COVID19 threw the entire hardwood lumber industry for a loop. NHLA members were faced with many challenges, from labor shortages to travel restrictions and supply chain hiccups. Mountain Top Floors, based in Naperville, Illinois, was no different.
Mountain Top Floors sources logs and lumber and provides related supply chain solutions. They work hand-in-hand with fellow NHLA members to make sure their customers worldwide get what they need from suppliers in North America, with export opportunities covering all major U.S. and Canada ports and rail rents.
Like other NHLA members, Mountain Top Floors was negatively impacted by COVID19. Tomoko Kato, a manager for Mountain Top Floors, explains, “We faced a shortage of equipment, containers, and deep freeze capacity. It was a logistic nightmare. We also had issues in Europe after a large storm hit in March. The only way to get through it was to make sure that everyone on the supply chain (our vendors, suppliers, and customers) knew what was happening at all times, and we worked with them individually to find solutions. Our vendors trusted and supported us through all of these difficulties.”
Kato continues, “The state of Illinois (where our headquarters are) was severely affected by COVID19. We asked our employees to work from home to keep them safe. They only recently returned to the office in August. Now that everyone is back in the office, we will provide even more efficient service when solving logistic problems.
Mountain Top Floors has an exciting concept when it comes to helping others understand what they do. They call it TAAS, “Trading As A Service.” They define TAAS as sourcing the type of logs and lumber that are needed from North America and connecting the goods to customers through their expanded network. At the same time, with the help of logistic suppliers, they ensure goods are delivered to customers in a safe and timely manner. Once the goods have arrived at their destination, Mountain Top also helps with customs clearance and inland trucking.
Mountain Top Floors also experienced healthy growth during the pandemic’s peak – growth that they attribute to their TAAS program. Kato points out, “We accrued many new customers and suppliers, which gave us more experience, and we were able to expand our team so that we can keep up with the increase in demand. We have a full team in the U.S. and China, which other forwarders do not have. So, just like our headquarters in Illinois, we have the same thing in Shanghai that includes a business development team, a customer service team, and an accounting team. Having two teams enables us to provide exceptional service in both the U.S. and China. I think the unique composition of having teams in both countries completes the supply chain and gives us a solid structure to support our business model.”
Mountain Top covers all the significant U.S. rail rents (where you return your container) and ports. A good example of rail rents would be in Chicago. It’s a central hub where the shipping containers are collected and shipped to the port. Kato says, “Covering all the main rail rents and ports enables our customers to have more options because they aren’t limited to just one area. We export U.S. logs and lumber to China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The ratio between logs and lumber is about 70 percent to 30 percent. The American market is still essential for China, which imports more U.S. logs than any other country, according to AHEC.
With their employees back in the office, the TAAS program firing on all engines, and the expanded teams in Shanghai, Mountain Top Floors is looking at a bright future – not just for themselves, but for the hardwood industry as a whole.
Kato continues, “Being a member of NHLA plays an important role for us because of the networking opportunities membership provides. We heard about NHLA through salespeople who work with NHLA members, so joining was natural for us. We want to build a strong network, so when a crisis like COVID-19 arises, we can make it through, remain calm, and help each other. It is our honor to be in the prestigious network of NHLA.”