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IN DEPTH: Engineered Lumber

Labor WoesNextPhase Site Solutions

Another key issue for EWP retailers is the tight labor market, but it’s one where manufacturers and dealers can make a significant impact.

“The ease of construction with engineered wood reduces the need for labor on the jobsite,” explains McCollum, noting that the additional availability of installation instructions and product layout drawings that can be custom made for every job and the extensive field support available from the manufacturers make the transition to EWP an easy decision. “Many of our products are specifically designed for the application. There are specific guidelines, there are available design layouts, there are easy-to-understand instructions on how to install and on how to inspect the product. You don’t have that with many of the alternative materials.”

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“More and more builders are transitioning to EWP,” concurs Schweizer. “Perhaps the biggest selling point is that it has provided a solution for labor shortages…[Weyerhaeuser’s] TJI floor systems are more efficient framing systems. They frame quicker. That means the crew can build more houses.”

Still, like any category, knowledge is key to success. Many of the contractors who left the industry during the recession just haven’t come back, and the industry is left with a shortage of skilled workers. As a result, education is more vital than ever.

Product training is plentiful for both installers and dealers. APA, for example, offers a series of mobile-friendly “Builder Tips,” step-by-step articles covering everything from squeak-free floors to preventing panel buckling. These resources are in addition to APA’s video briefs, technical publications, and in-person support and education.

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For dealers, APA has online training geared toward technical sales personnel. Topics include product design considerations, I-joist floor framing, storage and handling, glulam beams, and more. The association also just completed a six-module “Back to Basics” webinar series, which were recorded and are available at APA’s website for easy viewing.

“It’s important for a dealer to be knowledgeable on these topics because it enables the dealer to better serve their customers,” says Marilyn Thompson, APA’s director of marketing and communications. “All of these webinars addressed common and typical construction applications that the dealer would encounter. They also help the dealers sell the optimum products for the intended end-use and understand the materials and the different ways they can be used. If a product is installed and used correctly, there’s a much stronger likelihood that the application is going to be used successfully and the customer is going to be more satisfied.”

Typical Floor FramingAs the market recovers, we need to be careful not to sell EWP as a commodity, Midgette says, which shortchanges the products’ benefits and opportunities. “We need more value-added selling and education,” he says. “If we look at EWP in general, its value proposition is speed of build, reduced callbacks, long-term performance, open floor plans, and design flexibility. We have to keep selling that, otherwise people aren’t going to pay for that.”

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“We have to go back to the time when product knowledge education was part of our daily routine in the industry,” affirms McCollum, noting that dealers need to take advantage of the staff at their distributors and manufacturers. Roseburg, for instance, offers local and regional training for specifiers, builders, distributors, and dealers through its network of field staff who can educate audiences on marketing, selling, and installing Roseburg products.

“Veteran dealers and builders have become comfortable with the benefits of EWP, like no floor squeaks, sustainability, and long spans,” adds Boise’s Debelius. “But we need to remind dealers that there are all sorts of benefits that we take for granted.”

Boise offers in-person product knowledge training via its area managers, along with online tools and focused literature. It also is furthering these efforts through education-based marketing programs, such as four-page trade ads that emphasize system-wide benefits.

Weyerhaeuser Learning provides numerous webinars, self-guided online courses, and in-person/classroom opportunities on everything from products to technical training to dealer selling skills. “Our goal is to be the trusted adviser,” says Schweizer.

“One of the things we find and try to instill in dealers is to rely on the tools and the information that the mills have to help them,” says Rosboro’s Smith. “Providing solutions is very important. We can help them re-educate the entire chain. We have a lot of tools to help them.”

Software Adds Value

Along with education, software programs are helping dealers add even more value to engineered wood sales. LP, as one example, has a brand new beam-sizer program called LP Solid- Start Design that allows for design of individual components. The company also offers a whole-house design program, LP SolidStart Solutions. For its onCenter engineered wood products, BlueLinx offers Doma Studio for drawing and designing 3-D models, analyzing engineering, and optimizing cutting patterns. “That continues to be a big area for dealers,” says Scot Bauer, general manager of engineered lumber.

“You continually see the need for productivity, ease of use. Most of the building code officials are becoming more particular about what they see on a set of plans, so being able to answer their questions is important; being able to provide the information before they ask is important for the dealer and the builder.”

Among Weyerhaeuser’s software design portfolio is Forte, for sizing joists, beams, posts, and studs; Estima takeoff software; and Javelin, which allows dealers to create a complete model of the structural frame. Taking it a step further, Weyerhaeuser’s NextPhase Site Solutions is a comprehensive package of building products, software, fabrication equipment, and support that allows dealers to provide precision-cut framing packages that make site assembly easy and efficient for builders and framers.

Similarly, Boise offers SawTek, an automated processing system that allows dealers to design and supply full framing systems more easily, eliminate waste, optimize inventory, and process products more efficiently. “We’re using technology to provide real-time information to managers at locations with saws,” Debelius says. Managers can gauge productivity by the day or over the long term, and also can monitor and anticipate maintenance needs.

Boise's BC ConnectBoise is introducing a new software program called BC CONNECT, a cloudbased management tool for the design department. “It lets the manager of a yard have a view of the whole EWP business,” Debelius explains. The tool connects with Boise’s BC FRAMER design software, providing analytics based on drawings and lists, and improving efficiencies.

Like dealers to builders, manufacturers know that it’s more than just a product. “We think the relationship defines our business,” says Debelius. “We never want to get away from the idea that we’re partnering with real people. Our success depends on their success.”

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