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Dealers Grapple with Pandemic Fallout – Virus Upends Industry Event Schedule

As their communities pull back and become more isolated to reduce the possibility of spreading the coronavirus, lumber dealers are grappling with a host of issues related to staffing, customer service, inventory and event travel.

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As their communities pull back and become more isolated to reduce the possibility of spreading the coronavirus, lumber dealers are grappling with a host of issues related to staffing, customer service, inventory and event travel.

Most appear to be taking the initial steps of doing their best to provide a sanitary place of business, encouraging unwell employees to stay home, and considering expanding leave policies, sick pay, and remote work. While companies like Georgia-Pacific and Weyerhaeuser have been able to shift a large number of staffers to working from their homes, the typical retail dealer has a lumberyard or hardware store that must be physically staffed. And cities that have mandated the closure of “non-essential” businesses have, so far at least, exempted hardware and big box stores.

At this point, dealers must navigate through a series of what-ifs: What if consumers quarantine themselves in their homes? What if building projects stop or are deferred? What if vendors can no longer supply certain products, particularly imported goods? What if an employee gets ill? Unfortunately, with the situation changing so quickly, the questions seemed to vastly outnumber the answers.

In the meantime, dealers and wholesalers are all forced to deal with an upended schedule of industry events, with most travel on ice at least in the short term.

Some event organizers got creative. Ace Hardware did hold its spring convention March 11-14, but instead of its planned venue—Chicago’s McCormick Place—Ace switched to a virtual conference. Although Ace had never tried anything like this before, according to a spokesperson, “it turned out to be very successful. Retailers remarked how easy it was to place their orders. And the programs are still available for them on AceNet.”

Blish-Mize similarly is switching to a virtual spring market. Instead of March 19-21 in Overland Park, Ks., it will be made available online March 19-31, offering the same market pricing, special buys and programs. The market is available to all customers, regardless of how frequently they place orders.

International Wood Products Association will “reimagine” its annual convention and World of Wood show as its first-ever Virtual World of Wood Convention from April 1-3, in place of a physical event in Savannah, Ga.

IWPA executive Cindy Squires is confident that IWPA will be able to deliver the value of World of Wood attendance utilizing video conferencing tools. “While we are disappointed that our attendees won’t be able to come together in Savannah, transitioning to a Virtual World of Wood on the same dates that they were scheduled to be in Savannah will allow them to access industry-leading business intelligence and critical information remotely,” said Squires.

All registrants will automatically be enrolled in the Virtual World of Wood. IWPA staff will follow up with all registrants with detailed information about how to participate in the Virtual World of Wood.

A number of events were outright canceled, including:

  • Lumbermen’s Association of Texas annual convention & expo (April 6-8) in Frisco, Tx.
  • Southern Forest Products Association/Southeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association spring meeting (March 25-27) in New Orleans, La.
  • Montreal Wood Convention (March 24-26)
  • North American Wholesale Lumber Association spring Wood Basics Course (March 23-27) in Corvallis, Or., and Montreal regional meeting (March 24)
  • National Lumber & Building Material Dealers Association’s spring meeting and legislative conference (March 23-25) in Washington, D.C.
  • Redwood Region Logging Conference (March 19-21) in Ukiah, Ca.
  • International Home + Hardware Show/Inspired Home Show (March 14-17) in Chicago

Other groups have opted to postpone. Kentucky Forest Industries Association has moved its annual meeting from April 7-9 to Aug. 25-27 in Louisville, Ky.

The National Hardware Show has been pushed back from May 5-7 to Sept. 1-3, still at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

New dates have yet to be set for:

  • Boise Cascade Building Material Distribution’s Riverside, Ca., golf tournament (originally March 13)
  • International Mass Timber Conference in Portland, Or. (March 24-26)
  • Hardwood Manufacturers Association national conference and expo/Southern Cypress Manufacturers Association annual meeting in Nashville, Tn. (March 25-27)
  • NAWLA’s Vancouver, B.C., regional meeting (originally April 9)

At press time, Moulding & Millwork Producers Association was still evaluating whether to proceed with its WM Millwork Marketplace April 20-22 in Jekyll Island, Ga., as was the Transload Distribution Association with its annual meeting April 28-30 in Denver, Co. American Wood Protection Association will decide by March 24 what to do with its annual meeting set for April 26-28 in Lake Tahoe.

As for all of us, have contingency plans in place and be safe. And stay up on the latest developments by receiving our e-newsletter; sign up by emailing