The forest industry in Europe and in North America, now increasingly often described as an industry in crisis, has too one sided its focus on cost cutting and is not listening enough to its customers. This statement was made by Mikael Selling, Corporate Advisor and Partner of Opticom International Research in Stockholm, Sweden, when giving a speech at the annual global forest & paper industry conference arranged by PricewaterhouseCoopers in Vancouver on May 8th, where the main theme this year was “Challenging Times – Winning Strategies”.

Today’s competition within the forest industry is fierce and the profitability is well below satisfaction.
-It is a given that a lot of effort is needed to reduce costs, but that is not enough, said Mikael Selling. – Now is the time to also focus on the market and to put yourselves in your customer’s shoes, with the aim of understanding their situation and needs. This is necessary as the industry now is meeting its biggest challenges yet, Selling argues.

– By looking at your business through the eyes of your customers, and by having a good dialogue with them, you have a far better chance to improve your offerings and to find ways of differentiating yourself from your competitors. That way it is possible to strengthen your position as a supplier as well as improving your profitability and margins. This is without doubt a huge, unexplored potential and a fantastic opportunity for companies within the forest industry, says Mikael Selling, comparing the situation with that in the consumer goods industry where customer- and market focus is crucial in order to survive.

Even though the majority of the companies in the forest industry still are not practicing this way of working, there are examples of foresighted companies that do. Södra Cell International, one of the largest pulp suppliers in the world, was being mentioned by Mikael Selling as one of those companies. Since many years, Södra Cell is conducting systematic and regular in-depth interviews with their global customers, and its business strategy is partly being based on the findings from these interviews. – Södra Cell is a very good example of a company that is genuinely customer- and market oriented, said Mikael Selling.

– It was extremely interesting to be invited as one of the very few Europeans and give a speech at PwC’s conference this year, says Mikael Selling, who has more than 20 years experience of working with the global forest industry. This was the 21st yearly PwC conference, which also this year gathered more than 400 delegates from all over the world; mainly decision makers within the forest industry.

– Without a doubt, increased customer and market focus is a ”Winning and necessary strategy” for the forest industry, concluded Mikael Selling his speech in Vancouver.

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