Expanding Export Markets for U.S. Softwood Products
Helping industry organizations establish and grow sales around the world
SEC is reaching international buyers and end users through its new YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaA_XXfjf4PfZvW--6w8rrg. The channel features SEC and member videos including lumber grading tutorials and other educational and promotional videos.
Softwood Export Council exhibits in trade shows around the world, but our booth designs in China are most successful due to their warmth, effective display of softwoods in interiors, and unique, eye-catching elements. The man behind the design is Xu Fang, Director of American Softwoods' China office. His booth designs at Interzum (Guangzhou) and Sylvawood (Shanghai) this year have set a strong tone for American Softwoods, highlighting the look and feel of softwood panelling and mimicking outdoor as well as indoor structures.
"There are three aspects that I consider in my design in order to make a booth stand out at the show," explains Xu, "How do people feel when they see the booth from a distance? The booth needs to stand out among its neighbors. How do people feel when they are in the booth? The space must accommodate people moving around, talking, reading, and business meetings. Do visitors have a chance to experience our products? People should have a chance to touch the material and feel warmth."
Xu expresses that warmth is among the key elements he incorporates to maintain a consistent American Softwoods brand identity; he also strives for quality, simplicity, and affordability, all of which are what local users are looking for, but unable to easily obtain in the Chinese wood industry. Creating a relaxing, welcoming booth environment allows these qualities to shine, standing alone alongside the other exhibitors at a trade show.
The process of creating a booth begins with conceptual design: Xu considers first the impression he knows the trade show's audience will respond to, balancing this with the availability of construction materials, required craftsmanship, and cost. After comparing construction vendors and receiving SEC approval of the designs and quotes, Xu reaches out to local importers dealing in U.S. softwoods. All of the lumber used in booth construction is sourced through donation or at a low price covering basic cost.
"Fortunately, most of the industry people I talk to are quite supportive," Xu says, "The bottom line is to consider the reuse of booth material in the future, and easy handling during assembly and disassembly." Installation takes place one or two days prior to the opening event, and Xu supervises the entire process, working with the construction crew to problem-solve and adapt the design as questions arise.
While American Softwoods must target the existing market in each country, the key elements Xu uses in China's booths (warmth, quality, simplicity, and affordability) are not specific to the Chinese market and allow SEC to expand upon them in other countries.
As China's economy continues to struggle, it becomes increasingly important to create ties with wood industry representatives in the East in order to understand their perspective on the downturn and the opportunities for growth during a strained period of trade. This is precisely why three Chinese delegates traveled to Los Angeles this March to participate in Western Wood Product Association's annual meeting, providing insight into the Chinese economy's impact on wood imports.
During their trip, the delegates (alongside a Chinese reporter) were able to visit Portland, where they toured four U.S. construction sites, each exemplary models of softwood construction that highlight the structural integrity and interior beauty of U.S. softwoods:
After touring Columbia Vista and Sierra Pacific Industries in Aberdeen, WA the next day, our Chinese visitors have a better understanding about our West coast softwood lumber species, their availability, and production.
Chinese regulations for wooden structures are dictated by the GB50005, which lists the recognized wood products permitted for construction. Currently, the Chinese Timber Code Committee staff is working on an updated version of this code after ten years since the last edition, incorporating grades and species from the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Kevin Cheung has made a submission to the Committee to incorporate the reliability-compliant design values for North American NGR dimension lumber, MSR lumber, and Structural Timbers. By including these values in Chinese standards, we create opportunities for increasing the use of North American lumber products in China--a country that is already the largest softwood trading partner of the U.S. (not including Canada), with a housing start exceeding 10 million a year and a new commitment to increasing wood construction in official buildings.
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