High demand for imports as supply chain sputters

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Business is good but the supply chain is struggling, according to importers and retailers of exotic woods interviewed by Woodshop News. The consensus is that Covid, not surprisingly, has greatly affected movement, as well as increasingly stringent government regulations. Still, consumers have pressed on with their searches, often substituting with more readily available woods when possible.

Fabs Corte of Cormark International, an importer and wholesaler in Weaverville, N.C., says supplies are extremely tight with ongoing disruptions in international shipping that started last March due to the Covid pandemic.

“Since then, the supply chain is back up and running but it’s overwhelmed at the moment. There is so much product that is waiting to be moved and not enough space on vessels or not enough containers available. Where we’d normally see a certain lead time of anything form 30-60 days, now you’re seeing transit times of 45-90 days,” says Corte.

“What we’re telling a lot of our customers is we will have the product but can’t tell them when because replenishment is so erratic. Demand is strong across the board on all species. It’s hard to say which one because you might not have something so people are naturally switching to something else because they can’t get that specific species.”

Carl Mahlstedt of Goosebay Sawmill & Lumber, a retailer in Chinchester, N.H., says the most popular exotics are purpleheart, padauk, bloodwood, wenge and zebrawood, which are going to crafters, hobbyists and musical instrument makers.

“Some of the other ones like the rosewoods are not selling as much as they used to, pretty much because they’re on the CITES list and they’re much more expensive, so people are finding alternatives to some of them which I have a few of like granadillo or morado,” says Mahlstedt.

“Granadillo is a cheaper substitute for some of the more expensive rosewoods like cocobolo. We keep cocobolo in stock when we can get it. It’s probably the most popular rosewood but the price of it has gotten driven way up because of the restrictions so it doesn’t sell like it used to. Bocote and olivewood are also very popular. We have also been selling a lot of live edge exotic slabs with things like canary wood where people like the contrast for small tables, coffee tables, end tables. It’s mostly a piece here or piece there because of price.”

Rocky Mehta of West Penn Hardwoods, a supplier in Conover, N.C., also notes demand exceeds inventory and foresees supply issues through the spring.

“Demand is huge and last March, April and May went haywire. Nobody knew what they were doing. In July, August, September and in recent months, we can’t keep up. Everybody wants wood yesterday and I think a lot of it is because of Covid. We have a lot of people sitting inside their houses and they have nothing else to do so they like woodworking and doing home projects,” says Mehta, adding that teak is inordinately popular these days.

“Our teak sales are 400 percent higher because everybody wants to build outdoor things. It’s unbelievable what’s happening.” 

This article was originally published in the January 2021 issue.

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