Vandecasteele Houtimport is a unique timber company. Founded in 1883 in Belgium and run by five generations of the Vandecasteele family, it’s a modern and expanding business, with a long-term commitment to servicing the European timber trade.

Located at the very heart of Europe, with easy road access to customers in most major European markets, Vandecasteele Houtimport has over the years consistently followed the strategy of becoming Europe's number one timber stockist. To support this long-term approach, the company has its own storage capacity accommodating more than 150,000m3 of sawn timber products. With an additional building currently being constructed, the company's main warehouse will total almost 200,000m2.

A visit to Vandecasteele Houtimport's base in Aalbeke, close to the city of Kortrijk, is fascinating for anyone who works with wood. Surrounded by greenery and adjacent to a man-made lake where swans swim, lies a uniquely designed timber warehouse where you can find almost every species of wood from around the world. From the most expensive and rare hardwoods, to a full range of softwoods in all qualities and sizes, everything is neatly barcoded and displayed. Customers can move swiftly through the warehouse and take a good look at the quality of each pack. The entire site is as clean and tidy as a shop. Experienced staff unload incoming lorries and prepare outgoing deliveries in a smooth, orderly and expert procedure that shows how much the company loves what it does and respects its products and customers.

SCA's sales to Vandecasteele consist mainly of the highest quality pine and spruce sideboards. These can be used by Vandecasteele Houtimport's customers for the production of clear mouldings, panelling, or other demanding visible interior or exterior applications for which SCA's northern, slow-grown fibre is ideally suited. As soon as a delivery from SCA arrives at Vandecasteele, the protective plastic covering is removed from all the packs and taken for recycling. Mr. Jeroen Platteau, Vandecasteele's purchasing manager for softwoods, visually inspects the parcel, before each pack is assigned its barcode/label and taken to a precise, computer-trackable location in the company's vast warehouse. Jeroen says the good presentation and high quality of the specially graded side boards from SCA make customers who try them return to order more.

So what are the main changes that Vandecasteele currently sees in the import and distribution of timber
products?

"I would say it's the ever-growing requirement for certification in both hardwoods and softwoods, and being
able to check the legal origin and sustainability of all wood used in Europe," says Jeroen.

Vandecasteele Houtimport embraced this early on, adopting environmental objectives far exceeding current legislative requirements and aiming to be a leader in the industry by setting a strong, positive example of sustainability. Two experts in the company constantly assess the legality of all supplies. The demand for strong environmental credentials creates long-term potential for more growth in the use of European wood.

"Another major change that we see in the European timber business is how customers place their orders. Small and medium-sized timber traders and end-users want to keep almost no stock. The average volume of each order is therefore often much smaller than in the past, even during seasonally busy times of the year when the total number of orders may be high. This suits us very well," says Jeroen.

"We strategically stock a wide range of dimensions and qualities in all species, aiming to offer a high level of
service with a suitable solution for almost every special pick-a-pack request. Our customers can view this stock as their own: they can depend on fast delivery of their chosen packs within 24 or 48 hours, thanks to the modern fleet of 16 forklifts and about 100 lorries that we've invested in."

The rapid growth in digitalisation is also reshaping the modern timber trade, with the younger generation of end-customers appreciating the ability to log in and view Vandecasteele Houtimport's stock in real time. The company is working on dedicated customer portals that will allow customers to prepare their own orders. In a world where consumers are looking for an instant response to any enquiry, Vandecasteele Houtimport's sales representatives must be able to process every request from surrounding countries swiftly. Whether sitting at their desks in the office, or visiting customers in Belgium, the UK, France, Holland, Germany and working from a tablet, they have real-time information on all inventory moves. Constant development of the IT tools to support this demand for speed in sales is as important for the company as having the goods in stock. Deliveries are followed in real time via live GPS lorry tracking, so an immediate response can also be given on the whereabouts of each load.

With the strong foundations of more than 130 years of trading in wood, family values that govern its relationship with customers and suppliers, and continual investment to ensure success in the years to come, Vandecasteele Houtimport is looking with confidence to the future.

Text: Nicholas Sitaras
Photos: Vandecasteele Houtimport
Timber News 2/2018