Staying Virtually Connected at NAWLA Exchange

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Staying Virtually Connected at NAWLA Exchange 1

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which made it impossible to bring lumber buyers and sellers from across the industry together for its Traders Market, the North American Wholesale Lumber Association (NAWLA) hosted an all-new NAWLA Exchange recently in place of its signature event.

The three-day virtual event included keynote presentations, education sessions across three different content tracks, a virtual exhibit hall, and creative new ways to network and hold peer discussions in a virtual format.

While most of those who participated agreed that there is no replacement for an in-person event, they also felt this new virtual event provided, in the words of one attendee, “a much-needed way to stay connected with industry professionals and stay informed on relevant topics.”

Dustin Wood of Weston Forest expressed similar sentiments. “NAWLA Exchange was a great chance to make contact with friends and colleagues during the chaotic days of 2020,” he said. “More than a diversion, it was a chance to grow during a time when growth has been put on the backburner.”

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The event kicked off with a keynote presentation from Molly Fletcher, one of the world’s only female sports agents and best-selling author and professional speaker. Titled Unleash Your Potential, her session focused on achieving peak performance using a proven five-step process. Her key points included believing in what you do, how you do it and why you do it; adding value and gaining trust; building relationships (vs. performing transactions); being disciplined in determining how to spend our time and energy and adhering to those priorities; and consistently executing every day.

Fletcher’s presentation was followed by the first breakout sessions in Management, Sales and Marketing, and Wood Basics content tracks. Unlike other NAWLA events, the series of concurrent sessions were intended to provide relevant education for professionals across many different roles and experience levels at forest product industry firms. This resulted in participation by professionals from member firms who have not typically participated in Traders Market or Leadership Summit. 

This aspect of the event was appreciated by those firms, as evidenced by feedback from Thomas Glauber of Sherwood Lumber. “Sherwood Lumber made NAWLA Exchange available to all of our staff. I am grateful to be included and enjoyed participating.”

In addition to welcoming many newcomers to NAWLA events, NAWLA Exchange also attracted many attendees who had not previously experienced a virtual event. Roughly 50 percent indicated this was their first virtual event experience. In spite of their lack of familiarity with this format, in the post-event survey, most indicated the ease of participating in sessions, finding answers to questions about the event and navigating the virtual platform speakers. The majority of attendees also indicated that they would be interested in attending future virtual NALWA events.

“I came into the NAWLA Exchange with very few expectations as virtual meetings were foreign to me,” said 2020 Chair Tom Le Vere of Weekes Forest Products. “I was pleasantly surprised to find the venue works extremely well for training presentations, panel discussions and vendor meetings. It’s just like standing in their booth on the trade show floor only without the distractions and noise. There is definitely a place for using virtual events within NAWLA in the future!”

Recognizing that networking remains a critical component of events, even when the group couldn’t convene in person, NAWLA ensured that a variety of virtual networking opportunities were available to its NAWLA Exchange participants. Networking opportunities included birds-of-a-feather group discussions on topics such as transportation and crisis management, speed networking, Bourbon demonstration, virtual exhibit hall meetings and Q&A sessions with breakout speakers, and private messages and meeting opportunities. The Icebreaker speed networking activity was one of the most popular features of the event, and will be part of the agenda for future NAWLA virtual events based on attendee feedback.

“NAWLA has done a great job of finding ways to provide its members value in a very difficult year,” said Carl Lamb of Snavely Forest Products. “They have maintained relevance throughout the year which is extremely difficult in a year that we cannot network like normal.”

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NAWLA Exchange concluded with a panel of CEOs who discussed the impact of 2020 happenings on the industry and their company operations and, most importantly, what they’ve learned, how they have reacted and what they are planning for 2021. 

Featuring Don Kayne, CEO, Canfor Corporation and Canfor Pulp; Craig Johnston, President and CEO, Forest City Trading Group; Grady Mulbery, President and CEO, Roseburg; Jim Enright, CEO Pacific Woodtech; and Matthew J. Missad, CEO, UFP Industries, this session proved to be one of the most popular elements of the event. They shared experiences with incorporating new communication platforms, minimizing the impact of supply chain disruptions and new regulations, monitoring company and industry performance, and keeping their employees safe through the pandemic, along with other valuable insights.

NAWLA’s Traders Market is scheduled to return in 2021 on November 10-12 to Louisville, Kentucky.  Watch for updates at

By Miller Wood Trade Publications

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

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By Miller Wood Trade Publications

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

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