The National Hardwood Lumber Association opened its first overseas office in Shanghai, China, in January. Bob Sabistina, former director of the NHLA Inspector Training School and also former chief inspector of the NHLA, will oversee the Shanghai office. His work will be divided into three main areas:
- Performing inspection services, including grade inquiries on specific loads and dispute resolutions;
- Teaching and providing on-the-job training of U.S. hardwood lumber grades to the growing list of consumers in China and Southeast Asia in cooperation with the American Hardwood Export Council;
- Promoting and representing the NHLA at industry meetings, trade shows and various industry functions.
“NHLA members are increasingly looking for new customers for their North American products,” says Sabistina. “Export sales have continued to grow rapidly in this region for over 10 years, and the feeling is these numbers will continue to grow. The immediate benefit to NHLA members will be to have a man here who can assist in dispute resolution. As you can imagine, it is very expensive to travel over here, and having a national man representing the membership can only help resolve an issue, should one arise.”
Sabistina has been working in Asia as a consultant for the American Hardwood Export Council since 2005, mainly conducting NHLA grading seminars. The NHLA believes the success of reaching those markets is dependent upon the differentiation of North American hardwoods from the rest of the products.
Sabistina’s primary focus will be on teaching and training. The NHLA has been training the North American industry for many years and would like to stretch that influence around the world. The association believes that the more customers know about the grading process, the more refined they can be on the purchasing end.
“We hear every day about global suppliers quoting their products with NHLA grades; [we ’re] not really sure if they are or not,” Sabistina says. “NHLA would like to take the active role in maintaining the quality and credibility of the grades.”
“I have received over 20 e-mails from members wishing me success and congratulations in this endeavor. And yes, I have also received the grumbling and moaning from those who think NHLA doesn’t need to teach anyone, least being Chinese manufacturers. To them I ask, ‘What are you afraid of?’ The successful companies, who far outnumber the grumblers, get it.”
The Shanghai office will be maintained through spring as a trial program. Sabistina believes the program will expand to run year-round with a full-time presence, first in China, and eventually with offices around the world.
“NHLA is embarking on new horizons that extend beyond the North American borders, because we all feel this is where the future of our industry lies,” he says. “NHLA has been the keeper of the North American grading rules for over 100 years and, as that wood goes global, so will we. Thus the new [motto], ‘Strong Roots, Global Reach.’ This is just the beginning.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2009 issue.