Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Internet paves way for southern merchants

The days of wool merchants operating like “rag and bone men” have given way to flexible, efficient trading online, a large Canterbury operator says.

As a shed-buyer Mainland Wool is comfortable handling loads from one bale to 1000, using the Wool Online system to keep cost to a minimum.

The five-year-old company has become the biggest wool merchant in the South Island and is convinced of the value in electronic sales, which have become a fixture for southern operators.

One of Mainland’s three owner-operators, Dean Harrison, said online sales were ideal for them as an alternative to auction centres like Christchurch and Napier.

Harrison said the online system operated by Rangiora-based Greg Tibbs had proven useful in the past few seasons, when prices and volumes had been particularly variable.

“We can sell on a weekly basis or sometimes two and three times a week, depending on when Greg puts the wool up (for sale) and when the exporters want to buy it.”

Harrison didn’t want to draw too much attention to traditional auctions being restricted to specific days, but said exporters needed the flexibility of going online, particularly in the South Island, where the wool clip had fallen away.

“I think Wool Online is filling that gap and is becoming a very efficient system.”

Harrison sees his business as being inherently lean, typified by the owners also being procurement agents out on the road. Handling about 20,000 bales annually, Mainland buys a lot of wool greasy but sells it clean through the electronic system, following testing that guarantees quality to exporters.

It’s unclear exactly why the platform has taken off in the South Island, but Harrison suspected it was because the heartland sheep country of the central North Island had become more “broker-oriented”.

Whereas southern merchants had become adept selling online all sorts of wool types, brokers over the strait typically handled more consistent lots.

“I think the merchants in the south that use it have found it really beneficial and they support it 100%. And that’s the key to it, really, putting volume in.”

And that’s also what a merchant should be able to do well, he said.

“That’s what we do best. We can go to a farmer and buy 10 bales and then 10 bales off the neighbour, and if they’re the same types then we can put them together and make a bigger line, so that when it’s sold it’s efficient for the exporters to come in and buy it.”

Ideally that exporter might secure a single line of 30 bales that matches the merchant’s description, meaning it can be taken to the scour and shipped without hiccups.

“If they don’t match when they go to the scour then we’re the one who carries the can,” Harrison said.

As for the quality of the original product, business partner Chris Bell said generally the standard of wool preparation in the shed had slipped in recent years but he felt this was as much about composite breeds as a lack of care.

“I mean, how many farmers out there now have actually got flocks with one line of sheep?”

Balancing this, though, had been the rise of full-contract shearing. It was in contractors’ interest to maintain good standards, so the quality of the fleece-work often came down to the availability of shed hands, Bell said.

Harrison added that the trend toward a mixture of six-monthly, eight-monthly and 12-monthly shearing could also blot clip preparation at times but he believed the key as a buyer was to consistently reward the best standard.

Another change in his patch of Canterbury is the amount of lamb and hogget wool coming forward.

“They used to be the cream on the crop but I’d hazard a guess it’s now 50:50,” Harrison said.

Mainland Wool also maintains a smaller business, Canterbury Woolbrokers, for clients who prefer to sell through auction independent of larger operators.

The other owner of the two businesses is Brent Jay.

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