• Alison Folwell

BMF Timber Forum highlights supply chain as key challenge for merchants

On Friday 26th February, the BMF brought together several leaders from different areas of the timber industry for the regular Timber Forum. Rather than recap everything in detail, this is a quick overview of some of the main points discussed. For more info we’d suggest visiting the BMF website.

We can probably all agree it’s been a tough year. The pressures of Covid and Brexit are being felt throughout the industry, and at every point of the supply chain, particularly in terms of product availability, but there are also issues with employment and of course, longer term NetZero targets.

Roadmap to Recovery

BMF CEO John Newcomb talked through the Roadmap to Recovery plan, using the framework of “Restart, Reset, Reinvent,” which will be familiar to BMF members already.

Three key initiatives to note are:

Workplace testing: there is a huge drive on workplace testing and any employer with more than 50 employees (across all locations, not necessarily in one place) will qualify for free lateral flow testing kits, in a scheme which has been extended to the end of June. Applications need to be in by the end of March so visit the BMF website for more information

The Kickstart Scheme: This is an initiative designed to help 16-24 year olds, statistically the most likely to have been affected by Covid, to secure work placements which could lead to employment or apprenticeships. There are government grants and funds available to make this free to employers, so again, visit the BMF website to get involved.

NetZero 2050: The challenging targets set by the government for 2050 will require a co-ordinated approach across the industry and beyond. Again, members are encouraged to visit the BMF website for more information on the brand new ConstructZero plans, and how to get involved by becoming a business champion.

The Brexit Hub on the BMF website also remains a useful source of information for merchants and service providers alike.

Product Availability

Unusual and unpredictable surges in demand thanks to lockdown have been compounded by transportation delays and a fundamental lack of raw materials, resulting in sharp price rises and availability issues.

Coming into spring, when demand for materials usually rises anyway, we are likely to see more issues with supply, and merchants will need to manage stocks and forecasting carefully.

Several speakers, including representatives from the National Timber Group Scotland, BSW Timber and Sodra, all highlighted the issues with material supply across timber, panel products, roofing materials, bathroom accessories, steel and more, demonstrating that the problems extend into all construction materials. There are also issues with container availability and pricing, shipping costs and delays, and even availability of hauliers, particularly from Europe to the UK.

The speakers also highlighted potential issues with new product standard certification for the UK due to Brexit, moving away from the previously recognised CE marking, to a new UKCA standard. Although the CE standard will be permissible until at least 2022, there could be cost and timing implications, especially for smaller sawmills and suppliers. Not all ERP systems currently allow dual certification either so it’s worth checking in with suppliers.

These issues are not going away and they are not limited to the UK; these issues are global and there are no straightforward solutions. Prices look set to continue rising, leadtimes to extend, and availability to become increasingly problematic. The housing sector does not appear to have been hit hard yet, but the issues are there down the line and there will be knock-on effects for everyone.

Six ways to tackle 2021 and beyond

Here at Ten-25 we don’t like to leave a problem unsolved. While there are no simple solutions to the challenges facing the wider construction industry at this time, here are five ways we believe merchants can prepare for the year ahead, and beyond.

1. Make use of the industry resources at your disposal. That includes the BMF advice given above, but there are other trade bodies there to support and inform, such as the TTF and TRADA. Also we always encourage a sense of community, sharing of best practice across businesses, and pulling together for a greater good – the industry, the economy, the population and the planet. Causes don’t get much bigger, and it’s going to take a lot of hard work, innovation and collaboration to make a difference.

2. Enable agility in your systems. The modern world depends on digital and if you’re not there yet, time is running out. Digital systems, eCommerce platforms, AI and machine learning can all create vast efficiencies that every business will need, facilitating faster responses, better data handling and a much more flexible business model capable of reinvention and adaptation. Advanced analytics tools can also make a huge difference for merchants, enabling better stock management, optimised stock turn and more accurate forecasting based on more regularly updated and accessible information.

3. Make more of the stock you have. Use the systems available to better optimise the stock profile, supply and turnover of your existing stock to ensure it is working as hard as possible for you. Longer term stock issues are not going away, but every merchant is capable of better understanding where opportunities and gaps are in their current stock profile, and enhancing it as much as possible.

4. Get involved with ETIM. Standardising product information will enable great advances in digital systems and will make eCommerce, digital ERP and supply chain management much simpler. Find out more from the BMF or https://www.etim-uk.co.uk/

5. Think sustainably. Government targets may move over the coming months and years but our collective responsibility to work sustainably has never been more important. From responsible sourcing to process and system efficiencies and educating customers and staff, we all have a moral and social responsibility to drive the sustainability agenda at every opportunity.

6. Keep the lines of communication open. Talk to your suppliers, your customers and your service providers, your trade bodies, local governments and other relevant organisations. Get involved and take an active role where you can. This isn’t a challenge that can be solved by any one organisation, so it’s always worth talking to suppliers and service providers to see what efficiencies could be made, or for new ideas on how forecasting, supply chain or other logistical issues can be addressed, and timelines managed. There are global issues at play here which are outside our collective control. But where you CAN take action, or influence it, do.