When it comes to buying timber, there have been a lot of problems lately. Timber and materials supplier James Latham is weathering the challenges after investing in new teams, processes and even other businesses in an effort to secure its supplier networks and stock levels. It has left them in a good position to support the merchant sector…
One problem is demand outstripping supply. It is increasingly difficult to move materials, due to a lack of containers, busy ports, and a shortage of lorry drivers.
Additional legislative hurdles from Brexit and an increasing focus on the sustainability of materials add to the difficulties. It means the merchant sector is under significant pressure. It is times like these that good supplier relationships are essential. That’s where James Latham comes in…
Steve Frommont is Supply Chain Director at Lathams, a role put onto the Lathams board upon the result of Brexit.
He says: “As soon as the leave vote was confirmed we knew that we needed to build further resilience into our operations straight away, rather than risk waiting.
“This involved significant investment and planning before we knew what the trading arrangements were going to be. My remit was to build a supply chain management team to audit our relationships, import processes and customer requirements, and then prepare the business for whatever happened next.”
With the pandemic’s effects and Brexit pressures, the 11 strong team is working harder than ever to keep goods flowing. However, it was the earlier efforts to secure crucial accreditations that has held Lathams in good stead.
One of the most important is Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) status. A mark of quality, HM Revenue & Customs award it to businesses with a strong track record of high standards when it comes to imports and exports.
The benefit is a faster customs authorisation process with simplified paperwork, meaning Lathams stock is not held up at borders. As well as being recognised by the EU, this status is also part of agreements with China, Japan and USA.
There’s also been a transition from the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) to the UK Timber Regulation (UKTR) in January 2021.
Under the UKTR, every business bringing timber into the country and puts it onto the market is classed as an operator and must carry out due diligence. This is to stop illegally harvested timber being sold.
Information requirements include country of origin, species of timber, and a full understanding of the supply chain and potential risks. While this aligns with EUTR, the major difference is one of scale. It applies to 62% of imports; before Brexit, this was 10%.
Steve adds: “The team has successfully navigated the business through these new documentation procedures, avoiding significant disruption at the ports and ensuring that customers are still getting stock from us.
“Crucially, we can give them the confidence that all the relevant legal requirements have been met.”
As part of its management procedures, Lathams actively seeks evidence from its supply chain to ensure all timber comes from ethically managed companies, both operationally and through the positive management of forests.
It stocks a range of independently audited and certified timber products, such as those produced under the Programme for the Endorsement of Certification (PEFC) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Lathams also understand country and region-specific standards, for example the American Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), as well as broader guidance like the Forest Law Enforcement, Government and Trade (FLEGT) action plan, and Verified Legal Compliance schemes (VLCs), such as the one led by the Rainforest Alliance.
With so many of these in place, it is a lot for merchants to keep track of. With customers increasingly looking to make sustainable and ethical buying decisions, these certifications are essential too. That is where a distributor like Lathams can help, by rigorously checking and managing these various certifications. It can ensure every product imported and sold will meet the relevant requirements.
Lathams has depots nationwide, meaning stock is usually close by and can be with merchants within very short lead times. A recent investment in Tradewoods, a bulk timber distribution business just outside of Dublin, has also increased the reach of Lathams Direct Timber (LDT).
LDT is one of the UK’s largest hardwood timber importers. It provides customers with easier access to hardwoods, direct from the port.
Referred to as ‘landed stock’, it means merchants have faster access to materials. It also means they do not need to manage shipping and customs requirements. This creates greater certainty when it comes to pricing.
With product availability and sourcing such a key issue for builder’s merchants, Lathams has a strong solution, with access to suppliers of hardwoods from around the world. This includes popular varieties from across Africa, Europe, North America and the Far East.
Its track record in the sector and focus on its supply chain means Lathams can remove barriers to trade for the merchant sector, whether managing the coordination and communication with suppliers or ensuring all legal requirements and standards are met.
For merchants, it takes away the bureaucracy, allowing them to focus on working with their customers to understand their requirements and match them to the right stock, at the right price, for the right job.
To find out more, visit: www.lathamtimber.co.uk
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