When I talk to students about forestry careers, I usually start out by asking them, “What kinds of jobs come to mind when you think of forestry?” The response I hear the most is probably “lumberjack”, but students also list jobs like log truck driver, tree planter, and fish and wildlife officer. While lumberjacks aren’t all that common anymore, their modern day counterparts, the harvesting operators, are a very important part of forestry, along with so many other roles.

Given that the forest industry needs so many people with such a variety of skills in order to operate well, I am starting a Forestry Job Profile Series. My goal is to interview at least one person who works within each of the fields that I highlight, so that you can get an authentic feel for what these jobs involve.

This forestry job profile is about sales in forestry. Sales doesn’t immediately come to mind when most people think of the forest industry, but there isn’t much point in making a productsuch as lumberif you don’t have someone to connect that lumber with a paying customer. To learn more about forestry sales, I interviewed someone who has been in the business for a long time. 

Meet Dave Rollins, Sales Manager at Spray Lake Sawmills in Cochrane, AB:

Ann: Tell me about your job. Which company do you work for? What is your role in the company? 

Dave: I am Solid Wood Sales Manager for Spray Lake Sawmills in Cochrane. Our mill is medium sized by industry standards. The solid wood sales group consists of only two people.

Ann: What does a typical day look like for you?

Dave: My day typically starts at 7:00 A.M. at home when the sales stats arrive on my email. When I arrive at the office I usually review the previous day’s production and forecast for the coming few days. Review email and phone messages from eastern customers that begin earlier as well as any late arriving inquiries from the previous day.

A large part of our business is now program sales, meaning that volumes and pricing have already been negotiated and it’s a matter of ensuring that our customers have enough wood to conduct their business effectively. We will usually meet with our major customers in the early winter months to review the previous year and propose our next year’s plan. We are always aware of our limitations and growth potential and advise customers where we expect to be in the coming years. Quite often we have dropped customers whose objectives do not mesh with our growth plans.

Most of a typical day is spent answering between 50 and 100 phone calls as well as 100+ emails. Our sales people enter all orders in the computer system and in some cases arrange freight to our customers’ destinations.

Ann: Wow. You must have a lot of knowledge of both the forest industry and sales. What is your background (experience/training)?

Dave: My background was straight out of high school to working in a warehouse in the lumber industry. I’ve worked my way up through the warehouse to sales with various companies in western Canada. During the course of my career I have been able to participate in many different sales courses, the most effective of which was a marketing course that Weldwood of Canada put on from York University that had us meeting 3 days a month and learning marketing techniques.

Ann: Why is sales an important part of a company?

Dave: Lumber sales can be very exciting and it varies drastically from company to company. Large multi-national producers push lumber into the market every day. Smaller producers find niches to differentiate themselves. Marketing becomes a key to your company’s overall returns.

Ann: What are some of the most rewarding aspects of working in sales?

Dave: My career has allowed me to travel extensively throughout North America and Asia. I’ve made a great group of close friends over the years and we often spend time together away from work in social settings. The job has allowed me to remain a very poor golfer, but I enjoy getting out often in warm weather with customers. Several other sales people I know use their interests in fishing, hunting and believe it or not, extreme mountain biking to entertain customers.

Ann: What qualities make up an ideal candidate for a position like yours?  

Dave: The industry requires self-starters who are not afraid of making mistakes. An outgoing personality is beneficial. While most large companies require a university degree, smaller companies are looking for people who are willing to work their way up through production and learn all they can about the products along the way. The industry rewards talent very well financially as you work your way up the ladder.

Ann: Sounds like a rewarding career for people who enjoy a challenge, and the chance to deal with a variety of people each day. Any final comments?

Dave: There are many forest products companies looking for young sales people who are willing to start at the bottom and work their way up. Forest products distributors in particular are always looking for young people willing to work hard and learn from the aging sales force that is already there. 


Check out our Job Postings page to see the variety of job opportunities in Alberta’s forest industry.