at preserving and expanding hardwood forests they are behind when it comes to proving it through certification.  I am told that may all change quite soon.  It can’t happen a day too early so far as I am concerned.

    In the meantime I take comfort in our certified inventory safe in the knowledge that our customers have the most straightforward of choices, do you want certified or not?  Making a responsible choice has never been easier.

         

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    The fall and fall of hardwood prices

    Friday, 1 August 2008 10:48 by Simon Fineman

    As CEO of one of Europe’s largest hardwood importers the price of timber never ceases to amaze me.  Today one can buy pack volumes of American, African or Asian hardwoods at pretty much the same price levels as twenty years ago.  We could speculate for ever about the supply chain, however, the angle that most interests me is how can businesses such as Timbmet survive with hardly any price inflation, yet ever increasing costs?
     
    The answer is largely through scale, efficiency and technology.  The service we offer today is just astonishing in comparison with twenty years ago.  We are a much bigger business yet a fraction of the number of people generates a superior service; mostly based on next day delivery, vastly superior working practices and, of course, state of the art data systems. 
     
    Today Timbmet is virtually able to offer a yet more efficient service - timber for sale on line.  The only real restraint is our valued customers who actually don’t appear to be that interested in buying on the internet.  I am sure that will soon change and I expect in a few years from now e-timber commerce will be the norm.  For now though, with hardly any change in price, we carry on doing it the traditional way, but better.

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