April 2012 – Imagine If Airlines Sold Lumber


I recently received an e-mail from a cousin of mine. He asked me to imagine what it would be like to buy lumber the way we buy airline tickets. He said the typical transaction might sound like this:

Customer: How much for a 2×10-14’ KD SPF?

Clerk:       Well, that depends.

Customer: Depends on what?

Clerk:       Actually, a lot of things.

Customer: How about giving me an average price?

Clerk:        Well, that’s really too difficult a question. The lowest price is $14.24 each, but we have 150 different prices up to $48.95 each.

Customer: What’s the difference in the grade?

Clerk:       Oh, there isn’t any difference, it’s all the same grade.

Customer: Well, I’d like some of the $14.24 stock.

Clerk:       First I have to ask you a few questions. When do you intend to use it?

Customer: I have a crew showing up tomorrow.

Clerk:       Sir, the 2×10-14s for tomorrow are $48.95 2x10s.

Customer: What? When would I have to buy to get the $14.24 2x10s?

Clerk:       That would be in two weeks, but you will also have to agree to start framing before                 Friday of that week and work through at least Sunday.

Customer: You’ve got to be kidding!

Clerk:       No sir, we don’t kid around here. Of course I’ll have to check availability of the $14.24 2x10s before I can commit any to you at that date.

Customer: What do you mean check? I can see you have stacks of 2x10s right outside the door.

Clerk:       Just because you see it doesn’t mean we have it. It may be the same 2×10, but we only sell a certain number of pieces on any given day. Oh and by the way, while we have been talking, the price just jumped to $15.10.

Customer: How can that be?

Clerk:       You see, we change prices and rules many times daily and since you haven’t actually locked in your order, everything is subject to change. Unless you want the same thing to happen again, I suggest you lock in some $15.10 material. How many pieces do you need?

Customer: Well I’m not positive about the quantity so why don’t I get what I think I need and then add a few extra pieces just in case?

Clerk:       I’m sorry sir, you can’t do that. If you buy lumber and then don’t use it, you’ll be liable for penalties and possible confiscation of the lumber you already have.

Customer: What?

Clerk:       That’s right, by knowingly over ordering, you may be in violation of our tariffs.

Customer: But what does it matter to you…I already paid for it!

Clerk:       Sir there is no point in getting upset, that’s just the way it is. We make plans based on the idea that you will use all the 2x10s and when you don’t it causes us all sorts of problems.

Customer: This is crazy! I suppose something terrible will happen if I don’t                  keep framing until Sunday night.

Clerk:       Yes sir, it will.

Customer: Well that does it! I am going somewhere else to buy 2x10s.

Clerk:       That won’t do you any good sir. We all have the same rules. You may as well buy them here while the price is still $15.10. Thanks for shopping with us.

Next time someone tells you that consolidation of industry is all for the good, please share this with them. Our mission is to never lose sight of the people who drive our business. As it says on our shirts, “Attitude is Everything!”  We know you have a choice of whom you use for materials; we thank you for choosing Shepley. You are now free to move about the cabin.

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