Selling timber online – one board at a time

TDUK member English Woodlands Timber has taken its sales online and is selling high-quality oak and hardwoods one board at a time, using the internet as its shop window. We visited the company in Sussex to find out more.

We’re used to seeing timber merchants sell their stock from large yard spaces. Timbers will be piled high for builders and joiners to visit and choose the pieces they want, or they can send in a request to the merchant and have the products delivered – sight unseen – to their site.

English Woodlands Timber (EWT) has taken a different approach. While customers can still visit their site, EWT has also turned the internet into their own shop window.

Nestled in four acres of the South Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, EWT sources and supplies high-quality English and European oak and native temperate hardwoods to builders, furniture makers and joiners across the UK.

Having started life in post-World War II Britain, the company now sells a wide range of oak structural beams, durable cladding in oak, Douglas Fir, Larch and Western Red Cedar, air- and kiln-dried oak, ash and chestnut waney edge boards, as well as many other species.

All of its products come with full Chain of Custody and PEFC certification where appropriate, and EWT uses a comprehensive tracking process that means the timber can be traced back to the exact forest where it was grown. This allows builders and joiners to use the timber and be fully confident that they know exactly where it came from.

Joint Managing Directors Tom Compton and Ian McNally

EWT is run by Joint Managing Directors Ian McNally and Tom Compton. The company has a history of expert forestry management, and Tom frequently travels sourcing quality timbers from well-managed, sustainable forests around the UK and in France.

Ian explains: “What Tom delivers is a very good understanding of the heritage we have and our associations within forestry. Everything we do starts with the trees, and Tom’s ability to find trees and parcels of timber from some of the best woodlands around the country.”

 

Going virtual

Once the timber has been sourced, it is cut and delivered to EWT’s Sussex site where it is seasoned, kilned or air dried and prepared for customers. But rather than piling the timber up high for customers to choose, EWT has taken a different approach.

Ian says: “In this industry a lot of timber is sold by cubic meters or packs. But here at EWT every board is individually measured and photographed. We have probably one of the biggest collections of English timber and a lot of it is now sold online.”

EWT has been making boards available for sale online since 2012 and has recently invested in ecommerce updates on the main company website – www.englishwoodlandstimber.co.uk. In the process, they have also created a separate ecommerce website representing the walk-in area they call The Timber Rack, which is online at www.thetimberrack.co.uk.

Talking a customer through some selected boards by video call

That means, rather than looking online at a generic image of a piece of oak, for example, they can examine the exact piece of oak they would be buying, with images taken from all sides and displayed with exact measurements, so that builders, joiners and furniture makers can actually see the timber they are buying before they make a purchase.

Each board is numbered and that code can be used to trace it back to the exact forest it came from, how long ago it was purchased and who it was purchased from. The exact specification of every board is stored so that Grown in Britain customers can use that information if they need it for their own records.

Ian continues: “We’re selling well over 100 boards per week online at the moment, and that’s growing every day. We also sell a lot of Chestnut cladding, and we’re probably one of the biggest sources of local chestnut in the country.”

As well as sourcing the best home-grown timbers, EWT also sources French oak, giving UK joiners and furniture makers the opportunity to buy the best French oak available – and to examine it virtually before they buy.

For customers who want the more traditional sales route, EWT also offers a walk-in retail space called The Timber Rack at its site where builders and joiners can visit and see the timbers in person without an appointment, or they can call and tell EWT exactly what they need, and EWT’s team will select the timbers on behalf of the customer, or assist the customer with self-selection, then cut them to size and deliver them directly.

Tom says: “This is a sophisticated ecommerce tool, and we’re bringing that technology to the sale of timber. We want to transform the way timber is bought and sold, and our offer is unique in that it’s Grown in Britain timber, sold board by board and delivered directly to the customer by courier – but that they’ve been able to examine completely before purchase.

www.englishwoodlandstimber.co.uk