How To Improve Lumber Sales

By Simon Petree, Green Leaf Forest Products

Sometimes the simplest actions can lead to sales. One thing I’ve learned over 15+ years in the business of thin kerf sawmilling is that people really like knowing where the wood you’re selling them comes from. The uniqueness of that lumber makes it special. When you can give your customers a story along with the wood you’re selling them, you are doing a lot more than just making them happy for a few moments. You are giving them a story they can tell others for years to come and it costs you next to nothing!

A happy customer is more often than not, a repeat customer. More than that, when a customer tells and retells a story of their wood product to friends and relatives, they are making brand new customers for you. It’s the word of mouth everyone talks about but with almost no effort. You’ve expanded that word of mouth beyond what might normally be expected. The more interesting the story, the more often it is told and the better the odds that someone hearing the story will choose to check you out when they want to buy slabs, timber, lumber and other wood products.

Large wood slabs stacked

I’ll use slabs as an example because I sell a lot of slabs, but the positive results hold true pretty much whatever your product might be. Slabs are used for furniture, counter tops, and a whole lot of other things people choose to make from them. Imagination is the only limit. Generally, whether the purchaser of the slab is a business or an individual, a lot of work is going to go into creating the end use for that piece. A good story helps make the work more satisfying for the customer and they feel an extra bit of satisfaction about the end product when it’s finished.

Slabs are generally not milled from logs a conventional sawmill is interested in. Conventional sawmills typically want the standard, uniform, and production-friendly log. It is the unique nature of slabs that is a great selling point. Each piece has a different grain pattern, a different story about where it came from, and if live edge - a different look from every angle. I know where every log milled up to make the slabs I sell came from and I try to learn as much about the story behind that log as I can. When I market a slab I make sure the customer knows what that story of that piece is.

Things that can make a slab special to a customer, aside from the unique “look” of the piece are:

  • A historic place of origin
  • The fact that it was recovered from a log that, without my Wood-Mizer sawmill, would have been turned into firewood or even left in the woods to rot
  • An identity linked to a specific or local place
  • A species unusual to the area and, if possible, a bit of a story about how the tree came to be growing there
  • An unusual grain pattern caused by some foreign object found when I milled the log up
  • Basically, anything known about the log the slab came from that makes the piece unique

Of course to tell the story, you’ve got to keep track of the slabs as you mill them, dry them, and store them. I’m fortunate in that I have a great memory when it comes to my logs and the product milled from them so I can generally identify the slabs from memory. However, just to make sure, I still mark each slab and identify its place of origin.  The various slabs from each log are also numbered.

Whatever the method you use, it is easy to keep track of the materials you are milling and the story that makes the product special. Customers appreciate that story so, for almost no effort at all, you’ve increased “word of mouth” and “repeat business” potential of the wood you sell. By tracking where your wood comes from and sharing that story with customers, you will increase your own potential for profit.

Simon Petree owns Green Leaf Forest Products near Lynden, Washington.  He is currently working on a book aimed at sharing the lessons he’s learned milling more than five million board feet of lumber, timbers, slabs and other products during the fifteen years he’s been in business. Visit for more information.

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