With burgeoning demand for wood products and building materials amidst tightening transportation capacity, Lee Goodwin depends upon long-term relationships to fulfill needs of customers of Boise Cascade Co.
As international transportation manager for building materials distribution at the Boise, Idaho-based industry pacesetter, Goodwin puts into practice his father’s advice to establish and nurture relationships, including with a broad spectrum of service providers.
Goodwin concedes it can be a daily struggle, but he believes challenges can be met through flexible options, including perhaps looking to return some loads to breakbulk transport mode from the containerized method that has become standard practice over his more than two decades with Boise Cascade.
In an in-depth interview, Goodwin shares with AJOTreaders his thoughts on this and more. (Spoiler alert: Goodwin loves trees.)
Over the 21-plus years you’ve been with Boise Cascade, how has shipping of wood products and building materials evolved from largely being via breakbulk mode to containerization, and what do you see as advantages and disadvantages?
When I started with the company, breakbulk for ocean transport was the norm, and we were shipping most of our exports, like plywood, via breakbulk, with most of it going to Europe.
Breakbulk works very well port to port for large, steady volumes. Basically, we would ship plywood down from our mill to the local port every month, and it would go from Port Arthur, Texas, to Northern Europe. That worked out very well, and it still works well for people who have that sort of scenario.
Breakbulk is obviously still an active mode for wood products shippers, but you have less flexibility, because the port ranges on breakbulk are typically narrower, with maybe a couple load ports and a couple discharge ports.
So the evolution from breakbulk into containerized was a matter of us first convincing mills and customers that it would work and having proper packaging and loading techniques to make it work.
Containerization provides a lot more flexibility, not only on port pairing but also on volume. You only have to commit yourself to basically a truckload of product to buy from a mill and to sell to a customer, and it’s typically shipped weekly.
We’ve revisited things over time to look at breakbulk again, and I’d personally like to be able to use breakbulk when needed, because it does give you something that containerization doesn’t – being able to do a large and steady volume through a port.
Even my buyers and customers say, doesn’t anyone do breakbulk anymore? Why can’t we? Why don’t we? It’s not that we can’t or don’t, but we just need to find the right business scenario.
How have Boise Cascade and its customers benefited from your vast experience with the company, having started in 1997 as senior international transportation coordinator, as well as your seven years prior to that as transportation manager with a seed company?
Within transportation – and I’ve been in the sales side and the buying side both in the seed business and the lumber business – it’s a matter of understanding and building relationships, not only with co-workers but also with your service providers, understanding their capabilities and finding those who match our requirements.
We have been building good relationships over the last 30 years with transportation providers – whether truck, rail, ocean or air – and know who to call when the situation arises, to take advantage of new business or improve existing business.
Noting that company sales for the quarter ended June 30 rose to more than $1.4 billion, up 24 percent from the comparable year-earlier period, how are Boise Cascade’s logistics keeping pace with ongoing growth in demand as U.S. residential construction continues on the rise while capacity seems to keep tightening?
Trying to manage that kind of growth is a challenge. But the transportation teams here at Boise Cascade are very good at what we do, and we approach the business with long-term plans and contracts in place with our service providers. That helps a lot, along with planning and execution and being a consistent good customer with our service providers.
You obviously want to partner with providers who want your business, and then, when things get tight, they’re typically not going to run away and try to find the next new thing. They’ll be with you for the long term, and that’s the relationships we’ve built with our service providers over the years.
When you have these kinds of years – and you do have them – where you have these incredible gains in very difficult transportation settings, where on the domestic side you have impacts of hours of service for the trucking community and the well-documented driver shortage and aging of the drivers, it affects capacity and availability of trucks.
We deal a lot in the flatbed segment, as well as vans and rail. Having those long-term rail and road relationships helps. It doesn’t solve the sudden growth. Our business experiences these sharp V curves, sort of from zero to 60 overnight.
We just try to plan as well as we can, and it’s a daily struggle in the heat of the season here to make sure we have everything working and then having contingencies in place when things aren’t.
As Boise Cascade prides itself on being a consistent and stable partner with a strong sense of urgency, how are you assisting customers in achieving success specifically through transportation and logistics?
We want to be a consistent and stable partner, and we have had a long history of doing that, so we have a good base, and we definitely work with a sense of urgency. It’s not necessarily a seasonal business, because we do a lot of stuff year-round, but there are building seasons in the geographies within the U.S.
I think we just try to find as many transportation options as we can – whether that be rail, truckload, flatbed, transloading, even LTL [less-than-truckload] for that matter in some markets with some products.
Having a large variety of transportation types and transportation providers gives us enough flexibility to definitely satisfy our customers’ needs.
Seeing as you’ve gone to both Oregon State University and the University of Oregon, are you a Beavers or Ducks fan or perhaps, difficult as it might be, both? And, by the way, are you a native Oregonian?
Well, I grew up in Oregon most of my life. I was actually born in Hamilton, Bermuda, where my father was stationed working for Bendix with the space program.
As far as Beavers or Ducks, I’m Platypus [an animal with features of both, with its name on the trophy awarded the winner of the annual OSU-UO Civil War football game]. Obviously, I have a lot of friends and family who are both, so it’s difficult to be one or the other.
I graduated from the University of Oregon [with a bachelor’s in political science], so I’m a Duck, but I do have leanings toward the Beavers, especially when they’re on the national stage.
There are a lot of blended families in Oregon.
What activities do you most enjoy beyond the workplace?
Having been here as long as I have, I have a very good work-life balance, or should I just say I have a balanced life?
Being in Idaho, I do a lot of outdoor activities. I run a lot. I call that my meditation. I do a lot of trail running but don’t do a lot of racing anymore.
I do a lot of skiing in the winter, both downhill and Nordic, and backpacking and camping with my family. It all kind of circulates around being outdoors in the fresh air year-round. I love the trees. I love the woods.
Who do you believe has most significantly influenced your life, both professionally and personally, and why?
My late father would be the answer personally and professionally. He was with the space program for many years, and then he moved out to Oregon with the six kids and Mom and dog in tow in a Winnebago and started a truck dealership with his brother and did that for 15 years before going into real estate for the rest of his life.
He always had very good insight and taught me that having personal relationships was going to be the most important thing you could do both personally and professionally, honing skills to build good relationships with people.
He taught me that you aren’t going to be the smartest person in the room with all the answers, but make sure you have a lot of people around you who are very smart and give a lot of different insights into problems you come across.
Honestly, it’s the same with the international game on the transportation side. There’s never a dull moment. There are a lot of opportunities to execute well on how you do things and to improve how you do things. A lot of it has to do with just having those relationships with people.
You have to enjoy what you do, and I do. The reason I enjoy it is because I interact with people. I probably wouldn’t enjoy being in a hole typing out code. I enjoy the variety and the challenges that international transportation provide. There is never a dull moment.