Lake States Business Trends

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Sales of Hardwood lumber in the Lake States are strong, even “crazy”-strong, according to one source.

A Michigan lumber provider said his market is “extremely busy. Since the turn of the year, it’s probably crazier than I’ve ever seen it.

“The market was good six months ago,” he stated. “It’s better than it was then.”

Products he sells are Hard and Soft Maple, Red and White Oak, Hickory, Walnut and Cherry. “They’re all pretty hot,” he pointed out. “Hard Maple’s probably the craziest. All the other ones are good.”

Half of his customers are end users and the other half are distribution yards. “They all say they’re busy, especially the flooring companies; they can’t keep up,” he observed. “In general, all the companies say they’re busy.”

Asked about challenges to his company, he said, “Transportation costs are up but availability’s not terrible. Logging is OK. Producing enough lumber to keep up with demand is the biggest challenge.”

A Wisconsin source also reported that his market is good. Compared to a few months ago, he stated, “Oh, I’d say it’s better. The prices are better. Product has been moving all along for me.

“Red and White Oak are our biggest sellers,” he stated. “We also sell Hard and Soft Maple, Basswood, Cherry and Hickory.”

He said his customers – mostly end users but also distribution yards – are experiencing great sales.

As for transportation, he has found a way to overcome this challenge. Getting containers, he said, is difficult, “so I’m just doing more domestic.”

In Illinois, a source said his market for Hardwood lumber is “very good.” “Grade markets are such that you can move basically anything,” he noted. “Cherry isn’t too hot. But, otherwise, whatever you’ve got they’re begging for it.” The market is better for him than it was in recent history.

He handles mostly No. 2 and Better in Red and White Oak, Poplar, Hard and Soft Maple, Cherry, Walnut and Cottonwood. Asked to name his best sellers, he replied that they are White Oak, Poplar and Walnut. Red Oak is selling well, too.

He sells lumber mostly to distribution yards but also to end users. His customers’ sales seem to be strong, he said. One customer, a distribution yard, said that if they can get lumber, they can sell it. “The main problem is getting the product fast enough to our customers,” he stated. His customer base is in Southern Indiana, Central Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois and Missouri.

Asked about his company’s challenges, he said transportation is OK, but his log supply would be depleted if there were a lot more wet weather.

During the COVID pandemic, he recalled, his company has not had to shut down its mill. “We’re a family mill, mostly family here, and that helps a lot.

“Overall,” he stated, “we’re very blessed right now. The market definitely looks optimistic.”

An Indiana lumber supplier said his sales are “strong. Our customers are all very busy. We’re increasing prices right now substantially to keep up with the lumber market. I don’t know that there’s going to be any pushback because of that. 

“We sell about 80 percent to cabinet makers and 20 percent to RV manufacturers,” he noted. “Our RV segment is going nuts, because of all the stimulus money. With COVID, the way people are traveling is different. There’s a lot of pent-up demand, and our RV segment is strong. Our kitchen cabinet segment is strong, too. There are still housing shortages, and so our business is very strong. 

“We could build another factory right now with the inquiries we’re seeing,” he continued. “The inquiries we’re seeing are because there are shortages in raw material out there. You’ve got a lot of people coming to you that want to be your new best friend. I’m very apprehensive to expand too much given a lot of people coming to you that you don’t know if they’ll be around a year from now. They’ll go back to their own ways once this lumber supply gets straightened out.”

He added that his firm sells ready-to- assemble Hardwood components, cabinet doors, door fronts and edge glue panels.

“The year 2020 was our best year ever, probably, in the history of our company,” he stated. “I’m going to say that our market is comparable to six months earlier.”

He sells No. 2 A, No. 1 Common and some select FAS White Soft and White Hard Maple, Red Oak, Cherry, Hickory and Yellow Birch to end users. His customers’ sales are “very strong, all of them,” he remarked. “I talk to them every week. Everything appears to be good for now.”

However, he added, “I think we’re building a bubble up and I’m waiting for it to pop. I’m hearing about people with their home values being inflated, people paying ridiculous prices for housing, which means they’re taking out unreasonable loans. Interest-rates are low. I just feel like we’re getting to where we were in 2006, 2007 and 2008. We’ll see who’s right. Gas prices are going up. People are receiving a lot of stimulus money. One thing about Americans: they’re going to blow that money. However, the market seems to remain strong.”

The cost of transportation is going up, he noted, and trucking is definitely a concern. “It’s not like we’re not being able to move trucks,” he stated. “Most of our customers pick up their product. There’s a reason they have their own trucks: so they don’t have to deal with trucking issues.” 

By Miller Wood Trade Publications

The premier online information source for the forest products industry since 1927.

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