Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products

Volume 44,  Issue 4                                        May 2005

     Moulding the Future

In Search of Facts
WMMPA Members Find Out All the World is in China
by Kellie A. Schroeder

Recently, the WMMPA concluded a fact-finding tour of four cities spread throughout China from the south to the far north. Our purpose in China was multi-layered. First, we wanted to uncover data on the millwork products manufactured. Of those, we wanted to find out which are being consumed domestically and which are exported. 

Second, we wanted to know which wood species were favored by today’s vastly expanding middle-income Chinese consumers. Third was our goal to meet with local manufacturers to better understand where they lie in their plant and technological developments. Fourth, we were to seek out newly constructed Western-style building sites to view for ourselves the level of wood moulding and millwork use. Fifth, we wanted to know first-hand what was taking place in China now, and what the future holds. 

Reaching Our Goals
We planned to reach our goals by laying out an itinerary that would include trade-show attendance, plant tours and trade-development appointments, coupled with sightseeing along the way to enhance the experience of being in China. Although each locale was quite unique in its offerings of ancient history and culture, the manufacturing plants (or factories as the Chinese like to call them) and products produced 

The four major cities we visited were Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. We took side trips to smaller towns or cities located within a few hours of the host city we ere visiting to accommodate plant tours. Our day would begin in the early morning and we would conclude our business each evening as we sat around dissecting the day over a late dinner, trying to absorb all that we had seen and heard. 

The trade shows proved that China is a diffusion of people, all trying to conduct business in the emerging economic giant. I strolled the halls each day visiting lumber company exhibit booths from South America, Northeastern United States and Canada to name a few. And, the secondary wood machinery manufacturers were represented from around the globe. Hall after hall you could find the latest equipment demo from all of the top brands. 

Focusing on Trade Show Attendees
After I had my fill of the exhibits, I focused on the attendees. I met importers, exporters, designers, factory owners and sales managers every day, but they were not just from China. No, they were Italian, German, French, Canadian, American, Chilean, Brazilian—the list is too long to type. I would purposely listen for the different languages while walking the aisles and then introduce myself to a passerby so that I could inquire as to where they were from and their purpose of being at the show; most would reveal their intentions to me with little prodding. It was fascinating and highly educational to say the least.

Talking to an array of people regarding hard data as to what and how much is being produced in China proved to be an unscientific sliding-scale collection of answers. My colleagues and I gathered up the information given to us from the various factory personnel, importers, exporters, etc., stirred it together, then estimated a balanced outlook on the country’s millwork product market, and splashed that with a dash of soy sauce. 

The numbers were more conservative in the north versus in the south at Guangzhou. After our WM® representatives return from the Dalian show, we should have a fair guestimate of what is taking place in China currently. We will also have a good handle on China’s future plans five and ten years from now in regards to our industry. 

A Humbling Experience
Finally, China proved to be a humbling experience for many different reasons. We were informed that China’s land surface could just fit into the United States, with the U.S. landmass being just a tad larger. The U.S. population is 280 million. China’s population is 1.3 billion. Poverty reigns in the countryside of China, while a city dweller earns an annual income of $2,400. A middle-income city dweller earns $25,000 on average. A brand new Buick minivan costs $6,400, and the tour guide we rode with was very proud of that fact. 

A wood products factory worker earns $1 per day. Factory workers are on the job six days a week for no less than 10 hours per day, some 12 hours. In less than 10 years, China will see these workers rise up to demand better working conditions, salaries and benefits; it is inevitable. It is progress. 

A Truly Great Wall
The grand finale to the China experience is when you climb the Great Wall. You cannot help but feel humbled by the extensive written history and accomplishments of the Chinese. As your tour guide rambles on about the great many wars fought along the wall, the lives of the emperors and the distinguished architecture left in their wake, you begin to feel very minute within the frame of history. 

The WMMPA will be focusing on China at our summer business meeting at the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa in Vail, Colo., from August 16-20. If you are a wood moulding and millwork manufacturer, and would like to hear the full report on China-including product mix, wood species favored, what is being imported and exported, business opportunities, etc.—contact the WMMPA office at 530/661-9591 or send an e-mail to for further information. Get yourself to a WM® meeting—your fellow manufacturers want to talk to you. 

Kellie A. Schroeder is the executive vice president of the WMMPA.

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