PBM speaks to Arbor Forest Products about the challenges facing the construction industry over the coming 12 months and the need to invest in strong customer relationships across the full supply chain.
The timber industry enjoyed a positive start to 2019, with the private residential sector remaining a key driver for the timber industry — the repair and renewal of existing homes bolstered demand for timber products as people sought to upgrade their home rather than moving, and with private developers also driving demand.
Within timber products, a move away from employing traditional carpenters means that builders prefer to work with MDF products such as skirting and architraves, rather than using timber equivalents.
These trends mean than in 2019, companies like Arbor Forest Products have benefited more generally from the market conditions with Arbor in particular noting strong sales in both its MDF lines and also with its Trex composite decking.
However, with the construction sector now experiencing a general slow-down, the firm’s Managing Director Jason Ostler believes that the first half of 2020 could see a drop in sales across the timber industry as a whole — regardless of the political situation.
Commenting on the market, Jason said: “There has been so much uncertainty in recent months, which has caused delays in overall construction and has led to a heightened degree of caution with projects of all sizes, and I predict that the timber industry could be facing a more difficult start to the year. For merchants, there is also more competition from online providers, and this trend will continue to be a challenge that traditional merchants must find a way to overcome.
“Last year, we were fortunate to see a growth in sales led by our MDF products range, which has grown year on year for the past decade, with our twice sanded and twice primed MDF products becoming market leaders. Trex composite decking also remains one of the leading brands within the decking sector, partly thanks to an expansion of the portfolio earlier this year with the addition of two new product ranges alongside the signature Trex Transcend.
“However, with conditions expected to be tougher in early 2020, we know we have to take action in order to maintain our success — and merchants will also need to ensure that they are adding value in order to cope with the more difficult market. At Arbor Forest Products, the way we have always sought to add value is by offering excellent customer service and this is what will make a difference for merchants too.”
Jason says that the company has “long prioritised good customer service as a core principle of its business” and it is this ethos that has allowed the business to maintain its niche as a specialist supplier to independent builders’ merchants.
Rather than a “one-sided relationship where cost is king” the company states it prefers to form partnerships with merchants, adding value by offering dedicated support including training and flexible delivery options thanks to its ‘warehouse on wheels’ concept.
And although the firm hints that 2020 will mark one of the largest investment years in its history, it argues that the relationship between supplier, merchant and tradesperson is still the most pivotal part of the business.
Guy Best, Arbor Forest Products’ National Key Account Manager, agrees that this approach is the secret to the company’s success: “Our growth is definitely down to working as a partnership with our customer base, particularly in areas such as range reviews and training.
“It’s an area we will continue to invest in: the feedback from all those customers who completed our training programmes in the past year is that it directly impacted their growth as well, which shows that more knowledgeable merchant staff are able to upsell and encourage repeat custom.”
Jason added: “As a supplier, we aim to offer a high level of customer service to our merchant customers and we try to encourage them to pass this along to their customers too. For example, we are working on a new digital offering which will make it easier for merchants to download assets like high-quality product images, which we know is very important to merchants as they grow their online presence.
“Merchants who utilise these tools to make their customers’ lives easier will be the ones who earn repeat business even in challenging times. I believe that the merchants who will ultimately thrive, even through tougher market conditions, are those that put their customers first and look to add value for them.”
For more information on Arbor Forest Products, go to http://www.arborforestproducts.co.uk/delivery.php