The goal for every UK timber company is “added value”. This means supplying products or services which the customer believes add value to their business and for which they are genuinely willing to pay a higher price.

The italics are deliberate. It is easy to spend money developing something which you believe “adds value” but the customer does not want or will not pay for.

Regrettably, certified timber falls into this category. Although many are quick to claim “green credentials”, the reluctance of customers to pay a little more is meaningful.

The industry has been complacent about illegal logging. Too many people think certification has “solved” the environmental problems which have undermined timber’s “brand”. This is reflected in the conflicting opinions of members of the timber trade bodies, which prevents a unified approach.

Yet environmental issues will be an important aspect of the trade’s image for a long time to come. Using certified, sustainable and legal timber is all part of adding value to timber’s brand. Without these fundamentals timber’s credibility tumbles compared to PVCu, concrete and steel.

The only route forward for timber companies is to develop a closer understanding of the real needs of their customers.

Not all customers are equal and, when you analyse the real costs of serving a customer, it is surprising how many are “unprofitable’.

This level of detailed customer analysis is something every small business does instinctively. The knowledge is in the owner’s head but, as the business grows, it is dispersed across different people.

Pulling it back together and making the data usable requires a significant investment in people, CRM (customer relationship management) systems and market research.

Which brings us back full circle to the timber trade’s reluctance to invest in marketing.