This month I chatted with Rod Taverner form Durable Hardwoods, to learn about the great business he has in Adelaide, and how they are continuing to offer their clients great quality products and even better service, despite the challenges COVID-19 has brought.
Rod is an accountant by profession and spent many years auditing for government departments in both PNG and Australia. While he was working in PNG, he was always interested in their timber. Time came for Rod to semi-retire, and he chose to start a timber merchant business in the late 1990’s importing quality, ecologically sourced timber from PNG. Rod thought it would be rewarding to put something back into a community where had he spent a lot of time.
The business did not start getting serious until about 2005. Durable Hardwoods clients buy quality timber to make items for musical instruments to bridges, wharves and jetties. The timber they buy is durable, fire resistant and fit for purpose. As well as hardwoods, Durable Hardwoods also sell cypress, as it is a timber that suits Adelaide’s conditions and fits the Adelaide market.
Durable Hardwoods does not have ‘customers’, they are all ‘clients’ – ranging from civil construction, builders, government, and some retail. This focus on the person rather than the sale is what he believes sets their business apart from their competitors . They are not ‘chasing sales targets’ but instead are more focused on helping those who sometimes do not quite know what they need – making sure clients walk away with the right product. But if you think they treat their clients well, Rod believes in treating their suppliers even better. The business would not stand if they did not have quality product to supply, so his suppliers are key to the business.
Durable Hardwoods began as a timber importer. However, Rod reflects that one of the biggest challenges he faced in his business was the decision to cease import and begin exclusively sourcing Australian timber. The decision came about because of the difficulties small businesses face dealing with Customs. Moving to Australian suppliers was a challenge, finding quality product and a quality company to rely on.
While there have been challenges, good business people always look for opportunities. Rod believes that the impact of COVID-19 has created an opportunity for Australian businesses: ‘it is time for Australian businesses to regain some economic sovereignty. Australia is only a small market with a large distance, and we should be focusing on self-reliance a lot more.’
Durable Hardwoods is only a team of two: Rod and his nephew Justin – who is a qualified timber grader and has an eye for quality. They are fortunate to be in a situation to be able to ride out any short-term storms and to continue doing what they do – and better: treating their suppliers and logistics companies with respect and to give the client the quality product they are after.
I asked Rod, why a timber business in semi-retirement? He told me he has always loved the product and the people associated with it. He loved the connection with people in PNG and ‘it sure beats sudoku!’. He loves meeting lots of clients and hearing stories from those who have been using timber for 60 years. Rod enjoys learning about new techniques and reviving the old ones. A most recent old technique he learned was from reading a 1963 CSIRO Timber Engineering and Design Handbook on how to make trusses (finding books on timber in secondhand book shops is a hobby). Rod explains, ‘timber applications have been around for hundreds and thousands of years, it’s good to offer clients different techniques.’
Looking to the future, Rod is a little concerned about the diminishing availability of quality timber. The market needs to look at good quality timber as the absolute premium product – and pay accordingly. There is smaller availability of quality hardwoods and therefore they’re becoming more exclusive. Rod also believes hardwoods should be used for decorative or art forms and is passionate about looking at a wood/plastic composite as an alternative building material. He is currently working with Adelaide Plastic Recyclers to offer this product as an alternative to the premium products. The world is changing and availability of resources is decreasing and recycling needs to increase.
Not only is the market changing and the products available, but so is the world of marketing. Durable Hardwoods has adapted to the way clients are now finding them. They are no longer turning to newspapers and radio, or even internet websites – it is all about social media. The business is currently getting more hits on Facebook in a couple of hours than the website does in one month.
Rod’s advice for those entering the industry. ‘Recognise the nature of the industry is constantly evolving with new products and opportunities. Be ready for change and always look for ways to innovate’. And finally, ‘respect the quality resource and it’s whole of life cycle and remain optimistic in the growth of the Australian economy’.