Mike Girard is the owner of Swiftwood Forest Products – a custom wood remanufacturer based in Port Coquitlam, B.C.
1. What was your first export sale?
Some of the custom millwork we produced right after I bought the business went into some very high-end homes in the I-5 corridor on the U.S. west coast.
2. How did that first export opportunity arise?
When I bought the business in 2004, it was remanufacturing for several companies already exporting to the U.S. and the UK. As the new owner, I had to make sure there would be more export opportunities so I focused on doing the very best job I could and producing high quality product. Looking back, I can say that Swiftwood’s reputation of excellence and delivering on time is the foundation of the business and is a major reason we were able to survive the 2008 crash.
3. When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
Relationships count. Forces beyond our control can and do affect export trade. As a business owner you have to be prepared for changes in the business environment, including off-shore producers introducing alternative wood products that compete directly with local producers. The impact of these products strains business relationships. We need to keep our customers engaged in the export trade. One can’t over-estimate the importance of our business relationships. Everyone in the supply chain can rely on us.
4. How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
Before the 2008 financial market meltdown, wholesalers would invest in inventory. Now they buy specifically for the sale they have on their books. They don’t want to be stuck with inventory if there is any change in the market.
5. What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about export and trade
Don’t take on work that you can’t do. If you know you won’t be able to deliver on time or at the required quality level, don’t take on the job. If you do and there are problems it impacts the whole industry and buyers from the U.S. and elsewhere will be cautious about getting the wood remanufactured here in B.C.
Most importantly, if you work with multiple customers you have to be very confidential. These customers may be competing against one another – you have to follow their instructions to the letter and not talk about any details of the individual jobs.