Murray Bros. in China: Reflecting and Looking Ahead
With the upcoming Chinese New Year (February 1st this year), Murray Bros. is taking some time to reflect on its relationship with the country and the important people that have aided in our company’s success in Asian markets.
As of 2021, Murray Bros. Lumber Company celebrated 15 years of an on-the-ground sales force in China. This period has allowed the company to stay competitive in a global economy by having commissioned sales agents stay in close contact with Asian clients. We are happy to have built strong and lasting relationships with not only foreign customers, but also with these two dedicated salespeople that remain well suited to navigate a dynamic sales market abroad.
FIGURE 1: Chinese New Year is the festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. The first day of Chinese New Year begins on the new moon that appears between 21 January and 20 February and occurs on February 1st this year. The Year of the Tiger is almost upon us!
Canada's lumber industry has always relied heavily on exports, spanning back to when massive eastern white pines were harvested and transported back to England to help in the construction of ship fleets. Today, Murray Bros. is fortunate to have access to a wide variety of species, including the very same white pine, that are highly sought after (particularly right now) around the world for various purposes. Over time, economies that once drove Canada’s lumber market (England) took a back seat to other nations with growing populations and high manufacturing outputs (China).
By the early 2000s, China continued to see a trend of increasing GDP per capita. In other words, the country's economic prosperity was starting to benefit more of the country’s population, not just the super elite. This corresponded with an increasing demand for some products Canadians take for granted, namely hardwood furniture and flooring. With this trend came the birth of new hardwood forest product manufacturers that could build quality products for the masses, both to be sold in Asian markets, or for export.
Around this time, Hardwood Sales Manager Ted Murray thought it best to make a few trips to China. The focus of these trips was to foster relationships with factory owners and wholesale lumber distributers so that the mill in Madawaska could better deliver exactly what these customers wanted. Starting in 2003, Ted would make an annual trip across the Pacific to meet with the same customers, however, after a few years of this, he concluded this was not the most efficient way to help the clients. And so, in 2006, Murray Bros. commissioned Johnson Huang, a Chinese sales agent, to help with sales.
Johnson, who earned a Bachelor of Economics at Guangdong University of Technology, lives and works in Guangzhou, an industrial centre located on the Zhujiang (Pearl) River north of Hong Kong. He has proven to be very important to our success in Asia as he can seamlessly communicate with clients before getting final approval from Murray Bros. employees to close deals. When asked about his work with Murray Bros., Johnson responded by saying he finds Murray Bros. personnel in Madawaska to be very professional and efficient and enjoys working alongside company employees. When Johnson is not selling lumber, he enjoys spending time travelling with his family. We were lucky to host Johnson in Barry's Bay & Area some 10 years ago, where he greatly enjoyed touring the mill, seeing the beautiful Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest, and fishing in Rockingham!
For two years, Johnson helped build relationships with clients in Asian markets, however come 2008, Murray Bros. was looking to put more resources towards sales in China, and so Daniel Lin became the second commissioned salesman. While Johnson lives in the southern part of the country, Daniel lives and works ~1500km up the coast in Shanghai. Shanghai presents itself as the largest metropolitan area in the country with an estimated population of 34 million people (!!) and is a manufacturing juggernaut. Daniel, who also studied at Guangdong University of Technology, enjoys the sense of achievement, purpose, and identity through working with Murray Bros. When away from his home office, Daniel enjoys all things pop culture, including music, reading, and movies; he lists the 1995 Oscar winning film Braveheart as a favourite!
Figure 1: From left to right, Johnson Huang, Ted Murray, and Daniel Lin visit a customer in Shanghai, 2010.
From China, Murray Bros. has continued to branch out to emerging markets in the wood products industry, including Vietnam. Our salespeople, both domestic and abroad, salary and commissioned, are keen to develop more relationships with customers around the world. As Canadians have seen through softwood lumber tariff disputes, markets for products can change over night depending on political decisions. Murray Bros. will continue to navigate this ever-changing landscape and keep a close eye on current and future market trends.
Murray Bros. continues to export a healthy amount of product into Asian markets and is only in this position due to good foresight within the company and through the continued hard work of Johnson and Daniel. This has been a great success story and Murray Bros. is proud to have these men working hard in their home country. Here’s to the Year of the Tiger!