Spokane Forest Products
- Written by: Tom Faunce
- Produced by: Sean O'Reilly
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
Since 2001, Spokane Wood Products has been a wholesale lumber distributor supplying specialty wood for log homes and timber frames. Located in Spokane, Washington, Spokane Forest Products serves the entire continental United States. “We even do some business in Canada and Mexico,” says Trace Sutter, sales manager and vice president of Spokane Wood Products. “About 98 percent of our business is in the lower 48 states though.”
Sutter Joined Spokane Forest Products in 2005. Growing up around lumber mills in Michigan, Sutter began working in the industry when he was 17 years old. “I started out stacking wood on a green chain,” recalls Sutter. “I started on this side of the business when I started working here. I’d much rather be selling it than stacking it.”
After running a concrete plant in Spokane for a number of years, Sutter was working with a headhunting agency in search of a career change. “I was about to go to an interview for an underground utilities supervisor position,” says Sutter. “The guy I was working with seemed to think I had the type of personality for a wood broker. He put me in touch with the people at Spokane Forest Products and the rest is history.”
Working all across the United States, Spokane Forest Products recently completed a project with a company called Fitzgerald Heavy Timbers out of New Hampshire and Vermont. Due to a federal grant that Fitzgerald had recently received, the company was repairing a set of antique covered bridges. Fitzgerald looked to Spokane Forest Products to provide it with a supply of specialty-cut Douglas fir lumber.
Spokane Wood Products was also called upon to repair decking on the USS Constitution, which is a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the United States Navy. “That was a really neat job,” says Sutter. “When you’re in the business of providing specialty products you can get some real interesting inquiries.”
Always willing to accept a challenge, Sutter remembers a day when he was contacted by a man requesting Aspen trees. “At first I thought he meant that he wanted some boards,” Sutter explains. “Then I thought he meant he wanted unpeeled logs. It turns out he runs a company in Las Vegas that uses the entire Aspen tree, roots and all, to build massive displays for outdoor retail stores. They build scaffolding around the trees and he has workers that remove every single leaf on the tree and replace it with a silk leaf. Anyways, we made it work and sold him the trees completely intact.”
Think outside the box
The ability to diversify has proven to be a success factor for Spokane Forest Products, especially through the recession. “When times got tough we started looking for places to move wood that the average company didn’t have the flexibility to do,” Sutter explains. “We started knocking on the doors of steel manufacturers, concrete companies and crane companies; anybody that used wood that wasn’t involved in the housing market. I think that’s what saved us during that time.”
Sutter says the company also worked with a ski resort in Colorado. The inquiry was for a main center post for the dome-shaped facility. “They were looking for a tree with very particular specifications,” says Sutter. “It needed to be 80-feet tall and it could only taper a total of 12 inches over 80 feet. It had to be 30 inches wide at the top and 4 feet wide at the bottom.”
With between 125 and 150 shipments per month, Spokane Forest Products uses railway to ship 10 percent of its product, with the rest transported by trucking brokers. “We have about 10 trucking companies that we work with,” says Sutter. “We have the luxury of being able to pick and choose which companies we use so we tend to go with the ones that we’ve established great working relationships with.”
Sutter says that the employees at Spokane Forest Products are his favorite part of the job. With seven traders and three staff members, Sutter believes that taking care of your employees is the key to success. “We definitely believe that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” says Sutter. “Speaking for myself as an employee, we are treated very well. Our employees are taken care of in every sense that you can take care of an employee.”
Taking care of employees and customers is the gauge that Spokane Forest Products uses to measure its level of success. “We take care of our employees and customers because if we don’t then someone else will,” says Sutter.
As the company continues into the future, Spokane Forest Products will continue to take care of its customers and employees as it maintains steady growth.
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