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Broker's Knowledge, Experience Serve Pallet Industry Customers
TNT Lumber Co.: Ron DeLisle, whose company serves customers in Western states and Canada, says the key to effective lumber brokering is knowledge and experience
By Staff Writer
Date Posted: 12/1/2000
BYRON, Calif. — The key to effective lumber brokering is knowledge and experience, according to Ron DeLisle.
Ron’s brokerage firm, TNT Lumber Company, serves customers from offices in Byron, California, just north of the San Francisco Bay area. Although based in California, he is in constant contact with both lumber suppliers and customers in the Western states and Canada.
Ron has seen it all when it comes to lumber. He began at the bottom of the forest products totem pole nearly 40 years ago as a dispatcher for American Forest Products. Since then he has owned a retail and wholesale lumber outlet, operated a remanufacturing and distribution plant, and worked successfully as a lumber broker, supplying the needs of pallet plants and other industrial customers.
The broad range of forest products industry knowledge and experience he brings to the business of brokering lumber is one of the most important assets he offers his customers. Ron began working at American Forest Products as a dispatcher in 1962 and five years later was selling for the company. In 1973 he and a partner purchased an historic mill and lumber business in the Bay area, operating as a retail yard for a number of years before evolving into a remanufacturing and distribution center. Ron launched TNT Lumber Company in 1985.
With his wide range of experience Ron is able to respond to changes in the industry as they occur and integrate them into his business for the benefit of TNT customers.
Pre-cut lumber has risen in importance to the pallet industry for two reasons, according to Ron. One is the strong influence of Canada in the lumber markets. "The competitive prices and availability of pre-cut lumber today make it very attractive over random length lumber," he said, "and with pre-cut lumber you virtually have no waste and a minimal amount of labor. Although we still sell random length lumber, more and more customers are going to pre-cut."
Second, with pre-cut stock a manufacturer does not have to run a reman line. With the added difficulties of today’s regulatory climate and the tight labor market, the costs of buying random length lumber and remanufacturing the material into pallet components far outweigh any price differential relative to pre-cut stock.
Another change in the industry that Ron has witnessed is the increasing reliance by manufacturers on lumber brokers to keep them supplied with material at good prices. Developing and maintaining relationships with sawmills and other suppliers can be very time consuming and requires a vast knowledge of the industry. A good broker, Ron pointed out, provides that service to customers, and the knowledge of where and when to buy for the most value. "The customers we deal with generally don’t have the range of contacts we have. Usually brokers can get the best price because of the quantity and variety of products they buy. A broker also acts as an advocate for the lumber mills and customers by providing a valuable outlet for the mills and a higher level of quality and service to customers."
The effectiveness of TNT Lumber Company is tied to the industry information Ron collects and compiles. He has developed an information base, dubbed the TNT Fax Network, that enables him to stay abreast of the industry on a daily — even hourly — basis. Industry contacts who participate in his fax network help Ron to provide both a steady source of customers for mills in the U.S. and Canada and a broad range of lumber species and dimensions for the manufacturing customers he serves.
The TNT Fax Network keeps him in touch with "a couple of thousand" people in the industry, Ron said. Each week he receives dozens of inquiries from customers looking to buy various types of lumber, and he gets information from U.S. and Canadian mills about what they are offering in the lumber markets. "From there it’s a matter of bringing together the best matches between availability and need," said Ron.
Quality and timely delivery of lumber is just as important as price to manufacturers, noted Ron, and managing the delivery of goods is a vital part of his service. He pointed to the agriculture industry as an example. "Farmers don’t have an inventory to pull from. They want lumber when they need it, and because crops are perishable, there is a small window of time available to them. I have to take that into consideration when I work with clients in the agriculture field. The fact that we have a steady client base with a lot of repeat business says a lot about how seriously we take service to all of our customers."
One of Ron’s clients serving the wooden packaging requirements of the agriculture industry is Dwight P. Hughes Company. The company, headed by Dwight Hughes, is a major supplier of pallets and custom crates to agricultural and industrial businesses in the San Joaquin Valley and the Los Angeles-San Bernardino area. Dwight’s company operates three plants, two in the valley at Stockton and Selma and one to the south in Hesperia.
Dwight realizes the benefit and convenience of working with a brokerage firm like TNT. "Ron’s got a real handle on what’s happening in the trade," said Dwight. "He’s an excellent source of cut stock and is very big on quality and service. We’ve been in business since 1976, and I’ve used Ron as long as I can remember. He runs a tight ship and makes sure we have what we need, when we need it. In my view he’s a very important resource for our business."
Lumber brokers have been an important resource for manufacturers in the pallet and crate business, and they continue to be. By gathering information from buyers and sellers, they provide a valuable service to both mills and manufacturers. For the most part they never see or handle the lumber they procure for their customers. However, they advance the success of the industry as completely and fully as those who actually mill the lumber or use it to manufacture pallets or crates.