COVID-19 – an unexpected game changer for industry
By Ashley Wilson, Technical Sales (VIC, TAS & ACT)
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the ability to adapt has never been more important. First, bushfires and drought wrought prodigious devastation. If that wasn’t enough of a lesson, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly brought complacency into sharp focus. ‘Pivot’ has been one of 2020’s most used buzzwords, with businesses grappling with lockdowns, shutdowns and fierce restrictions and the economy has obviously taken a battering.
So, what has all this meant for the timber processing industry?
On the back of the bushfires, COVID-19 added a whole new dimension of pain for the industry, so dramatic that the effects will be felt for some time to come. But the timber industry is built on a strong foundation, driven by tough, resilient businesspeople who care passionately about their work, their products, their people and their customers.
At first, there was a lot of uncertainty in the market and the economy, and people were reserved about spending their money, keeping it to bare necessities. As COVID cases rose and a range of fears surfaced, we started to notice that businesses adapted and diversified to stay afloat.
The push to support small business became a groundswell and this, combined with the federal government’s stimulus and income support packages has managed to keep the cogs turning.
COVID’s affect on the health of business
Just as people who contract the virus struggle with basic functioning like breathing and energy levels, COVID has effectively sought to strangle organisations, reducing core business and day-to-day operations to the barest essentials. In my many discussions with customers, I noticed that industry leaders at the helm of these operations were quick to overcome hurdles. By investing in the right equipment earlier, they managed to change process and production lines to enter new markets.
For instance, I witnessed sawmillers diversifying into new product lines and machining shops taking on extra work to support sawmills. Consumers began to favour Australian-made where they previous may have chosen price over quality. Delays on global shipping also contributed to the increased sales of locally produced goods and with the government introducing tax and renovation incentives, the market has rallied.
Stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne and some parts of regional Victoria saw the shutdown of the furniture industry, which sprang back into action at the end of September, with a backlog of work. This has meant increased demand for supply from timber manufacturers.
Consumer time off another positive for the industry
With so many workers stood down and even business owners finding themselves with more time on their hands during various stages of COVID restrictions – particularly in Victoria – home renovations and DIY have soared. People finally had the time to do those odd jobs around the house like build a deck, paint the walls and so on. Many of my customers experienced record sales months, particularly in May, June and July, in line with home hardware stores recording substantial sales increases.
Also, with the property market facing challenges, homeowners have diverted their time and money towards renovating and adding value. We are now seeing more and more companies working together to support each other, rather than competing, and this is what’s sustaining the manufacturing and spending cycle.
What lies ahead for the timber industry?
The renewed realisation around the critical importance of adaptability and diversification looks good for the future of forestry and timber processing and manufacturing, but there are still challenges. There’s still the underlying issue of fibre supply and as an industry, we need to focus on what we can do to sustain this. I hope consumers will continue to support local, which will rebuild the economy. I truly believe that if we all focus on the incredible positives we’ve gained over the last year or so, we’ll all get through much stronger than ever before.
There’s never been a more important time for companies to put such a high level of trust in their suppliers, to maintain their daily running needs and costs. Reliability of and trust in the equipment and service are paramount, particularly in times when people and resources are so limited.
I, myself, felt the harsh reality of the state’s strict lockdown. Working from my home office and feeling so isolated (like everyone else), I pretty quickly realised that I had to switch my focus from the things I couldn’t do, to the things I could do. I did whatever was necessary to adapt, and helped my customers adapt as well. I focused on the industry instead of the pandemic.
We are now in October and the change I’ve noticed not just in myself but in the industry has been hugely rewarding. We now appreciate the small milestones we achieve, as people and as an industry and we are more focused on opportunities than ever before.