Here in Oxford we are plotting a quiet revolution. Most other industries would discreetly snigger when they hear what we are doing but the timber industry takes time to embrace the new world of hi-tech. So what's the big change? More and more customers are discovering the benefits of buying their timber on-line, over the web.
Are Amazon or E-Bay worried? I don't think so. But the purveyors of timber who still stick to the old ways may just want to sit up and take note. Customers can now log on to a database of £15 million worth of timber and panel products, conveniently select what they want and buy with a simple click of a mouse. Just like that. Easy, cheap, convenient...and hardly the stuff of revolution in most other industries. One can even use a clever piece of optimizing, on-line software to find a specification without wading through hundreds of packs.
So why wouldn't everyone buy timber this way? Beats me. I have no idea. I buy groceries, books, electronic goods, clothes, movies, music and goodness knows what else on-line. Yet timber has largely bypassed the internet revolution - until now that is.
Years ago my predecessors told me it would never catch on. They weren't completely wrong. There are still die-hards out there who run businesses without computers and prefer to spend hours on the phone pricing and buying their materials. They have yet to discover that in addition to the convenience, internet trading also does away with the need for old style volumes of inventory. In an age where credit is hard to come by buying your timber on-line is even therapeutic. Instead of lying awake worrying about how to pay the bills one could log on during the night, place an order and actually free up cash with just-in-time, next day deliveries.
I guess it takes time for new ideas to bed in. Some of our customers have indeed embraced our so called revolution as second nature, and for the others we have no problem in continuing to play the role of the old fashioned supplier. It's just sad that as an industry, on so many fronts, we fail to push the barriers down. Frankly, I think it says a lot about the timber industry's failure to move with the times. Instead of embracing progress we do have a habit of regarding change with nervous suspicion and fear. But change is happening and continues to happen and we all need to be a part of it.