West Coast Business Trends – September 2022

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Out on the West Coast, some lumbermen report a slowing of sales, while one lumber provider said his sales have been strong and haven’t slowed down.

“There’s definitely seasonal slowing to our sales, unlike last year when it didn’t slow down,” said a lumber provider in Washington. “The slowdown now is due to vacations, etc. The slowdown is not severe; it’s about like normal pre-pandemic conditions. It’s about a 25 to 35 percent slowdown.”

Compared to the recent past, his market is slower, he noted. “We’ve been fortunate in the last two years in that we haven’t had a slowdown at this time of year. Now, we’re seeing normal times. Of course, there’s all this negativity in the news around us.”

He handles “pretty much all North American Hardwoods”: Oak, the Maples, Poplar, Hickory, Basswood, a few softwoods and imports. His best seller is Hard Maple. He sells upper grades, and then No. 1, 2 and sometimes 3A Common, primarily in 4/4 but also 5/4 through 8/4. “It’s very heavy to 4/4,” he remarked.

His customers include distribution yards, end users, millwork shops, cabinet shops and sawmills. “It’s kind of weird,” he observed. “Cabinet makers are as strong as ever. But we’re not hearing a lot from our other customers about their levels of sales.

“We sell to sawmills because a mill doesn’t always manufacture every species, and they may want the ones they don’t make to supplement their offerings to their customers. Lumber is stacking up a little bit at the mills. Some people attribute that to earlier heavy buying, and they’re working their inventories down and not wanting to get stuck with too much high-priced lumber.”

Transportation, he said, has been “better lately with easier availability, and prices have stabilized if not softened a little bit. We’re also getting a lot more calls from truckers asking if we’ve got loads for them to haul. That didn’t happen a year ago.”

In California, a lumber representative said, “The market’s steady but not as busy as it was. I think the business is still there, but there’s not as much activity as there was. The market is a little slower than it was six months ago.”

He handles White Oak, Walnut and Hickory in all grades in 4/4 thickness. White Oak is his best seller.

Retail lumber yards and flooring manufacturing companies are his customers. “Their sales are steady,” he stated.

“Transportation is OK,” he noted. “Locally transportation is no problem. It just takes longer getting containers from the mills in the Midwest.”

In Oregon, a lumberman, who mostly sells Walnut, reported that his market is “strong, very strong. We haven’t seen any slowdown.” Besides Walnut, he offers White Oak and Maple.

Compared to a few months earlier, “I think the market is the same, steady with a strong pace,” he remarked.

He sells mostly higher end grades for furniture, such as Select and Better in 4/4 through 12/4 thicknesses.

His customers are furniture manufacturers, casework companies that build out commercial spaces and higher end residential casework and millwork companies. “Their sales are still strong,” he noted. “Demand is still kind of what we’ve seen over the last couple of years. It peaked and hasn’t really slowed down. I don’t know if it’s regional or that we’re selling into the upper end of the market. Our customers made a good deal of money the last couple of years and they’re still doing well. I talked to a big millwork processor in our area, and he said his business is the slowest it’s been in years. We haven’t seen that at all.

“Freight is still super-expensive and the service is terrible,” he commented. “The freight carriers don’t show up, or it takes longer to get products shipped. They don’t like to ship long material anymore. A lot of our freight is 12 feet to 16 feet long. So, we’re shipping mostly less than truckloads. We’re shipping 300 board feet to 1,000 board feet per load typically.”

By Miller Wood Trade Publications

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

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