The growing demand also brings challenges. “Transportation has become a key challenge,” says Paul Watterson, general manager for engineered lumber at Georgia-Pacific. “Peak shipping times are in the spring and winter, and finding flatbeds and rail cars to make timely deliveries is very difficult.”
Off-peak times also are causing issues, Huber’s Flotkoetter notes. “There’s the seasonal crunch that happens every year, and you learn to deal with that,” he says. “But these new limitations are more systemic and worrisome. It’s making it tough to get product out of the plant and to the yards. There aren’t enough trucks or drivers to handle the need, especially for the kinds of trucks we need to deliver our products. It’s getting to be a huge trend. We hear it on every sales call. It’s a major challenge that we have to find ways to meet.”
Rail cars don’t always help, Boise Cascade’s Huston says. “We’re trying to ship more product by rail where possible. Dealers used to all be able to accept rail deliveries, but now many aren’t near a rail spur.”
Roseburg’s Killgore agrees. “Rail has challenges, too. It’s a big piece of the puzzle today to get product to the market.” The issue has many facets, including growing demand to ship a variety of products, a lack of qualified drivers, more environmental regulations that have reduced fleet sizes and less availability of flatbed trucks needed for building materials.
“I’m optimistic that demand and dollars will drive supply of trucks to increase eventually,” Killgore says. “But the days are gone of wheeling and dealing with trucking companies to get cheap rates. We have to be strategic, and we have to think long term and work with them to evolve our relationship and compensate them appropriately for these competitive times.”
That challenge has manufacturers finding new approaches. “We have to be creative in how we load, and we have to be flexible with the type of equipment we load,” Killgore says. “We will load trailers so they can be picked up when the company can get to them. We also have found success moving product to reload centers to get it closer to the market initially. It’s going to take many different attacks to solve this. We rely on those guys to help us serve our markets.”
Georgia-Pacific offers two programs to aid dealers. One allows the company to pull from a stocking footprint of Ijoists, LVL and rimboard at its two manufacturing facilities, so the material is ready to be loaded rather than having to build the order. “This process allows us to effectively plan our transportation in advance to speed up the entire delivery process,” Watterson says.
The second program provides dealers with a Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) service to manage dealers’ stocks within one delivery area, establishing an inventory footprint jointly between GP and customers so products can be replenished automatically. “It takes into account transportation lead times so the products are delivered in a timely manner.”