Robots and Lumber Traders

Robots are increasingly being blamed for job losses these days. At the same time its been said that robots can’t perform as well as humans when it comes to “complex social interactions”. According to Science Daily, researchers recently found that personality factors are the best defence against losing your job to a robot.

Humans outperform machines when it comes to tasks that require creativity and a high degree of complexity that is not routine. As soon as you require flexibility, the human does better. The edge is in unique human skills.
– Rodica Damian, assistant professor of social and personality psychology, University of Houston

In assessing the threat therefore that robots pose for replacing lumber traders in the marketing function, could it be that the critical determinant may involve evaluating the degree to which lumber trading is deemed to involve “complex social interactions”?


We’re told the study’s findings also suggest that traditional education may not be fully equipped to address the rapidly changing labour market. With that in mind, I read with interest Thomas Friedman’s column in today’s New York Times, Owning Your Own Future. Friedman argues that in the face of automation (“accelerations set loose by Silicon Valley in technology and digital globalization”), the self-motivation to learn – and keep learning – has become the most important life skill. He quotes education-to-work expert Heather E. McGowan: “Stop asking a young person WHAT you want to be when you grow up. It freezes their identity into a job that may not be there. Ask them HOW you want to be when you grow up. Having an agile learning mind-set will be the new skill set of the 21st century.”

Political analysts will long debate over where Brexit, Trump, and Le Pen came from. Many say income gaps. I’d say.. not quite. I’d say ‘income anxiety’ and the stress over what it now takes to secure – and hold – a good job. The notion that we can go to college for four years and then spend that knowledge for the next 30 is over. If you want to be a lifelong employee anywhere today, you have to be a lifelong learner.
– Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times (11 May 2017)

Who’s going to pay?

A jam-packed North American Wholesale Lumber Association Regional Meeting in Vancouver last evening heard a panel of experts discuss implications of countervailing duties on softwood lumber announced Monday by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The latest round of the long-running dispute comes amid ramped-up political rhetoric on both sides of the border.

In candid presentations and Q&A session at the NAWLA Regional Meeting, Susan Yurkovich, President and Chief Executive Officer, Council of Forest Industries; Duncan Davies, President and Chief Executive Officer, Interfor Corporation; Jason Fisher, Associate Deputy Minister, Forest Sector at BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, captured attention of more than 250 industry participants. While Executive Director of NAWLA, Marc Saracco, acknowledged the significant role of lumber distributors on both sides of the border in facilitating efficient continental marketing of forest products, the real question of who pays looms heavily over the ongoing dispute.

Interfor’s CEO, Davies, reminded us that they, like Canada’s other major producers now heavily invested in U.S.-owned production facilities, are not part of the U.S. Lumber Coalition that is once again creating havoc, unprecedented price patterns of volatility and strength in lumber markets. Reports in today’s Vancouver Sun (“Canfor eyes acquisitions amid fallout from new U.S. duties”) confirm Canfor’s optimistic outlook with “well-positioned balance sheet in recent quarters,” with Canfor CEO Don Kayne adding that they see organic growth opportunities worth up to $300 million by 2018.” Sounds great. Meanwhile, it’s the small and medium-sized businesses who don’t own sawmills in the U.S. – the vast majority of Canada’s softwood operators including re-manners – who will be forced to pay the duties retroactively on any shipments made to the U.S. since Feb. 1.

In the face of the United States’ inability to satisfy American demand for softwood lumber with domestic production, the objective of restricting Canadian market share, with underlying aims of enhancing privately-held timber in the hands of select U.S. entities, points to inevitable, further increase in costs for the U.S. homebuilding industry. Ultimately, of course, the consumer pays. Someone tweeting about the issue might simply add:  Sad. Bad.


Thanks to Tree Frog News for the following images from last evening at The Vancouver Club, posted with permission. Tree Frog’s full report available at this link: NAWLA 2017 Overview.

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Some of us might wonder if the North American Wholesale Lumber Association risks upstaging CNN and Wolf Blitzer with BREAKING NEWS when the 2017 NAWLA Regional Meeting convenes in Vancouver next week. We can’t be sure of that. Although the anticipated public announcement of the U.S. Department of Commerce preliminary CVD ruling April 25th against Canadian softwood lumber imports is expected to draw a full house to the NAWLA gathering two days later, April 27th. An expert panel’s assessment of implications of the preliminary ruling is sure to attract heightened interest:

  • Jason Fisher, Associate Deputy Minister, Forest Sector at B.C. Ministry of Forests
  • Susan Yurkovich, President & CEO, B.C. Council of Forest Industries
  • Duncan Davies, President & CEO, Interfor Corporation

For more information, visit the NAWLA Vancouver Regional Meeting webpage here.

Update from NAWLA (April 25):  The 2017 Vancouver Regional Meeting has reached capacity and is unable to accept additional registrants at this time. The wait list for this event is also now full. Only those who are on the attendee list will be granted access to this event.


It’s been said that excellence is the unlimited ability to improve the quality of what you have to offer. Dakeryn’s strong partnered approach in the marketing, re-manufacturing, and distribution of Appearance Grade lumber with western sawmills of excellence is integral to the company’s long association with key producers.

When Carrier Lumber honoured Dakeryn Industries as their “#1 Customer” with a trophy presentation Friday to President Rob Chimko, it reaffirmed the importance of quality as a building block in the lumber industry. As noted on their website, three principles have guided growth for companies associated with the Carrier Group:

  • Innovation in milling technology
  • Community partnerships with aboriginal groups and community stakeholders
  • Responsible management of the forest ecosystem.

Carrier has achieved sound growth over the years by consistently producing high quality lumber, a determination to form long lasting relationships with customers and to provide the best service possible.

Trade Shows Value

As the record number of registrations for next week’s Montreal Wood Convention attests, trade shows are not going away. That’s the conclusion also expressed in an informative post by Tom Oakes in the blog archives at Astro Exhibitions. And we agree. It’s true that in this digital age, that offers 24/7 connection, there is a re-examination of the relevance or value of trade shows and exhibitions.

Top four interesting facts that Oakes points out:

1. Lead generation is the top reason to attend a trade show. Almost 70% of trade show attendees offer new prospects or leads for exhibitors.
2. 75% of trade show attendees travel over 400 miles to attend a show, highlighting the potential international audience you can reach by attending the right trade show.
3. The number one reason people visit an exhibition is to see new products. 92% of all attendees to exhibitions say that their primary reason is to find new products and it has been the same for the last 25 years. This demonstrates the value of an exhibition for introducing your products and services to a potential new audience.
4. Almost 100% of marketers surveyed by the CEIR (Centre of Exhibition Industry Research) said they felt that exhibitions offered unique value not offered from other marketing mediums.

Leaving aside the research and the numbers there is one factor above all else that keeps trade shows relevant. Human interaction. We are in an ever-increasing world of technological advancement and there are more ways than ever to connect with people but one thing that is not going out of fashion anytime soon is the power of making a face-to-face connection. Humans by our very nature are social beings, we crave interaction. We react and interact with body language, able to subconsciously detect the slightest change and inflection in someone’s manner and demeanour. Technology will always struggle to replicate this experience. Trade shows and exhibitions offer the perfect environment to create and nurture business relationships based on the simplest of interpersonal skills.
– Tom Oakes, Astro Exhibitions

Think Harder

Market Minute: Amidst the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute, underlying strong demand on both sides of the border seems to be catching buyers unawares on many fronts. There are reports this week that some mills in B.C. are extending order files to unprecedented levels. In their February 8, 2017 Industry Update, CIBC Capital Markets describes dramatic lumber price increases since February 1 as “an encouraging sign for producers’ ability to pass on duties to U.S. consumers when tariffs are actually imposed.. considering we are only in partial retroactive territory, and we still have no idea how high Commerce will set initial duties..”


There are many joys in blogging. We appreciate that cyberspace offers bloggers virtually unlimited latitude in expression and range of viewpoints. The medium can be a useful tool in support of business and development of customer relationships. In these days of heightened political sensitivities and polarized opinions, it’s evident that messaging via any medium creates perception of opportunity as well as risk. Measuring effectiveness may call for nuance. It’s interesting to read of the early feedback on the Super Bowl ad of our friends at 84 Lumber.

Of course daily now we’re exposed to direct messaging of folks marching in the streets, advertising a particular point of view or belief on, what is often a hastily-scratched message on cardboard. Through six years, I have found Harderblog to be a positive experience and useful medium for periodic messaging in support of lumber marketing here at Dakeryn Industries. Some might suggest that the messaging here is no more effective than if I decided to march in the streets with a placard advertising personal beliefs in support of the value-added services we provide. But then I took heart in affirmation of my beliefs on that score when I saw the image below. My only suggestion is that if I were a sign-carrying marcher in that parade I’d suggest a small revision to make it read: If you believe in lumber, think Harder…


image source:

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.