The Turman Group, Salem

The Turman Group, Salem

When The Turman Group began focusing on exporting nearly 20 years ago, company executives had goals and anxieties that are likely familiar to businesses that have taken similar steps. Leadership at the Galax-based wood products company saw the potential for new markets, increased sales, and improved resiliency with domestic economic issues. They also saw the potential downsides that come with opening up to new clients.

“In the wood business, 95% of the cargo that’s put in a container at the port is shipped unsecured. There’s nothing backing it other than the history between you and a particular customer, and maybe a deposit that’s been paid,” said Wil Brush, leader of export sales at The Turman Group. “How do you navigate those waters? That’s the biggest challenge any wood exporter faces. If you want  to export in a container, there’s risk involved.”

Those risks led The Turman Group to work with VEDP when the company hired Brush to oversee exports in 2006 with an eye on the Chinese market. One of his first major projects after starting at the company was a VEDP trade mission to China.

The Turman Group is a vertically integrated set of 15 wood products companies that range from the southwestern corner of Virginia to 

the center of the Commonwealth. In 2006, Turman did 80% of its business domestically. Five years later, the domestic-international split was approximately 50-50%; in 2016, 70% of sales were exports. 

“Once everyone saw the opportunity, it was all hands on deck,” Brush said. “From the woods to the port, everyone got on board, which is ultimately what it takes to be successful in the export business. 

“The company was overly dependent on the U.S. market as well as third-party agents to move the product they had. I came on board to help with international sales and build a bank of direct business so we had more of a say as to where our products went, and to give us a seat at the table in talking to some of these end users so we can make products that are more beneficial for them.”

That’s a typical use case for trade missions like the one Turman participated in. VEDP representatives will often escort company representatives to another country to meet face to face with potential customers and partners. VEDP maintains representatives in numerous key export markets and engages quality consultants in countries where it doesn’t have a permanent presence, helping companies connect with vetted partners to handle in-country issues, including paperwork, taxes, and currency.

Whether through a staff member or a consultant, VEDP’s international trade network covers more than 75 countries and provides in-country market research for Virginia exporters, specific to each country’s needs and opportunities. Turman engaged VEDP for numerous trade missions and research into a wide variety of potential overseas markets.

“I cannot imagine us being better prepared, better handled,” Brush said. “They did such a great job of setting up a trip for us to go and meet customers. Everything was just so seamless. They set the table for us. They limited the number of blind spots we had. They set a high bar.”

A look at the specific countries helps to tell the story of Turman’s export journey. Since that initial trip to China, the company has traveled on VEDP trade missions to several Asian countries, the United Kingdom, India, and Mexico. Through that history, Brush traces a path from the initial Asian expansions to the company’s current shift in focus to closer markets.

For numerous reasons ranging from COVID-19 concerns to tariffs from both the United States and China, Turman is looking to recenter its export program. Supply chain issues that cropped up during the height of the pandemic have led companies to reconsider the sourcing of raw materials and the location of preferred consumer markets.

“Since COVID-19, we’ve seen a large amount of FDI going into near-shoring moves to make supply chains less vulnerable, to create a shorter geographic distance from where raw materials go to the manufacturing hubs to the consumer base,” Brush said. “That has been what we’ve seen since 2021, and it hasn’t stopped. It’s accelerating. We’re trending back to the early 2000s as far as where we’re looking for growth and where we’re looking for new business.”

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