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Grinding Positions W.B. Henry for Growth

South Carolina Contractor Relies on Morbark Machines for Grinding Capability

By IRI Staff
Date Posted: 4/1/2007

        Don’t let the friendly demeanor, amicable personality and warm handshake fool you: Brett Henry has a keen eye for business and a willingness to act on it.

        The president and owner of W.B. Henry Contracting recognizes an opportunity from a long way off, knows how to grow his business, and appreciates what equipment will serve him best in doing so.

        As a result, his company is one of the busiest contract land-clearing/grinding companies in the tri-county area around Charleston, S.C... Given the region’s current rate of growth and development, W.B. Henry contracting is poised for even more growth in years to come.

Eye to the Future

        A native of Florida, Brett looked northward in 1989, liked what he saw, and relocated to the Summerville area northwest of Charleston. He recognized the huge potential for growth nearly 20 years ago.

        “It struck me that, with all the forested land this area had to offer, it would be an ideal target for future development,” Brett recalled. “It was also obvious that there would be companies needed to clear that land for construction. Why shouldn’t I be one of those companies? So I made the move, starting out as a landscaper, but seeing where the real chance for growth was, later acquiring some equipment to begin a clearing operation.”

        Henry’s land-clearing operation, modest at first, grew, both as a result of clean-up efforts from Hurricane Hugo and as development in the area skyrocketed in the mid- to late 90s. Fairly satisfied with what he had set in place, circumstances were about to force Henry to make another change in his business model.

Burning Ban

        Up until the late 1990s, land-clearing professionals in South Carolina were free to burn wood debris generated by their activities. For them, it was simply the most efficient, economical means of disposing of the material. All that changed, however, with the introduction of the South Carolina Pollution Control Act of 1998.

        “The act states that material cannot be burned within 1,000 feet of an existing road or structure,” noted Brett. “I won’t deny that, at the time, I thought it was a real pain. However, I now see that it was probably necessary, and it definitely forced us to look at an alternative method of disposal. It became apparent that
grinding was the answer, and based on some knowledge of grinders, I contacted Morbark.”

        Brett’s decision to invest in a Morbark grinder was based in part on dealings with a colleague in the land-clearing business. “We actually sub-contracted with a friend’s company to do some grinding for us on several projects and had a chance to see his tub grinder at work,” he recalled. “He had nothing but positive things to say, about both the grinder and how great the company was for support. That was all I needed.”

New Opportunities

        Brett purchased a Morbark Model 1300 tub grinder in1999. The Morbark grinder was the single piece of equipment most responsible for the company’s upturn in business during that time, he said.

        “We were finally able to take on projects that, in the past, were out of reach for our capabilities,” he said. “Because we had significant grinding capability, we were now able to better control our own destiny, ensure deadlines were met, and so on. In the past we were at the mercy of sub-contractors whose priorities were sometimes not the same as ours. It was such a major turnaround for us that we acquired a second grinder, a Morbark Model 5600 Wood Hog, in 2002, and have been adding to our fleet since then.”

        Today, W.B. Henry’s grinding operations tackle a broad range of projects, from those as small as one acre all the way up to large-scale land-clearing jobs for major developments and occasional government projects.

        “In 2002, shortly after we got the Model 5600, we did a project clearing 364 acres at Beaufort Marine Air Station between Charleston and Savannah,” said Brett. “That’s probably the largest one we’ve done, but the point is: we can do it all.”

        “In 2004,” he added, “I traded in the 5600 to increase my grinding capabilities. Now we have a pair of Morbark Model 7600 Boss Hog horizontal grinders and the Model 1300 tub grinder. Each type of grinder has its own strengths. The horizontal machines are just grinding ‘beasts’ that will give us the best production rates possible and allow one-man operation. When we have large stumps, however, I’ll bring in the tub. When we did the Marine Air Station, we encountered oak stumps that were larger than the average SUV. It took two track hoes to pick some of them up. Yet the Model 1300 took them like nothing. They are just amazing machines.”

To Market, to Market

        Without a legitimate market for wood grindings, W.B. Henry’s grinding operations would be an exercise in futility. In true fashion, Brett not only established a relationship with one of the area’s biggest users of wood grindings, he took that a step farther.

        “The material we grind is sold to an area paper mill for boiler fuel,” he said. “Initially, we worked hard to get our product as clean as possible to meet their specs. But despite all the extra work we put into it, we were still getting only the basic tonnage rate. So last year we added a trommel and started screening the material prior to shipment.”

        The result of that extra effort — and additional investment — was a contract that allows Henry to sell the customer as much boiler fuel as his company can produce; there is no cap on his production. “We spent a quarter-million dollars on a screen and a track hoe, but it was money well spent,” he said.

Recovering Lost Revenue

        By now it’s obvious that, when Brett Henry identifies something that needs changing, he changes it.  The most recent example of that occurred in late 2003. After regularly sub-contracting for logging services, he decided that year to add in-house logging operations to the business.

        Brett said, “So after acquiring some equipment — a couple of John Deere skidders and fellers, a Prentice log loader, among others — I added logging to my résumé, and it’s really paid off.  In addition to having better control from a scheduling standpoint, it’s become a whole new profit center for us.”

        Integrating and streamlining his operations, coupled with a reliance on quality equipment and a skilled workforce, has enabled him to grow his business to better than $4 million in annual revenue.

     “I enjoy what I do and surround myself with some of the best workers in the business,” said Brett. “That, and the fact that equipment like the Morbark grinders perform day in and day out with little risk of downtime, makes it really easy for someone like me to look good.”


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