In the game of glory & hard knocks it’s Rugby 0 Timber 1.
Meet Grant Prudente, timber sales team player extraordinaire.
Our Grant grew up with the South Downs as his playground. His weekends and holidays were spent roaming their coppices and woodlands from Cocking village where he lived. His father is a forester at nearby Cowdray Estate, the estate on which we’re based so he’s been visiting our woodyard since he was a littl’un. In fact, Grant likes the area so much that after university he came back and made a home in nearby Chichester with his girlfriend and their new puppy. Grant still loves the woods and the outdoor lifestyle, even if his role at English Woodlands Timber is more about supply chains than chainsaws these days.
“I learned to ride my bike in the woods. My dad always seemed to have a chainsaw with him, and used to leave woodchips all over the house. The woods were just a normal part of our day-to-day life. Actually, my father cut down some of the wood that’s sat in our yard right now, come to think of it… you have to know where your stock come from in this business.“
Besides the woods and forestry, Grant’s other great passion is sport. Especially rugby – he plays flanker, in case you were wondering – in fact it was going to be his career. When he left school, he planned to train to become a P.E. teacher but before going to university he took a break from education and started working alongside his father and Donald MacDonald the head forester for the Cowdray Estate. Seeing Grant’s aptitude for the forestry business, Donald wanted him to see the end-to-end process of timber production and sent Grant to English Woodlands Timber to see how the wood transforms into products.
“I didn’t want to go straight to uni. I felt like I needed some life experience, wanted to see more of the world beyond education. That’s how I first came into the timber business, and in many ways that experience set me on a completely different course compared to what I thought I wanted to do in my career.”
Grant went back to university and studied P.E. and Sports Coaching, where he learned a lot of management theory and core teamwork skills that he could apply back at EWT, where he stayed working part-time, commuting between University in Chichester and his home near Cocking. He used to split his time between university, forestry and the timber mill to really immerse himself in the business.
“Team sports is all about communication skills and working with different people and functions. And coaching gives you a different kind of work ethic – you can’t wait for instructions, you need to take the initiative. I like that. I saw a lot of opportunities to apply practical coaching and management ideas in my work at the yard. I guess you could say I went into uni as an old child, and I left as a young adult.”
After university, Grant came back full time to EWT. At first, he worked wherever he was needed, whether it was shifting stock around, driving the forklift or covering the phones in the main office. He was always keen to be hands-on and learn how the timber mill worked across the many different functions found in a busy yard like EWT. Then he discovered a real passion for sales and customer service, working alongside Chris and dealing with the complexities of selling a unique natural product like high quality timber.
“What we do isn’t a typical production line, factory or warehouse. Some of it is similar, but a timber mill is unique. Everything we do relies on judgement calls. We deal in natural, organic products that take decades to grow and years to mature ready for use. You can’t simply re-order more stock when it runs out, which means there’s no one-size fits all solutions. If you sell wood that splits or fails years from now, that’s no good. Every sale of timber is a relationship.”
Grant breaks that timber relationship into three essential factors for success. Firstly, you need to know the stock in the yard inside-out. That means grades, seasoning stages, suitability for machining and where necessary, guiding a client to the right stock solution for their project.
“It’s an interesting conversation sometimes. A client asks for ‘x’, but you know ‘y’ would perform better in a specific application. So it pays to offer alternatives rather than focus on making a sale regardless of suitability – the way I see it, their success relies on the best advice we can give.”
Secondly, Grant considers all the waste factors in processing the wood into timber for the client, which are critical for delivering the best value for money. That means understanding the milling processes and matching the right wood to the right applications.
“This is all about giving the best value to the client. We are always asking how tight can we go with cutting tolerances, can we pass on a better price to the customer. That’s where an expert mill team really pays off for our clients – nobody can afford to pay for unnecessary waste.”
Finally, delivering the right product at the right price means Grant needs to know what’s coming into the yard and the impact of supply and demand on prices, which like any commodity can vary week-on-week. He’s noticed the impact of offering more digital channels for viewing and ordering and offering greater product differentiation to clients, and wants to expand all of those new ideas over the next five years.
“We’re creative and innovative in the way we think about products and customer experience. We’re as important to our clients as a free-range organic farm is to a top Michelin-starred restaurant. That means offering expert advice and guidance on natural, high quality produce and advising on prices that can vary based on a whole host of seasonal factors. Ultimately, we are a partner to our clients and we need them to succeed – because if they are selling their work, we are selling our wood.”