Augusta, Georgia—When the marketplace changes, some companies keep doing what they’ve been doing and do not adjust to current conditions. Some still succeed; however, many others “fall by the wayside.” At Highland Hardwood Sales Inc., located here, they decided to continue serving their domestic hardwood lumber customers in the fashion they are accustomed to, but also expand their lumber sales to customers located overseas as well.
“Nearly every big furniture plant along the East Coast, mainly in North Carolina and Virginia have shut down,” said Bob Moore, chairman and chief executive officer of Highland. “Highland Hardwood Sales was formed in 1986 with the furniture industry in the Carolinas and Virginia predominately as the backbone of its customer base. In the last four years or so, many furniture manufacturing plants have either completely or partially shut down their production operations in the United States. They’re outsourcing all the furniture they sell, or a large percentage of it, from China. So we decided if we stay in the business, we would have no choice but to have our own sales person traveling to develop business relationships with hardwood lumber buyers at overseas furniture manufacturing plants, or other types of woodworking plants in Asia.”
About four years ago, Highland Hardwood Sales started trying to find the right person to help them establish a new hardwood lumber export business.
Dave Redmond, president and chief operating officer at Highland, further related, “It took time and patience to locate the proper person to lead us forward in Asia. We looked at several opportunities along the way.”
Around that same period, Redmond traveled to China and was amazed at the amount of both residential and commercial construction going on over there.
“I knew and could see there was already a large market for North American hardwoods in China, but I could also see that down the road, as the middle class in China continued to grow, the demand for American species of hardwood lumber would become even greater,” Redmond said. “What really excites me more than anything else is the increasing purchasing power of the Chinese people as they continue to develop. This increasing purchasing power is growing not just in China, but also in other Far Eastern countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. In fact, it’s already taking place in the Philippines.”
A year or so after the first attempt to find the right person in Asia to start an export hardwood lumber business for Highland Hardwood Sales Inc., Moore’s son-in-law, Kirby Barry, an attorney in Houston, called and said he knew of a person that worked for Chase Bank in Houston that might be interested in establishing an export lumber business for Highland. His name was Tyler Carter.
“Tyler decided to work with us recently and he is a U.S. citizen that wanted to live in Asia,” Redmond said. “Furthermore, Tyler can read, write and speak Chinese fluently; and, just as important, he wanted to go to work selling hardwood lumber to customers he develops in several Far Eastern countries.”
Redmond went on to say, “It’s a large advantage for Highland Hardwood Sales Inc. to have someone like Carter on the ground in Asia that is able to speak Chinese and does not require an interpreter.”
“We had him here in Augusta for a little over two months and we tried to expose him in that short period of time to everything that we could,” Redmond said. “We took him on tours through furniture, flooring and cabinet manufacturing plants, and we visited other operations like hardwood lumber concentration yards and sawmill facilities too. Carter also attended a three-day lumber grading short course. We tried to get him exposed to as many facets of the hardwood lumber industry as possible so he could communicate with the lumber terminology with Asian buyers when he got over there.
On May 30, 2007, Highland Hardwood Sales Inc. officially opened its sister company, called Highland International Marketing and Development, in Singapore, where Carter is now living and working.
“We have already shipped containers over there and are in the process of writing up more business,” Redmond said. He went on to say, “Our international company will have the same core philosophy that we have here domestically with Highland Hardwood Sales Inc., which is: we want to service our customers in such a fashion that they will not only want to be repeat customers, but we can form close personal relationships and business partnerships with them. And in order to do that, we understand that you have to ‘earn your spurs.’ You’ve got to prove yourself to those Asian customers. That’s all we're asking is to get a chance to prove ourselves. I think we're doing that every working day.”
Domestically, Highland Hardwood is a wholesale lumber firm that markets Appalachian, Northern and Southern hardwood lumber (green and/or kiln dried) throughout North America.
“We're continuing to service our customers in the domestic market,” Redmond said. “In fact, Brad Merry, Hugh Pickett, Robbie Parrott and Mike Fleming are all focusing their efforts on continuing to serve our domestic lumber customers. Recently, my main responsibility has changed to helping Tyler in any way I can to expand our export markets. As our export market expands, it will take the entire team to accomplish our goals. It appears that time has come.”
Since Highland has established its export lumber operation, Redmond has seen that a number of Highland’s sawmill suppliers, as well as some of its domestic customers such as yards, have approached Highland and said they would like to partner with them internationally.
“They said we would just as soon ship our material through you because we know you,” he said. “We know you’re going to pay us quick. We know you’re going to be fair. We would rather do that than ship through a broker either in this country or overseas that we have no knowledge of.”
“With our equity and unlimited line of credit, we can go ahead and grow as we need to grow,” Redmond said. “We have strong financial backing and we're continuing to purchase green lumber and will be sending it to transit facilities and kiln drying it for shipment to our overseas customers.”
For all international lumber shipments, Highland International Marketing and Development uses an experienced freight forwarding company called USA Cargo. Judie Hockman, a certified ocean forwarder from that firm, handles all of Highland’s paperwork for their international business.
Highland Hardwood Sales Inc. is a member of the National Hardwood Lumber Assoc., Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers Inc., the Hardwood Federation, Appalachian Lumbermen’s Club, Kentucky Forest Industries Assoc. and the American Hardwood Export Council.
As long as Highland Hardwoods builds its international customer base, like it did its domestic one, with integrity and excellent customer service, their export hardwood lumber company will be very successful now and in the future.
For more information, call Highland Hardwoods at 1-800-241-3370, visit www.highlandhardwood.com or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.