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Specialty Texas Business Expanding

Bandit Beast grinder lets Specialty Wood products pursue new opportunities

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 4/1/2004


      JOAQUIN, Texas—Brent Andres and Kevin Yates wanted to get back to a part of the Lone Star State they had always loved best. From the vantage of Houston, where they were both working in the chemical industry, the men saw a business opportunity in their native Joaquin, Texas. They seized it.

      Today, Brent and Kevin are partners in Specialty Wood Products, a business they have owned since 1994. Specialty Wood Products has grown more and more diverse in its operations with each passing year. Brent, who talked with TimberLine for this article, said he expects the trend toward diversification to continue.

      When Specialty Wood Products got started, it focused exclusively on supplying pine shavings to chicken farmers. “We bought a little shavings mill,” said Brent. “For the chicken farmers, it’s all pine, no hardwood.”

      Pine shavings are best at absorbing organic waste from chickens. And by using softwood, farmers avoid the concern about toxins in some hardwood that are potentially fatal to some animals.

      Six years ago, Specialty Wood Products began to expand into wood recycling and to provide grinding services for logging operations. To launch the new enterprise, the company invested in a grinding machine in the Beast series from Bandit Industries Inc., which is headquartered in Remus, Mich.

      Specialty Wood Products recently upgraded to a new Bandit Beast. “We got it about six months ago,” said Brent. The fundamental reasons he bought the new Bandit are the same as the reasons he bought his first machine, he said. “It’s a real safe operating machine, easy to work on, real mobile.”

      The decision to turn to Bandit Industries again for a new machine was quite a quick one, said Brent. The first Bandit Beast grinder performed very well and proved to be very durable. “We probably put more hours on a machine — six days per week, 10 hours per day, than other businesses that use grinding equipment,” said Brent.

      The Bandit Beast that Specialty Wood Products purchased in the second half of 2003 is a model 3680 with a 475 hp Cummins diesel engine. The primary deployment of the model 3680 Bandit Beast Recycler is at pine plantations scheduled for first thinnings.

      Specialty Wood Products goes onto the pine plantation, following the loggers. The company collects all the slash — limbs and tops from the thinning work — and grinds the material. The grindings are top-loaded into trailer vans and hauled to an International Paper mill to be used for boiler fuel. “We also do a little bit for Weyerhaeuser,” said Brent.

      Besides establishing a track record for strong, reliable performance, the first Bandit Beast also earned the respect of Brent and Kevin because of an array of good features. “It’s an easy machine to move around,” said Brent. “We have a two-man crew on it.”

      Charles ‘Butch’ Brown, the foreman for Specialty Wood Products, operates the remote controls of the Bandit Beast and directs the crew.” A second man operates the Caterpillar 938 loader that is used to put material into the grinder infeed.

      Specialty Wood Products does most of its own equipment maintenance. The Bandit gets good reviews from Brent in terms of the minimal amount of attention it requires.

      Of course, ultimately, any grinding equipment must be a good fit for the type of material it handles. And the model 3680 Bandit is. “It gets good production,” said Brent. The machine is well suited for grinding the slash of the first pine thinnings.

      In the Beast series of horizontal recyclers from Bandit Industries, the model 3680 stands in the middle. It has a 30-inch by 60-inch opening. The smaller model 2680 Beast has a 24-inch by 60-inch opening, and the model 5680 Bandit Beast has a 50-inch by 80-inch opening. Bandit Industries recently introduced a fourth machine to the line of Beast recyclers, the model 4680, which has a 40-inch high by 60-inch long opening.

      Specialty Wood Products uses the Bandit Beast model 3680 to grind about 50-60 truckloads of material per week. Although front-end loaders are typically used for putting material into the horizontal infeed system, the Beast series of machines is available with an optional knuckleboom loader.

      The company buys equipment that is essential to its core business and leases other equipment as needed. For transporting the grindings, for example, Specialty Wood Products leases trucks. Working in pine plantations behind loggers, off-road paths have already been established for heavy equipment, so Specialty Wood Products does not need road-building equipment.

      The Specialty Wood Products employees occasionally need to pick up a chain saw. “We normally use Husqvarna,” said Brent.

      Going strong on its seventh year of reliance on a Bandit Beast recycler, Specialty Wood Products has been expanding in additional markets with the machine. “We do go into certain mills and grind wood waste and broken pieces of bark,” said Brent.

      Specialty Wood Products also has developed a business relationship with American Electric Power (AEP); it collects trees and trimmings that would otherwise go to landfills, grinds the material, and supplies it to AEP for boiler fuel to the paper mills. AEP generates some energy from wood waste.

      Specialty Wood Products also produces firewood. Like the shavings mill, the firewood processor was bought used and refurbished.

      For all its grinding work, the company has not ventured much into markets for mulch. “I do have a little mulch on the Joaquin yard,” said Brent. “It’s a real competitive business. East Texas is timber country,” and that means lots of raw material for companies that make mulch. The company may enter the market in the future, he said.

      When asked to sum up the background that that he and Kevin had in the forest products industry before starting their business, Brent replied, “No previous experience.” Nevertheless, the transferable management skills they possessed served them well in launching the company.

      Since starting the business, Brent has become immersed in forestry. A member of the Texas Forestry Association (TFA), Brent is certified in the Pro Logger program, as is Kevin. Many companies that subcontract work to Specialty Wood Products require the certification.

      The TFA traces its roots to 1914. Today, it ties together all the parties interested in forests and forest products. Texas Pro Logger accreditation attests to a certificate holder’s completion of several required courses, including best management practices, safety and business management, as well as a commitment to continuing education.

      As Brent has become more and more involved with the forest products industry, he has seen a greater number of opportunities for the business. “I buy some fuel wood from mills and resale as brokering,” he said. “In the future, I’m thinking about buying timber.”

      For now, the shavings operation that supplies wood shavings to poultry farms uses wood delivered by loggers. “We take dead timber in and run it through the planer,” said Brent. Specialty Wood Products also buys some sawdust and shavings to augment its own production.

      The company’s service to poultry farmers includes removing the soiled shavings and spreading the new, fresh material throughout the floor of the chicken house. This part of the company’s operations is based in Timpson, 20 miles west of Joaquin.

      Joaquin is located in far east-central Texas, close to the Louisiana border and near the Sabine National Forest and the Toledo Bend Reservoir. Joaquin, which is in Shelby County, has 805 residents and is approximately 170 miles north of Houston. The East Texas Poultry Festival is held in October in the county seat of Center. Brent said that he and Kevin, who is his brother-in-law as well as his partner, are glad to be back in Joaquin.

      One of the things he enjoys about being in business is the opportunity to work with many people, said Brent. “I get to deal with different people every day,” he said.

      One of the people Brent has relied on and gotten to know is the Bandit representative who helped him get the most from his first Beast recycler and then sold him his new machine. “Bandit has a representative in Shreveport-Bossier (Louisiana) that I work with — Mike Ganues,” said Brent. “I have a real good relationship with Bandit,” said Brent. “It seems like they always want to do what’s right.”

      Mike said the sentiment about good relationships is reciprocal, explaining that he aims to cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ when it comes to meeting the needs of customers. In fact, he explained, if one of his customers has a new employee coming on board, Mike will train the new worker as part of Bandit’s service.

      As the South-Central U. S. sales representative for the Beast series of machines from Bandit Industries, Mike brings abundant experience with the machine and in the forest products industry. “I’m a retired forester,” he said.

      With his extensive background and experience in the forest products industry, Mike is able to give advice and assistance to customers on some details that can make a big difference in achieving desired outcomes. For example, because Brent grinds for a number of sawmills, the model 3680 Bandit required the right number of teeth that would allow the machine to grind effectively with mill waste and in the pine plantations. Mike helped Brent determine the tooth configuration that would work well in both applications.

      Bandit offers the Beast machines as pull-behind or self-propelled versions. “For the type of operation that they run,” said Mike, referring to Specialty Wood Products, “having a unit that you can pull behind on tires makes more sense.”

      Mike has been selling Bandit equipment since 1999. Before joining Bandit, however, he already was well acquainted with the Beast series of machines. “I was the city forester in Toledo, Ohio,” he said. “Part of the job was waste reduction” of green material. In 1997, the city bought its first Beast from Bandit. It has since purchased a second one and the first is still in service as well.

      “A love of the outdoors, a love of trees,” said Mike, motivated him to study forestry and earn a two-year associate degree.  He takes satisfaction in the full range of help he is able to give his customers because of the background and experience he brings to his job.

      “I tend to understand more of what a logger is facing on a yearly basis,” said Mike. “I’m able to sift through their problems” with them and help them sort out priorities. Listening, making suggestions, and being ready to answer questions are all part of Mike’s approach to sales. It’s about much more than just selling a piece of equipment.

      Doing everything from service calls to on-site training, Mike is busy. When TimberLine caught up with him, he was transporting a demonstration machine to a prospective customer in Arkansas.

      Mike believes that the Bandit Beast model 3680 is one of the most versatile machines on the market. It is a full-spectrum piece of equipment, he explained. Capabilities go “all the way from grinding pine slash to grinding roofing shingles,” he said.

      “The fact that the Beast is so versatile, from pine slash to big logs to roofing shingles to asphalt,” said Mike, makes it an excellent match for the philosophy that guides him every day. “We should leave the earth a better place,” he said, through all our endeavors.

      For his part, Mike is busy helping his customers recognize the full value of wood products not only through Bandit Industries, but also in his time outside of his work. “I stay actively involved in urban forestry issues around the country,” he said, a role that includes giving talks to civic and business groups.

      Mike has enjoyed working with Brent and Kevin at Specialty Wood Products. “They’re a really good company to work with,” he said. “They get maximum efficiency at minimum cost because they do it right.”

      Across the year, Specialty Wood Products operates with between 12 and 15 employees. Brent’s wife works in the business, too, taking care of the accounting.

      The communication skills that Brent honed as a controller and operator at the chemical plant where he once worked have transferred well to the business. “I direct the day-to-day operations,” he said. Kevin focuses on the shavings segment of the business.

      Getting back home to Joaquin has been a genuine source of happiness for Brent. When he takes time away from the business, he has some definite focuses. “Mainly, I spend time with my kids,” he said. He also coaches a girls’ softball team, and he is active in his church.




 






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