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..”

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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…

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image source: brobible.com

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.

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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.

Economy Grade

When referencing “Economy” in relation to lumber, we’re talking falldown or lower grade. That’s not to say there can’t be value in economy grade. A whole industry of utilizing lower grades finds economic viability around remanufacturing lower grades of wood. At the same time, bottom-line, results-driven users of lumber are recognizing benefits of enhanced value in quality in planning construction inventory needs. It’s understandable that suppliers concerned with building brand recognition around quality, both in terms of service and product, tend not to build that awareness around ‘economy’.

In the airlines industry, ‘economy’ defines a supposed base line of minimum, acceptable service. Or so we thought. But not so much anymore. In an effort to redefine coach by re-grading passengers, it’s reported here a number of airlines are introducing a section with even fewer perks than economy class. The “deprivations” United passengers will be experiencing with implementation of “basic economy” suggest levels of service that will not allow for any overhead bin space – and declaration for boarding last. Presumably everybody still lands at the same time.

This trend is interesting considering the inferior quality of products and service being promoted seems to be ‘flying’ in the face of other aspects of commercial/industrial/consumer trends. In this age of heightened branding awareness, the airline approach seems to be contradictory to what their branding goals purport to represent. In the lumber business, “adding value” has built-in connotation for upgrade of quality in product and service, not a dumbing down of those variables. In fact, in the event of a new hybrid tax and quota softwood lumber agreement, some suggest that ‘economy’ could be the first to go.. on a slow boat to China.

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From NLGA, Standard Grading Rules for Canadian Lumber

Frictional Factors

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with Clark Ellis, LMC Forest Products Expo (4 Nov 2016)

Frictional Factors are said to impede process or progress. One of the highlights each year of the LMC Forest Products and Building Materials EXPO in Philadelphia is the keynote speaker at Friday’s breakfast. This year featured Clark Ellis, Founder and CEO of Continuum Advisory Group, a management consulting firm that works exclusively with the homebuilding and construction industry. His hi-speed presentation explored ways to improve your business in a world of rising demand and constrained resources. While re-confirming that the biggest constraints in the U.S. housing market recovery are land and labour, he stressed the need to minimize frictional factors. “Complexity is the enemy of velocity!” declared Ellis. “Reduce complexity throughout your organization to increase velocity and enhance your flow rates.”

Ellis talked about the Margin vs Velocity Mental Model, explaining that because “margin is what we know and it comes naturally to us,” companies tend to focus too much on margin. According to Ellis, “in a resource-constrained environment, collaboration trumps adversarial cost-based selection every day of the week.” Rather than focus on ‘more work’ and margin, build strategic relationships with suppliers and customers. “Instead of asking for more, ask ‘how are we doing?'” advised Ellis.

Ellis stressed that feedback – from both employees and customers – is critical. “If you are not measuring employee engagement on at least an annual basis, you are missing one of the most powerful and critical indicators of future business results.” Ellis argued that customer experience must also be measured, tracked, and used to make better managerial decisions. “Mapping and optimizing ‘customer touch points’ is crucial.”

Continuum’s four biggest opportunities to improve your business in today’s constrained environment:

  1. Understand and visually represent your business processes
  2. Drive a velocity mindset through your company and its external network
  3. Change your concept of trade and supplier engagement
  4. Understand that employee engagement drives customer experience which drives business results.

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Market Minute 

The 2016 LMC Forest Products and Building Materials EXPO was brimming with lumber dealers feeling upbeat about 2016 to date and bullish on 2017. However a number acknowledged significant business was pulled forward/covered in advance of the October 12 standstill expiry. Moderating activity since that time also helps to explain the present supply-demand imbalance. The skittish tone and extreme hand-to-mouth buying patterns in evidence suggest dealers, wary of winter and working down inventories for year-end, are perhaps content to “run out the clock” on a good year.

Great!

According to news that’s filtering through to us in the great White North, these be challenging days as friends and relatives to the south wrestle with decisions in advance of November elections, said by some to be aimed at “making America great again.”  Say what?  Again?  Let us echo a Toronto ad agency’s campaign that helps cut through the negativity in play.

Having just returned this morning from the classy LBM Advantage Forest Products Conference, I was also reminded just how invigorating it is to connect with people face to face. It’s been said that the best social network is a table and two chairs, or, in the case of the Dakeryn table inside the packed White River Ballroom at the beautiful JW Marriott Indianapolis, a table and six chairs! Despite election angst, dealers appear to be cautiously optimistic about business for the balance of the year. While bullish on 2017, the extreme hand-to-mouth buying patterns in evidence suggest an emphasis on risk management through December. Coming from B.C., where we are inundated with SLA headlines, it’s interesting to note there so far seems to be little weight given to possible cross-border softwood lumber trade constraints in relation to market impact.

Upon arriving home late last night, my wife relayed this story after picking up our five-year-old from Kindergarten yesterday:
Evie: “Mommy, I made a new friend from my class today”
“Oh? How did that happen?”
“He came up to me and said ‘Evie, give me all your Bunny Crackers.'”

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Indy Sunrise (18 Oct 2016)

Informational Peekaboo?

The moment when somebody is on your website, interested in what you sell, and in need of answers, is The Question Moment of Truth (QMOT) explains marketing consultant Barry Feldman. Based on his interview with popular social media strategist Jay Baer, Feldman explores how well companies are responding to this critical moment here. Some takeaways:

  • Companies are generally not responding well enough to the QMOT. “Too many organizations still feel like there’s a reason for somebody to come to their site other than if they have a question or problem.. (as though) somehow going to their website is going to be valuable entertainment. A lot of brands still believe they are somehow competing successfully against Facebook for attention.”
  • “Websites are the only form of communication in the history of communication where every individual consumer of that content has to relearn how to navigate that content every time. Every website has different navigation, which is absurd on surface.”
  • “We are at a point, a transition phase, where business websites are going to become less, not more – and should – because nobody wants to go to your website unless they have a very specific task in mind.”
  • “Just because somebody comes to your website doesn’t mean anything, it does you no actual good unless the person who comes to your website then takes a subsequent action.”

So how does that “subsequent action” happen in the e-commerce experience? (this “weird game of informational peekaboo” as Baer describes it). And what happens when a prospect visits your website and can’t find what they’re looking for?
Baer and Feldman struggle for answers. They tell us offering more website options and channels to communicate is a possible solution, but timing – how to engage when the customer wants and needs to engage – is the challenge. Adds Baer, “Some people hate live chat, some people love it. And this idea that everybody has to call us doesn’t make sense because people don’t want to wait on hold.”

Perhaps it’s all not so complicated. It seems that an easy-to-navigate website, with concise information customers want, might be sufficient?

“We’re so focused on customer acquisition that we don’t spend enough time thinking about customer retention, and certainly not enough time thinking about what our current customers can tell us about what we should offer in the future.”
-Jay Baer

'I'm afraid Mr. Caldwell doesn't want to see you now. However, you're free to visit his web site.'