Natural Trade Ltd.: Getting Serious About Lumber

Carlos Villavicencio founded Natural Trade Ltd. (NT) in 2000 to fill what he saw as a critical supply gap in the lumber industry. The NT team works directly with a network of over 100 primary mills across the United States and Canada – including producers of dimensional lumber, 1-inch boards, oriented strand board (OSB) and plywood – to source and supply North American lumber as a wholesaler, trader and exporter. NT not only offers clients the best options in the lumber industry, but the company also coordinates logistics and transportation from origin to final destination and offers financing to customers.

Following its first decade in business, NT has consolidated its operations to become the largest exporter of lumber products to industrial and commercial clients in Mexico and Latin America, while also serving clients in South America, Asia and the Caribbean. With over a dozen years of experience behind it, the NT team has the resources and flexibility to go above and beyond the client’s requests and source precisely what is needed.

“I’m a firm believer that hard work pays off,” expresses Carlos Villavicencio, CEO and founder of NT. Villavicencio happens to be an architect by trade, giving him practical insight into the specific needs of the construction industry. After dipping his toe into the furniture manufacturing industry, he realized the Mexican market was in need of a little more consistency and variety in wood products, so he started NT to fill the gaps.

NT is based out of North Vancouver, British Columbia, which has proven to be a highly advantageous location from which to coordinate its impressive inventory of different species and grades. “I remember one time I was trying to sell a customer some hardwoods from the U.S. and he pointed out to me that I was already sitting in the heart of Canada’s softwood producers and I should really take a closer look at that market,” reveals Villavicencio. And he did, which proved to be a major turning point for the business, as hardwoods from the U.S. and Canada can have a hard time competing with the tropical hardwoods that are widely available in Latin America.

Knock on NT

Today, NT works with mills across Canada and the United States to source an ever-changing selection of softwood, hardwood and panel lumber products. NT offers pressure-treated wood stakes, OSB, plywood, wood for pallets, spruce, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, hemlock and yellow pine, in standard and custom sizes upon request, and all products certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). These two organizations assure the responsible, sustainable handling of products from well-managed forests.

And the company keeps a close-knit feeling with just 19 employees on staff, half of which are scattered across Mexico. Villavicencio established sister company Global Forest in 2008 to support customers in Mexico in need of imported lumber, but lacking the understanding of complex North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) regulations, appropriate permits and internal resources needed to import it.

“We have a very different structure compared to many other lumber companies because most of our staff is from Latin America – Spanish being their first language – so we really understand our markets and our customers,” adds Villavicencio. NT has positioned three of its employees in the Mexico City area, one in Mexicali, two in Merida and one in Monterrey to support the needs of its customers on the ground. If a discrepancy arises or a claim needs to be taken care of, NT rests easy that its hard working staff will be able to find a resolution swiftly.

NT’s logistics department works with all manner of transportation – primarily rail but including ocean freight, truck or dry-van if needed – and the company’s greatest operational advantage is its ability to consolidate shipments along the way and keep a tighter control on transportation costs. NT will consolidate multiple shipments from a variety of different mills in one location and the team can inventory various reloads across Canada, the U.S. and Mexico to facilitate orders in one, simplified, cost-competitive delivery. In addition, all shipments are continually traceable, and can be redirected if contingencies require it to avoid delay.

Limber Lumber Suppliers

NT considers understanding its customers’ business as the first step to being able to satisfy their requirements. NT prioritizes being familiar with buying partners’ needs and changes in order to determine how best to help customers achieve their business requirements or an equally suitable alternative.

The company prefers to find products from mills closest to the customer and triple-checks every shipment to ensure it arrives with the appropriate documentation needed to expedite customs procedures and shorten delivery times. The extra service not only keeps prices under control, but it also enables NT to facilitate a client’s inventory rotation. The company also works with a network of customs brokers across North American borders and ports to ensure everything arrives safely, efficiently, and in compliance with immigration and agricultural regulations.

The NT difference can manifest itself in small ways like the team’s fluency in both metric and English measurement systems, which allows the team to provide accurate estimates between Canadian and U.S. companies and clients around the world, but it also means that NT staff is just as in tune with the changing markets as its customers.

“Lumber markets always fluctuate and our team understands that,” expands Villavicencio. “Being able to source alternative species and grades of lumber to our customers, relying on price, opportunity and availability, allows us to provide the most economical choices so our customers have a variety of options on hand, which is our priority.” NT, in turn, works continuously to mitigate risk on the supply side, searching out new suppliers and reaching out to potential partners who might have an interest in filling new market niches.

With over a dozen years of experience and a network of on-the-ground problem solvers, NT has positioned itself to become the hassle-free lumber supplier of choice to many markets in Mexico and Latin America. No matter what products the company chooses to supply, the Natural Trade Ltd. team of hardworking professionals will push one another to stay ahead of the competition and on top of every shipment, using a proactive attitude toward fulfillment of duties to earn the trust of importers, distributors and/or consumers of lumber in different markets.