By Simon Petree, Green Leaf Forest Products
When’s the last time you talked to an architect, designer, engineer, or contractor who didn’t contact you first? If you own a thin kerf band sawmill, portable or not, you have something almost no one else in the world of sawmilling can offer – the ability to mill specialty woods, unusual species, and local woods at specific dimensions - products a conventional sawmill usually wouldn’t want to touch with a ten foot cant hook!
It has been my experience that architects and other designers who use wood products love the ability to use specialty woods, unusual species, and select sizes in the buildings and other structures they create. Also, having local wood to work with is a great conversation piece as well as a way to get points in a certified Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) project for using recycled or local products sourced within a 500 mile radius.Almost as important to a professional is the availability of custom wood products which allows architects and others to expand their creativity beyond the limits imposed on them by the conventional lumber supply chain.
It's Up to You to Pursue the Business
All too often the people likely to recommend your most profitable products have no idea you even exist, much less an idea of what you can do to help make them stand out in their field. Everyone says, with some reason, that “word of mouth” is the best advertising. To me, that’s like buying into another old saying that “half a loaf is better than none.” Well, half a loaf actually is better than none but, in my view, the whole loaf is even better.
Architects, designers, and other professionals determining how structures are constructed also generally make the determination of what kinds of material are going to be used in the buildings they create. If the architect recommends one of your products, the builder will use that product.That means if you haven’t made an attempt to inform those professionals about the special products you can make available to them, you may be settling for half a loaf. You also have to realize those people are not usually going to go out and search for you, they don’t have the time and usually don’t even know the potential for excellent local products even exists. It’s up to you to make contact with them.
Trust me, I understand how hard it is to take a day off every now and then to do some marketing. It almost seems like you’re wasting a day because you’re not out there making money. I’ve found, however, that on some of the days I “wasted” talking to architects, designers, specialty home builders, and others in the trade, I’ve actually “made” more money than I would have if I’d stayed home and kept my nose to the grindstone cutting wood.
There are three main ways to contact professionals who can recommend your lumber and other wood products - a visit to the professional’s office, a phone call followed up by materials, and a mailed or emailed message.
I’ve tried all three and all three can work and work well. Designers and architects like to see something tangible so, if at all possible, a personal visit is the best way to start. A few years ago I took samples of flooring and other products along with pictures of projects on personal visits to a selected list of potential clients. The visits all produced orders and I still get calls as a result of those visits.
I also had a high quality, postcard sized business card printed up for my business. A card with pictures is easy to distribute and puts something tangible in the hands of the people who can create orders for you.
If you’ve ever had a newspaper or magazine do a story on your operation, a copy of the story is very useful and credible. Last but not least, I have a professionally produced website. It cost me about $1,000 to have it professionally done and, in my opinion, has been more than worth the cost over the years. When you’re trying to market to architects and designers, a website is a must.
Follow Up Is Critical
One last word of advice - if you want to work with designers, architects, and high end contractors who can provide some of your most profitable sales, make sure you can give them the best you can offer. Reliability and top notch quality at a competitive price are even more important to professionals in the construction trades than they are in the everyday world. If you’re not willing to commit to providing that quality and reliability don’t pursue the business, you’ll end up with nothing but trouble.
Simon Petree owns Green Leaf Forest Products near Lynden, Washington. He is currently working on a book aimed at sharing the lessons he’s learned milling more than five million board feet of lumber, timbers, slabs and other products during the fifteen years he’s been in business. Visit www.greenleafforest.com for more information.
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