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Each month of lockdown would cost between 2% and 3% growth for the French economy. Under these conditions, French wood industry companies are looking to restart quickly despite the constraints linked to health security measures. The situation in the wood sector reflects the general state of activity in France. 

“The context is very changing and it does not depend on us. We know what we are doing today, but we do not know what we will do tomorrow, ” admits Jean-Claude Sève, CEO of the Monnet-Sève group.

Reopening of some businesses

On March 17, 2020, the brutality of the economic downturn surprised everyone. “I think the exporters and traders closed too quickly and this led to the shutdown of units that could continue to work,” says an entrepreneur who believes that demand has been suddenly divided by a factor of 3 or 4. Few sawmills today are open, but the situations differ greatly depending on the characteristics of each.

The Monnet-Sève group, which employs 520 people at 5 production sites in France (turnover of 145 m €, 850,000 m3 sawn + 50,000 m3 of glulam) is undoubtedly one of the exceptions in the softwood branch. “We are currently running at 40% of our capacity but without knowing what level of manufacturing we will be in next week ,  says Jean-Claude Sève.

At Bertin Jurasciages (€ 7m in 2018, 33 employees), the mill stopped on the first day of lockdown. “On March 17, we phoned our trading customers; they were closing or in the process of doing so. And since we are operating in a pull-through flow, production has stopped. “ Raymond Bertin added that the mill should however restart Tuesday 31 March, short staffed (15 people) and on a voluntary basis. “Indeed, we note that some businesses are starting to reopen but only to deliver to professionals and in ‘drive’ mode . “

Ensuring the safety of people

Jacques Ducerf also indicates that the Ducerf group (turnover of 35 m €, 200 employees) have stopped working in the first day of lockdown but retains a small team to ensure some shipments. “But we hope during the week of March 30 to set up a half team to restart production because some markets are in demand. “

Like all of his executive colleagues, Jacques Ducerf insists on the appropriate measures that the group intends to take to ensure the health security of employees (temperature control at the entrance to the factories, supply of gloves, masks, gels, distance from operators, procedure for transmitting production orders, non-use of coffee machines and dining halls, etc.). “Security managers will be responsible for the organization of this new system and its compliance. “

In smaller units, leaders struggle to find appropriate solutions. Gérald Brochet runs a family business specializing in oak (out of 9 employees, 7 are parents). He admits that he was very surprised by the almost complete shutdown of the sawmills. “From the start, we chose to continue the activity by adapting to the new context, even though it made our lives difficult. We are working to supply our stock and to guarantee current orders. We also take the opportunity to catch up on our operations, to prepare our logs in the park and to maintain our watering areas. “

Colas oak sawmill operated for the first week of lockdown but not in the second. “We wanted to reassure our employees who worried about their health; so we put them on leave for a week. “ Eric Cartailler that manages Sarl Colas says that after the establishment of safety procedures, the sawmill is running again. “I consider that the government has been up to the task of providing aid to companies for cash, but, concerning the security measures to be taken, I felt very lonely and helpless. “

Export opportunities 

Waiting for the revival of the French wood market, some opportunities arise. Exports to neighbouring countries, such as Germany, the Benelux and Switzerland are currently ongoing.  In addition, containers are arriving again from Asia, of which exporters can benefit to respond to the surge in Chinese orders.

Finally, it should be noted that another positive point consists of the strong current demand from paper manufacturers who have to satisfy the boom in fabrics (toilet paper, medical, packaging, etc.). Obviously, this is good for the sawmill by-products sector, which was quite rowdy during 2019.

However, if Jean-Claude Sève and a few other sawyers note that the activity seems to be restarting partially, it seems that the market still commands. And everyone knows that it’s all about the main ”unknown factor” of this crisis, when the coronavirus crisis will pass, will the economy enter in full recovery mode?

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