Specialty wood industry reaches out to world
When you go to a building supply store to pick up some deck planks and stair railings for a backyard project, you are sampling a global supply chain whose key customers are building contractors.
For B.C.'s wood re-manufacturers, it's a world dominated by cheap wood from places like Russia and cheap labour from other low-regulation countries. One B.C. advantage is better wood, such as Pacific Coast hemlock and especially western red cedar, a favourite in Asia.
Rob Mitchell chairs BC Wood, representing the province's value-added producers. Its members include Kalesnikoff Lumber in Castlegar, Masonite in Aldergrove, Gorman Brothers in West Kelowna and re-manufacturing divisions of big B.C. forest industry players Interfor and Western Forest Products.
Some are protected from the latest trade action launched by the U.S. lumber industry, because their finished products are sold to retailers and not considered "softwood lumber." Even so, the focus for BC Wood is increasingly international, Mitchell said in an interview in Japan, where he joined the B.C. forest industry's annual trade mission to Asia.
A rapidly growing Chinese middle class has meant a surge of tourism to Japan as well as to B.C., and a growing interest in Whistler-style resort accommodation in Asia.
"Four years ago BC Wood first started trying to promote that resort style," Mitchell said. "It was probably before its time, but now it's very much a growing sector in the Japanese market, and we're back here to see what opportunities there are for us."
Rob Mitchell of Maple Ridge-based BW Creative Railings visits Yuriagi Public Market in Natori, Japan, rebuilt with donated B.C. wood products after being destroyed in the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, December 2016.
BC Wood hosts Canada's largest global buyers' conference each year in Whistler, attracting Asian buyers and sellers as well as those from the U.S. And in January 2017 alone, BC Wood is participating in builder shows in Honolulu, Orlando, Seoul and Munich.
Mitchell's business is BW Creative Railings, selling stair and railing components around the world from its facilities in Maple Ridge.
One of its customers is Home Depot in the U.S., which until recently was bringing in finished hemlock interior stair parts as well as wrought iron from China. The B.C. business was efficient enough to supply the hemlock parts, which had been imported to China as lumber and re-manufactured there.
In Japan, BW Creative supplies Takahiro Lumber with outdoor deck and stair railings, which the company website promotes as using "Western red cedar from Canada."
BW Creative has recently added a commercial multi-family division, expanding beyond the single-family home market.