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Dealers navigate treated lumber shortage

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Dealers navigate treated lumber shortage
Photo courtesy of Sue Watson at The South Reporter. Teddy Bryant, of Teddy's Building Supply in Holly Springs, Miss., center, supervises the loading of treated lumber for a buyer who drove from Illinois because of a product shortage.

If you still need evidence of a treated lumber shortage, you won’t find a better example than the front page of the July 9 edition of the South Reporter, the community newspaper in Holly Springs, Mississippi. That’s where you’ll find the story of a Chicago-area contractor who drove nearly 600 miles for a load of treated lumber. 

For many contractors, particularly those who specialize in outdoor home improvements such as decking, fencing, and docks, treated lumber has been hard come by. For Dustin Rager of La Grange, Illinois, it came by way of a lucky connection, followed by a nearly nine hour drive.

Photo courtesy of The South Reporter. A contractor’s nearly 600-mile drive for a load of treated lumber was front page news in the July 9 edition of The South Reporter in Holly Springs, Miss.

Teddy Bryant, of Teddy’s Building Supply in Holly Springs, told LBM Journal that he received a call from Rager, stating that a friend of a friend of a mutual banker suggested that Bryant could find just about anything that might be in short supply. Rager called, asked about his inventory of treated lumber, then asked about picking up a load. 

“What he told me is that he’s got three docks to build and he told his customers of the shortage and the only place he could find it was in North Mississippi. They told him to do it and he called back asking ‘what time do you open Monday morning?’” 

While Bryant said he was glad to have the order ready for Rager that day, he has definitely seen a shortage in the marketplace for more than just treated lumber. 

“All lumber is tight right now. And if your treated lumber is tight, that means your bright’s tight too. And, it’s gone up considerably.” 

Gabe Arnold, treated lumber specialist at Do it Best Corp., said the treated lumber shortage isn’t isolated to any particular region of the country. “We see treated wood suppliers being similarly affected regardless of the region. Specific products, such as decking, timbers (especially 4x4s), and 1×6 dog ear fence boards, have been the most challenging items to source in all regions of the U.S.”

While most dealers will agree that sales of home improvement and DIY-related products have increased greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic, eager remodelers in quarantine aren’t the only driving factor in the shortage. 

“Historic demand is no doubt a contributing factor; however, it really was a perfect storm of several dominoes falling that led us to this point. First, historically low SYP pricing drove curtailments at many SYP mills. The national home centers jumped in at those lower levels, taking a considerable amount of diminished production out of the pipeline for both SYP and treated. Treaters then jumped in to cover their needs which further diminished supply and further lengthened lead times. That all seemed to come together right as the unprecedented consumer demand was really taking off, fueled by many Americans being home and having received their stimulus checks. The industry hasn’t had a moment to recover since. Even the weather has been uncommonly dry—perfect for working on that outdoor patio,” Arnold said. 

At Lockridge, Inc., a four-location full-line lumberyard serving parts of Iowa and Missouri, Clint Housh, store manager and vice president, said that so far their group has been keeping up with orders, though scheduling deliveries has been tight. 

“The deck boards are what we’ve had the biggest trouble getting,” Housh said. “We’re close to a treater who is only an hour away, but even they are having trouble getting wood in to be treated.”

Since Lockridge has four stores to share inventory needs, they haven’t had a complete shortage of anything yet, he said. Aside from treated lumber, there have been periods of lower inventory in other lumber, as well. So far, Lockridge has been able to cover the difference by sometimes substituting different lengths. 

Arnold said many dealers will see fluctuations in inventory throughout the summer months. “As we engage with our treated partners, they’re sharing that it is highly likely inventory levels, especially for decking and timbers, will remain in this pattern into and potentially through the Labor Day weekend.”

Arnold added that Do it Best has advised dealers to be as strategic as possible with their buying habits. “The 3-4 day turnarounds are long gone right now, so we’ve encouraged them to project farther out and, as best they can, keep their decking and timber needs separate from their dimensional needs when ordering. This has helped many of them cover their dimensional orders in a more timely manner.”