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Importers navigate shipping and supply issues

Slabs, in just about any species, are top sellers. 

Slabs, in just about any species, are top sellers. 

Hardwood importers are still grappling with excessive freight costs and delays. Compound those issues with varied growth and cutting cycles overseas, and uncertainty looms.

Rocky Mehta, of West Penn Hardwoods in Conover, N.C., gives the example of a container from Brazil that he paid no more than $2,500 before the pre-pandemic. The cost skyrocketed to $12,600, but has only come down to $9,600, which is concerning.

“In a nutshell, what I’m seeing is that domestic species are starting to fall in price, but the exotics have not. And with the exotic species, the logistical part has not come down significantly,” says Mehta.

“People ask me what I think is going to happen, and I say I don’t see exotics going down for another year. I have a feeling if inflation doesn’t get under control, exotic prices will never come down. But it’s hard to say. Nobody knows and nobody is saying the price will go down. If you want to buy a container today, get in line.”

Mehta says there’s strong demand for slabs in a variety of species. “People want more slabs in narrow species, not just African mahogany. They want them in 17” canary wood or Patagonian rosewood. Everybody wants slabs for their slab business. My building is 200,000 square feet and a third of it is only slabs now.”

Fabs Corte, of Cormark International in Weaverville, N.C., describes the last two years as an anomaly that disrupted the exotics market in a way he’s never seen before with varied trends and massive hikes in freight costs.

“It’s been a crazy ride in the last two years moving product. I think the demand for exotics was really strong, but it wasn’t backed up by supply. There were many different issues. Covid disrupted cutting seasons and affected the cycle of the flow of material in the countries of origin. There were shipping delays and if it got on the ship, it would arrive at the port, but you couldn’t find your material. There was one delay after another,” says Corte.

“We’re starting to see more material come in, but we’re still a full season out before we will really get product to where it should be and have back-up inventory.”

Doug White has seen some unusual activity at Doug White Lumber & Hardwoods in Marissa, Ill.

“We’ve been selling a lot of mahogany for some reason. That’s really taken off, and some of the other [imports] are going well, too. A guy from Chicago just came down for teak. He couldn’t find it anywhere in Chicago and that’s about a five-hour drive. He bought a bunch of it,” says White.

“I sold Spanish cedar for three jobs last month which is unusual for selling that much. Some was being used for cigar humidors. That’s picked up. We don’t sell it very often, but it seems hotter item than others. What’s down is ipe. I’ve had some sitting here for a long time now.”  

This article was originally published in the December 2022 issue.

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