In May 2001 Tony James purchased Parker Kislingbury determined to “rebuild the company to its former glory as a specialist independent hardwood supplier”.

Three years on, turnover has more than doubled to £8m and the supply of sawn and machined temperate and tropical hardwoods has been augmented with flooring products (including special profiles and decorative trims), flexible veneer and veneer edging tape and solid timber worktops – as well as key sizes of softwood and sheet materials.

“Major investment” has also been made in a mill to provide merchants with rapid turnaround on bespoke profiles and sawn goods. These can be produced to match samples or drawings and delivered direct to the customer or the final site, usually within three or four days of receipt of order.

“The point is to make it easy for customers to do business with us,” said Tony James. “It’s about knowing their needs and offering a comprehensive solution – from offering advice to supply of materials in a single load, with a single invoice.”

In support of this goal the company – rebranded as PK – has taken on additional staff in the yard, mill and office. The experience of the sales team has been enhanced with specialists in particular product lines and applications – led by newly-appointed sales director Geoff Pugh who has worked closely with Tony James for many years in the timber industry.


Another new development from the company is the ‘Partner with PK’ initiative that it’s about to launch with selected customers.

“The idea is to move away from traditional ‘hard bargaining, order by order’ price-driven purchasing that offers short-term advantages and towards long-term relationships that deliver real benefits to both PK and our customers,” said Mr James.

Partner with PK won’t be a formal contract – more a statement of intent. Customers are asked to offer the company first opportunity to quote on all their purchase needs and to provide forecasts of anticipated requirements in terms of species, grade, sizes and volumes, as well as information about imminent projects.

In return, PK provides customers with a dedicated account handler, regular summaries of trading levels, and early advice of new developments, trends and promotional offers. By knowing the likely future needs and projects of customers, the company says it can offer specific advice and research the most suitable products to meet those needs.

“The aim is a cost-effective service that makes our customers more competitive and increases their profits,” said Mr Pugh.

PK is a committed champion of the hardwood cause. Tony James believes there is huge scope for increasing consumption, notably in the flooring sector. He predicted that the popularity of laminate flooring would lead to a “second-wave” market for solid hardwood flooring as buyers upgraded, and that is now developing.

“Solid hardwood flooring was previously a luxury and not manufactured to a price,” said Mr James. “However, as homeowners replace laminate with solid hardwood, the volumes have increased and manufacturers have invested in large-scale production, which means more competitive prices.”

Timber frame opportunities

In addition to flooring, PK sees potential opportunities opening as a result of the growth in timber frame construction.

“Hardwood is expensive and not usually painted, so there’s a reluctance to use it when there’s the risk of damage from ‘wet trade’ operations,” said Mr James. “In timber frame most of the wet trades are removed, allowing immediate installation of hardwood – from skirting, architraves, window cills and other joinery products to solid kitchen worktops.”

PK’s seven-acre site in Brill, Buckinghamshire includes a 20,000ft2 mill and 100,000ft2 of undercover storage which holds a stock of around £2m of temp-erate and tropical hardwoods.

The company remains a specialist in teak, and its stocks of other commercially important species include sawn and machined products – such as mouldings, decking and window boards. And, said Mr Pugh, prime grades are very much the focus.

“Our aim is to supply customers with timber in the quality, quantity and sizes required, while helping them to reduce costs and waste wherever possible,” he said. “It’s a false economy to buy cheap, low-grade material because of the level of rejects and loss of yield. We work with sawmills around the world who can offer prime quality grading and prime sizes to exactly suit the needs of particular markets. This gives higher yield and substantial waste savings, especially when supported by our revised machined parts estimating service which helps customers buy exactly the volumes they need.”

The PK team is always willing to advise on the best species for the intended application and keep customers abreast of developments in sourcing and availability.

“Oak is still the most important single hardwood in the UK – accounting for probably 15% of the market,” said Mr James. “Most of this used to be American because European producers only offered waney-edged boards. However, prime square-edged oak is now readily available from European mills. The production is high quality and the timber is straight, mild and available in long boards. There’s been similar improvement in other species, with quality square-edged cherry, maple and sycamore also available from Europe.”

Certified supply

PK will soon be accredited by TRADA for chain of custody supply and already holds stocks of certified species including American and European oak, ash, cherry and maple. If customers want other hardwoods with FSC or PEFC certification and tell PK in advance, the company can also “project manage” the sourcing.

“With our close contacts with mills we can often find certified timber even in species that customers have not been able to source from anywhere else,” said Mr Pugh. “If it’s not available, we can usually suggest a suitable alternative certified species which may even be lower cost. This capability has already opened up new markets for hardwood with customers such as local authorities and others involved in public sector projects, many of which have to use certified timber.”

Overall, Mr James believes the UK market for hardwood is more vibrant and has more potential for growth than for many years.

“The big opportunity lies in making hardwood more accessible,” he said. “Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for customers to find information and to specify and buy hardwood to enhance projects and increase profits.”