All of us are at the mercy of trends. Whatever is the latest and greatest, we all have to have it. Or we have to redesign our products to embrace that trend. Since we are a large importer of genuine Burmese Teak, we understandably do a lot of business with boat builders. These boat builders almost exclusively use Teak for both exteriors and interior elements of their boats. These days we are seeing a lot more demand for different species in the cabins of boats, and this is throwing many builders for a loop. The issue is that when your staff has only known one species, there are some growing pains associated with bringing another product into your production environment.
A Case Study
So it was with one of our long time customers who wanted to make a switch to Walnut for some of their yacht cabins. Their initial specifications were near impossible to meet as they were so used to Teak along with the sizes and grades available with that species. As we began to talk with them about their needs and also what may be coming in the future as they shift production on many of their boats, it became clear that we both needed more information.
With that in mind, we invited a team of their people – from designers to carpenters to sales staff – down to our yard, so we could give them a lesson in lumber grading and get into a more detailed conversation about how they actually use the lumber in their construction. Our staff spent a lot of time showing them our current inventory and explaining how the grades of Walnut differ from other species.
This is a fact that is surprisingly unknown outside of the lumber yard in today’s world of manufactured and engineered wood. I know it seems obvious when stated, but wood is an organic product and not every tree produces boards that meet our specifications. Walnut is especially onerous in this regard, producing a much higher waste factor when compared with tropical exotic species.
Initially, this revelation caused a lot of alarm, because it was clear now that it would be near impossible to consistently meet the thickness, width, length, and grade that they required to build their boats. So we all agreed it was time to take a lunch break and think about it.
Fortified with calories, we all sat down and began to talk about the construction process and what was done with the boards once they were unloaded into the shop. Our staff started to see where there was a lot of waste where there didn’t have to be and places where defects could be worked around instead of requiring a perfectly clear board. One perfect example was having the customer provide us copies of a template which they use to layout a part, so that we could choose lumber that would fit and which would strategically avoid knots, checks, wane, or sapwood. After all, wouldn’t it be better for these defect pieces to be laying on the shop floor around the bandsaw instead of flawless (and more expensive) stock?
Financial considerations aren’t that prominent when a builder is going from one of the most expensive woods on the market (Teak) to just about any other species. Everything seems like it is on sale to a Teak user. Still, when we started to talk about the pricing differences between 100% clear Walnut and FAS Walnut, it was hard to deny that a little value engineering around what specifications are actually needed according to the part would pay off big time at the end of the project.
Even more important, however, was the fact that a consistent supply of clear Walnut would be impossible to maintain. It would do a manufacturer no good to switch up a product line and not be able to find the material for that line months down the road.
But this wasn’t all education on the customer’s part. We learned a lot from them and have been able to purchase Walnut differently, knowing exactly what was needed. The end result is that we actually have more inventory in stock and have been able to justify buying a higher grade of “premium” Walnut, because we know that there is a market for it and a customer who understands why it is premium. We now have a specific buying plan for this customer, and we have a specific grader (who was a part of this meeting) who now pulls lumber specifically for the customer whenever material leaves a kiln or arrives on the lumber yard.
On the whole, this customer visit was an incredibly valuable experience for us, and I believe the customer feels the same way. It is something we like to do as often as we can with our customers, and without fail, it yields better lumber to more accurately meets the needs of the customer with less waste. And no matter how you look at it, everyone saves money that way.