20 Questions for 2020

Here are 20 questions that Harderblog will be watching this year, in search of answers:

    1. Will billionaire Jimmy Pattison succeed in taking Canfor private before his 92nd birthday on October 1, 2020?
    2. Will volumes of reduced fibre made available to sawmills from BC woodlands be outstripped by fibre consumed in Shredded Wheat?
    3. In this age of emerging technology, will tech gadgets surface that invite even lumber traders to investigate their perceived practical value?
    4. Will the US standoff with North Korea find resolution before the Softwood Lumber Dispute between Canada and the US?
    5. Will the financial bull markets of the last decade continue to roar in 2020?
    6. Will economic disparity between the haves and the have-nots show signs of narrowing?
    7. Will a recovery in lumber prices postpone more production curtailments and permanent sawmill closures in BC?
    8. Seedlings for forest revitalization in BC are forecast to rise from 270 million seedlings in 2019 to a record 310 million in 2020. How many trees will be planted?
    9. As the market for sustainable mass timber construction grows, how many more cross-laminated timber (CLT) plants will open in North America this year?
    10. Will shipment volumes of European lumber flood the Northeast US market as some analysts project?
    11. Is integrity still considered to be the core quality in evaluating services delivered by lumber wholesalers?
    12. Will the Broadway revival of The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman later this year reprise its Tony winning best musical of 1957, when it enjoyed a run of 1375 performances?
    13. Will Home Depot succeed in reducing the rise in millions of dollars worth of goods stolen from the chain by organized criminals?
    14. In overtaking Toronto as the most expensive city in Canada, will Vancouver maintain that position in 2020?
    15. Will an old growth protection strategy be established in BC?
    16. Will there be significant evidence of steps being taken to counter negatives impacting climate change?
    17. Will there be a cooling in the ideological struggle that exploded in Hong Kong in 2019 between Hong Kong rule of law and Beijing rule of law?
    18. Will clues of democracy giving way to authoritarian governments become more pronounced in 2020?
    19. Will John Bolton publish a book that contains information deemed to include “explosive, new revelations”?
    20. Is Donald J. Trump still president at the end of 2020?

Market Milieu

Where, oh where has the market gone? This is the mournful lament intoned on lumber trading floors spooked well in advance of Hallowe’en this year.

Conditions testing the resilience of experienced traders are drawing comparisons with the global financial crisis and US housing market collapse of a decade ago. Today’s geopolitical landscape seems besieged with instability amid crises, including international trade concerns, rising interest rates, financial market volatility, and looming US elections.

Seasoned traders seek to offer reassurance and calm aimed at validating longstanding customer-supplier relationships. While financial analysts scramble to make sense of conditions in the face of seemingly disparate economic data, it seems timely to explore tips for dealing with the biggest lumber market meltdown in history.

Google has advice for handling times like these. One link offering “28 positive things you can do when business is slow” suggests a slow period is just another name for opportunity: “ask for help, take some down time, take a course, take up a hobby, network, develop new offerings, rethink your business model and processes, strengthen important relationships, write, teach, volunteer, exercise, study another industry.” Some guys have even been known to enthusiastically take up coaching – not one – but two girls’ soccer teams.

Another column suggested eating lots of leafy green vegetables to keep your cognitive abilities sharp and on high alert. Even so, we’re told Canada’s legalized cannabis should not be seen as a tool for alleviating anxiety in current market milieu.

Where, oh where has the market gone?
Like a saucer of yesterday’s beer.
I don’t wanna be short,
I don’t wanna be long,
In fact Duthie, I don’t even wanna be here.

– Ernie Harder, singing live at the 1995 British Columbia Wholesale Lumber Association Roast honoring Duthie Welsford, BCWLA Lumberman of the Year (recording below)

Rooster Roast

A sell-out crowd which included numerous Westar alumni members was thoroughly entertained at the 38th Annual B.C. Wholesale Lumber Association Roast last evening in honour of 2018 Lumberman of the Year Rick Fortunaso, VP Sales & Marketing, Western Commodity and Specialty Lumber, Interfor. Before handing the mic to master roast host Jack Hetherington, BCWLA President Vince Bulic‘s opening remarks included presentation of an Inukshuk award to former president Chris Sainas, Dakeryn Industries for outstanding service and dedication to the association. The first and second roasters Pat Demens and Mike Thelen were very witty, ably warming up the crowd for much-hyped headliner Bill Rafter (2015 Lumberman of the Year). Rafter’s return to the ring, three years later to Vancouver’s Terminal City Club to turn the tables on the Rooster (see Rafters, Roosters, and Roasters), featured a hilarious recounting of a friendship spanning 50 years, enduring stories worthy of an original Netflix comedy series. After a classy rebuttal by Fortunaso in which he also recognized mentors throughout his career, Hetherington drew the festivities to a close noting its been said that “those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” Another magical roast to be sure.

Lumber Sales Therapists

Studies have shown that spending time in nature can improve mental and physical health. According to the Richmond News (see article here), Ken Ouendag experienced the healing power of nature firsthand and wants to help others through the work as Vancouver’s first certified forest therapy guide. Ouendag says: “I’ve always believed there’s so much good in spending time in nature and so often I’ve kind of questioned why.”

It got us thinking that the adage of “What’s in a name?” might have relevance for lumber traders. Could lumber distributors’ service to mills and retailers be enhanced by reconstituting the function, at least in name, from full-service lumber wholesalers/lumber traders, to freshly-minted lumber sales therapist? Could the reshaping of therapeutic images of walks in the woods and precursored connections of all things wood tied to forest antecedents add value as lumber sales therapists. Could it add a dimension of stability and healing to frantic trading environment for 2×10? Or, at least, ease the pain for buyers – lending comfort in times of unseasonably strong markets amid concerns about duties and constrained fibre supply.

Studies have shown that volatile lumber markets can induce stress. Does this not summon up recognition of  inherent value of lumber’s roots in the forest’s calming and healing qualities? Can we not recognize therein the lumber trader’s transcendental potential as sales therapist? Some say it summons up the poetry inherent in the trade. Think of Robert Frost conjuring overbloated inventory of 2×10 back to the product’s time as a tree; of the missed phone call not heard if it rings in the forest. Remember the soothing call of “Timberrrr!” in the woods, enduring storms of nature, strong – calming, albeit bold as an Emily Carr painting. Summon the poetry in the perfect sales presentation that finds expression for a ‘win-win’ characterization in its perfection. Any lumber sales therapist up to speed in current tools of the trade still finds power in Robert Frost’s Two Roads that diverged in the woods, even as he ponders over the one not taken.

As certified forest therapy guide, Ouendag engages in specific practices declaring that walks in the woods help people practice mindfulness through sensory awareness facilitated by various activitities. “The first one we tend to do is called ‘what’s in motion?” It’s inviting you to walk very slowly and to take note of what’s in motion around you. “When people do start slowing down they start noticing cobwebs that are blowing in the breeze or a salmonberry bush where the leaves are blowing slightly.”

The lumber sales therapist might expand on these exercises aimed at countering inaction or lack of motion, as in when market activity dies, and sense of panic ensues, triggering propensities for onset of early happy hour. Relax, take a deep breath, envision a salmonberry bush – make reaching for a cold one a cold call instead.

Another exercise Ouendag suggests as forestry threrapist is called a “sit spot” which involves finding a space and sitting there for 15 to 20 minutes. It encourages people dealing with grief to “sit with themselves and feel supported by the nature around them.” The equivalent exercise for the lumber sales therapist for assuaging late shipment anxiety might recommend accessing nearest trading room exit, in search of a quiet brooding spot outdoors (in nature) for tearfully cursing CN Rail. Ouendag says the sit spot exercise he employs as forest guide therapist is similar to the corpse pose in a yoga session and is followed by a tea ceremony.

The lumber sales therapist seeks to enhance and heighten sense of well-being by imposing woods-imbued virtual imaging, while avoiding cable news.

The redefined  lumber sales therapist’s role recasts the essence of selling and buying as a spiritual experience with mind-altering techniques aimed at reinforcing 2×10’s recently held association with nature. It’s well known that some have miscast lumber trading as a religious experience, by brushing off late shipments, citing unhelpful comments such as “Not to worry, In the end we’ll all get to heaven”. For starters though, it may all come back to what’s in a name. Some contend that a name means everything. There’s a saying that “What you call a boat determines how it will sail.” William Shakespeare said that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Against the backdrop of news story morphing wilderness guiding into ‘certified forest therapy guide’, it’s perhaps not a stretch for creatively adaptive lumber traders to envision enhanced service opportunity in rebranded role as lumber sales therapists.

– Post by Ernie Harder

Tolerance of Uncertainty

Lumber traders daily navigate a terrain of market volatility and uncertainty.
Interpreting market changes for suppliers and buyers is a defining characteristic of the wholesale function in today’s international lumber trading environment. The factors contributing to successful lumber trading are closely tied to personal qualities ascribed to effective sales and entrepreneurship.

In Building Products Connection (Feb/Mar issue, published by the Northwestern Lumber Association), sales consultant Jeff Beals suggests sales is entrepreneurship, before exploring the seven characteristics of an entrepreneur. In a nutshell:

Moderate Risk-Taking: Far from the stereotypical reputation for taking big risks, Beals argues successful entrepreneurs are moderate risk takers. “They don’t shy away from ambiguity if they believe opportunity is present, but they study and calculate before taking the risk.” (Related: The B&S Theory of Lumber Trading)

Tolerance of Uncertainty: “Entrepreneurs can handle living in the unknown.” That’s a particularly valuable characteristic according to Beals, because there are no guarantees in sales.

Ego: “Obviously you don’t want to be an obnoxious ass, but if you’re lacking in confidence, you should work on it. Even if you’re an introvert, constantly develop and refine your people skills, because working with and through others is critically important.”

High Energy: Perseverance is similar to energy. “When things aren’t going well, entrepreneurial people double down” – and blog harder?

Goal-Oriented: Beals considers this to be the most important entrepreneurial characteristic.

Diverse Thinkers: Simultaneously managing tactics while thinking strategically; we’re told entrepreneurs work on short-term and long-term goals at the same time.

Integrity: The longer people and organizations exhibit consistent integrity, the more likely they will succeed. “The most consistently successful entrepreneurs exhibit high levels of integrity.”

Fraser River, view to Baker Mountain (12 Feb 2018)

Plant People Reunion

Guest Post by Ernie Harder

It’s been said that without a reunion the Eagles are forever young like James Dean. And so it will be when alumni of erstwhile wholesale lumber company Ralph S. Plant Limited gather for a reunion in downtown Vancouver this week. We’ll be trading stories instead of wood. Maybe musings about countervailing duties. Perhaps wholesale cost of refreshments will revert to former terms of Less 5 & 2. We wish. Perhaps it’ll dampen demurrage recollections of unsold transit rail cars at holding points named Capreol, Ontario for orders, or Marshalltown, Iowa for furtherance.  Expect every memory will be precision trimmed of facts, yet sold, like most studs, on a full 8’ count. Nary a late shipment recounted. Every overdue receivable collected. Not a shortage or moisture claim in sight. Afterall, reunions should set the record straight. Right?  plants-reunionAt least that’s how Phil Tindle and I remembered things at Ralph S. Plant when we sat down for a visit with Phil and spouse of 67 years, Taddy, at their retirement community penthouse apartment today. He became an early partner with Paul Plant and Jack Hetherington (this Jack Hetherington not to be confused with the Jack Hetherington of more recent fame in the annals of BCWLA) after Paul’s father died unexpectedly on the day of Paul’s graduation from university. At 90, heart bypass surgeries have tempered Phil’s physical mobility, but not so his detailed recollections of early cold calls to U.S. retail lumber yards in 1954.

Ernie Harder, Phil Tindle (1980)

Ernie Harder, Phil Tindle (1980)

When the BC Wholesale Lumber Association (BCWLA) inaugurated annual selection of a “Lumberman of the Year” in 1980, Phil was a natural initial honoree. His exemplary integrity, reliability of expertise, was widely recognized by suppliers and a diverse, continent-wide customer base. His selection by BCWLA set in motion early aims of branding in which the Association sought to promote full-service wholesalers’ value-adding role in facilitating efficient marketing of forest products. From early days of lumber trading practices, wholesalers like Plants thrived among that unique industrial constituency in which contractual commitments measuring thousands of dollars per order are sealed by simple bonds of firm offer acceptance exchanged via telephone.

In the years when sawmill beehive burners dotted the southern and north central interior landscape, office wholesalers like Plants played a pivotal role as premier channel of distribution for BC and Alberta’s mostly non-integrated, independent sawmills. The ‘60’s brought accelerating change to the forest industry. Pulp mill expansion into the Interior came along with intensified environmental sensitivities. Transportation deregulation, expanding export markets, unstable exchange rates and growing contentious softwood trade issues with the U.S. exacerbated volatility in lumber markets.

In 1969 the Chicago Mercantile Exchange became the first exchange to offer the forest industry listing of lumber futures. It made available new hedging programs that served as instruments aimed at managing risk and moderating commodity price fluctuations. In this environment factors that defined the wholesale function were no less relevant. Along with conscientious move for enhancing quality of product in tune with advancing globalization came demands for a new professionalism and expertise in managing market variables. Trusted wholesale trading partners were uniquely stationed as marketing facilitators and interpreters of change. Advanced technologies paved the way for alternative, competitive building products such as steel and cement and redefinition of lumber grades. In our time the Information Age, shaped by the Internet, has changed communication and piloted ventures into electronic trading platforms, new trade exchanges. We experienced progression of weekly lumber offerings communicated by snail mail; then telex; then fax; and more recently, e-mail. Hacking used to be something we did to bring down trees. Concurrently, trends of consolidation and integration in the industry have intensified competition; shortened channels of distribution. While there is no doubt that technology has impacted communication efficiencies in lumber trading, nurture of personal relationships continues to be the keystone for maximizing sales and marketing effectiveness. It follows that creativity, an axiom of effective marketing, is finding new impact as wholesalers adapt to change in value-adding service to specialty, niche markets. Sawmills and retailers have advantageously partnered with knowledgeable, trusted wholesalers in market-based distribution programs. Lumber wholesalers have seized on opportunities in secondary manufacturing along with expanded distribution yard services and allied building products.

It’s been suggested that successful lumber traders harbor an indwelling, nascent entrepreneurial spirit, sometimes seeking manifestation beyond employment in a privately held firm. The dynamic nature of the lumber business and rapid change itself discloses people as the most valuable asset in any organization. Rapid change realities confirm that a trader’s job security is not necessarily tied to tenure. So it’s perhaps not surprising that many lumber traders, including former Plant people, identified opportunities in subsequent career moves that by the early 70’s saw formation of firms with names like Taiga, Col-Pac, Probyn. (Full disclosure here – After 10 years with Plants, Ernie Harder left the Company with Ran Davidson and Boyd Kelly, to form a new wholesale partnership as Col-Pac Lumber). More recently former Plant people have re-emerged under new wholesale distribution entities like South Beach and Dakeryn, where even second generation lumbermen are said to thrive.


Paul Plant

By the early 1980’s, Ralph S. Plant Limited was restructured as Plant Forest Products. By then arch-rival Charlie Widman had resurfaced from Cooper-Widman in the form of Widman Industries. There was a brief merging of Widman and Plants, with Company restructure that ensued upon the death of Jack Hetherington, followed subsequently by Paul Plant’s retirement. It should be noted that both Charlie Widman and Paul Plant were earlier honored as BCWLA Lumbermen of the Year. Phil’s proclivity for activity in years following a time of retirement from Plants saw him re-engage for a five year stint in Marketing and Sales with Canfor. We look forward to learning more stories of the reported orderly dissolution of Plant Forest Products even as the spirit that was uniquely alive in its people lives on.

Besides, it’s been said that lumber traders never die; they just trade away. This week we’ll mostly be trading memories. Kudos to Ray Pauwels, Cavin Bachert and Derek Belyea for organizing plans and details for getting people together. Not surprising. It’s what wholesalers do.

NAWLA Vancouver – Speaker Profile cont.

Gavin Dew works with the Stakeholder Engagement and Communications group on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project, a proposed $5.4B twinning of an existing pipeline between Strathcona County, Alberta and Burnaby, British Columbia. Since early 2012, he has worked to build support for the project among civil society and the business community. Prior to beginning his work with Trans Mountain, Gavin completed an at MBA at the University of Oxford, where he wrote a thesis on “social license to operate,” focusing on using public opinion research to understand how trust and legitimacy influence acceptance or rejection of major projects. Before his MBA, Gavin was a senior consultant at a leading communications agency known for its work on sustainability and environmental issues. He also has an extensive background in municipal, provincial, federal, and international election and issue campaigns.

Attendance for Thursday’s NAWLA Vancouver Regional Meeting is approaching 200. Event details and on-line registration is available here.

Kinder Morgan Canada is proposing a $5.4B expansion of its current 1,150 kilometre Trans Mountain pipeline between Strathcona County, Alberta and Burnaby, British Columbia.

The proposed Trans Mountain Expansion Project, if approved, would create a twinned pipeline increasing the nominal capacity of the system from approximately 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day.

Trans Mountain plans to spend $5.4 billion to construct the line and associated facilities, and a further $2.4 billion to operate it for the first 20 years.

The project includes 994 km of new pipeline, with twinning to take place within the existing right-of-way corridor where practical. Also included are 12 new pump stations and expansion of existing pump stations, additional storage capacity at existing storage terminals in Burnaby, Sumas and Edmonton, and expansion of Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby.

The Project will create new jobs in the short and long term, job-related training opportunities, and increases in taxes collected through all three levels of government.

Gavin Dew
Senior Specialist, Stakeholder Engagement and Communications
Tran Mountain Expansion Project


My sister is in the business of communications. She is founder of the Elite Communicators Group (ECG). Her article published February 19th by the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) reaffirms the importance of personal connections in business. Exploring strategic networking trends for 2015, Christie Smith argues that whether we connect with people on-line or face-to-face, “it is the authenticity of those relationships that determines their ROI”. She cites a recent Harvard Business Review survey which found only 12 per cent of companies believe they are using social media effectively. Christie suggests refined internal procedures and improved analytical tools will soon reveal the true ROI on our social media efforts. As a blogger, I certainly agree with her concluding it is your core audience that is most worth engaging via social media.

This week a number of traders will be out of the office re-establishing connections in the field. Some of us will be looking to reconnect with customers who have been doggedly digging out of snow banks in frozen parts of the continent. Others will be prepping for the important upcoming North American Wholesale Lumber Association Regional Meeting in Vancouver April 2nd. Registration details are available here. Congratulations to fellow NAWLA Vancouver Regional Organizing Committee member Bart Bender on his appointment to Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing at Interfor, effective April 1st.

Snow Job

The entrepreneurial talents of a guy marketing Boston snow at ShipSnowYo.com have been described as “brilliant”. He might well be the same guy whose earlier venture at marketing knotholes smacked of lapsed lumber wholesaler talents gone bad.

“The service started as something of a joke, but by mid-February it had reportedly sold around one hundred 16.9-oz. plastic bottles filled with snow, which were frozen in dry ice and shipped around the country, at a cost of $19.99. For $89, customers will get a much bigger dose of snow, six pounds, from Massachusetts packed in a Styrofoam container and shipped overnight. That’s enough to make 10 to 15 snowballs.”


The Disney movie it ain’t! In reality some of the coldest, nastiest winter weather on record in much of the Northeast and Southern U.S. could lend more unpredictability to lumber markets in the ensuing weeks and months. With the Framing Lumber Composite Price at $357 today, for the first time since 2013 traders are beginning to ponder the Prevailing Monthly Price calculation. If the next two Composite Prices (Fri 2/27, Fri 3/6) average less than $351, a 5% export charge would be triggered for April on Canadian softwood lumber shipments to the United States.

For now, polar bears – those not hibernating around Hudson Bay – are reportedly migrating toward Nashville. All the love of Valentine’s Day and lumber offerings full of heart centre seem a distant memory. Understandably, customers in the frozen parts of this continent seem less than enthusiastic about answering phone calls, unless you’re the service call in response to a power outage or frozen pipes.

“In the case of lumber folk, hibernation is tied to market temperature. That is, sluggishness tends to set in as the market cools.”
– From Going to Sleep – article written by Ernie Harder (23 October, 1990) holds relevance to today’s picture and winter weather stopping for the moment at least markets.