Dakeryn Group – Knock on Wood

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every business, but this isn’t the first rodeo for Dakeryn Group.

Dakeryn Industries started out as a lumber wholesaling company with a staff of three people in 1990. Over the next 30 years, it grew to a staff of 150 people with a whole portfolio of divisions, markets and customers around the world. It is a journey that Rob Chimko, the President of the Dakeryn Group, has seen first-hand since he joined the company in 1994. He’s also seen that as the company has gone from strength to strength, there has been one consistent ingredient in its success.

Dakeryn GroupOur staff is critical to our success. We hire team players and commit to the strength of our group versus any one individual,” Chimko says. “This high-caliber team has enabled us to drive steady growth and diversification over the years. It has also given us the ability to acquire a few suppliers along the way and enhance our vertical integration in the industry.

The company is Canada based but has a long history of serving markets in the US. However, this international trade can bring challenges with it. “We’re in Canada but we’ve always shipped to the US. It’s been a significant market for us for the last 20 years,” Chimko explains. “But there is a false perception among Americans that we’d been dumping lumber into their market, so we’re fighting anti-dumping duties. There have been three episodes of that in the last 20 years that have had an impact on our business, that’s always been a challenge.”

Think Fast

Dakeryn is able to weather turbulence like this thanks to its nimble and adaptable approach as a company. “When we are up against substantial anti-dumping duties like we are now in the US, we pivot and ramp up operations domestically and abroad where we don’t face the same obstacles.“ Chimko points out. “Two years ago we brought in a well-established export team. As a result we now ship to over 30 countries worldwide in tax-free duty-free markets.”

Of course, over the last 30 years, this hasn’t been the only challenge to hit the lumber industry. Dakeryn’s story spans a period of time that includes the global economic crisis, 9/11, the mortgage crisis, all of which have hit businesses in different ways.

“Our business is constantly shifting and evolving in tandem with market conditions. We navigate a housing crisis in much the same way that we navigate the introduction of duties; we refocus our attention from challenges to opportunities, in this case retail.” Chimko says. “When housing is weak we focus on the retail or big box sector. If consumers are short on cash they move to renovations and DIY projects. These projects take a lot of material and we can grow our business in that segment.”

The trick is to keep responsive and agile, as Chimko tells us, “Part of our success is we react quickly. We’re a lifeboat on the Titanic rather than the Titanic itself. While we can’t always forecast these conditions, we can swiftly change course as needed.” Of course, there are no prizes for guessing the most recent crisis to affect Dakeryn’s business. COVID-19 has obviously had an impact on Dakeryn, although its timing has turned out to be somewhat fortuitous.

Switching to Digital

“We were in the process of going paperless prior to all of this,” says Chimko. “We’re old guys in the lumber business, far from IT wizards. We had committed to being fully digital within six months but by the third week of March we had no choice but to shut down the office and immediately go paperless. We bought the last twelve laptops our supplier had and trained all staff to work remotely within a few days. By the end of March, 95% of us were successfully working from home.”

The lockdown was also a bizarre experience for Dakeryn Group as it coincided with their move into a new and much larger office. “The timing was weird because March 30th we moved into a new office with double the square footage of our previous space. We had 7,000 square feet and only five or six people working there.” Chimko says.

Rapidly bought laptops and a suddenly very spacious working environment aside, however, Dakeryn seems to have avoided the worst of the COVID-19 knock-on effect.
“We saw a slight drop in business in the 10-15% range. It has affected all markets, but lumber and construction are considered essential. Any housing development started in January, February and March continued, those projects are still going on,” Chimko points out. “New business going forward into Q3 and Q4 could slow down and we may see a more significant drop in demand then, but other markets around the world are starting to open up.” Dakeryn Group

Even now though, Dakeryn’s staff are adapting to new ways of working. Although typically sales don’t take place in person, the company has always valued the communication that takes place when your team is in the same room.

“We don’t have the instantaneous communication when someone shouts across the floor ‘I’ve got this for sale’ and others can work with that information,” Chimko admits. “The internet is fast, but when you’re in a room with 16 people, stuff happens. That change in atmosphere of being distanced, has an impact. We’ve added platforms to give us that active environment such as Microsoft Teams where traders can share what they’re working on. We’ve started holding weekly zoom meetings. We’ve implemented different solutions to deal with it, but it’s difficult when 16 people in 16 places try to do everything without that instant communication.”

Fortunately, Dakeryn’s team is a close-knit one, built over many years through word of mouth and personal recommendations.

When I started at Dakeryn Group, I had already been in the industry for five or six years. I’d developed quite a few contacts and brought on three or four people I’d been working with at various companies. Five years of working side by side is a pretty long interview, so by that time I was very confident in hiring them.” Chimko recalls. “we provide a good working environment, treat everyone with mutual respect, and compensate our people well for performance. Not solely individual performance but team performance. Dakeryn’s overall success depends on working as a cohesive unit to shine as a leader in our industry.”

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