The Timber Trade needs diversity

29 December 2017

Charles Taylor, a timber merchant with 20 years’ experience and sales director of wood plastic specialist Composite Prime, discusses the rise of composite materials and why the timber trade should embrace change to remain relevant in the market

It is no secret that the timber industry has seen considerable challenges and changes over the last couple of decades, particularly as more durable building products emerge. However, one recent emerging product – composite material – has become a friend, not a foe, to timber merchants and is helping the industry to evolve a new revenue stream.

The British timber trade is a traditional industry that has operated for centuries. As with all industries of this kind, it’s essential to evolve and adapt alongside transitions in technology to improve processes and embrace new ways of working. Today, composite decking has overtaken traditional timber as a favoured product in Europe and the US. Interest has started to emerge here in the UK as the market continues to grow at a rate of 100% a year.

The fact that composites have entered the market and are growing at an exponential rate brings both a challenge and an opportunity to the timber trade. The challenge is to remain current in a changing market with heightened customer demand; the opportunity is to improve sales through diversifying product offerings.

From a customer point of view, more people are now choosing to invest in low-maintenance products. Timber decking, albeit a beautiful, natural material, doesn’t always stack up when it comes to easy upkeep requirements. It needs to be treated annually and is prone to rot, discolouration and splitting, and can be slippery when wet.

Wood plastic composites on the other hand do not suffer from any of these issues and the look and feel of quality boards are incredibly realistic. Not only do composites appeal to the buying habits of today’s customers, timber merchants are now also looking to stock high-quality, added-value products that perform and cater to the changing market.

Unlike composite materials, hardwood decking becomes more sensitive to a certain price point, which will suit some customers but not all, particularly those looking for a more durable decking solution. Supplying both options through a timber merchant, to me, makes sense as it provides a wider selection of solutions for the customer.

That said, because of the use of plastic in composite materials there could sometimes be hesitation from timber merchants around where they sit in the market. While not all composites use wood, a quality composite material will contain wood flour and ensure boards are FSC 100% certified hardwood. So for me, these types of products should be seen as a timber product.

With my 20 years’ experience as a timber merchant I can appreciate the benefits of combining these materials, along with the importance of specifying quality hardwood from well-managed sustainable sources.

With technology advancing when it comes to new materials, it is important for timber merchants to keep up with customer buying habits and demands. For me, moving into composites was a natural step and I’m sure I won’t be the only timber merchant interested in making this move. I believe there is a huge opportunity for merchants to stock these materials and selling the two side-by-side can help to strengthen a merchant’s product offering. I’m excited to see how the sector evolves and where the world of composites can take us.

Charles Taylor