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Fla. Company Leapfrogs into Grinding

Custom Mulch & Recycling Gets Fast Start with Support from Morbark and Two Grinders

By IRI Staff
Date Posted: 10/1/2007


JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Starting a new wood waste grinding and recycling business is extremely challenging given the cost, expertise and business savvy needed to succeed.

            Existing companies that can draw on strengths to gain a competitive edge, however, stand a far better chance of achieving success.

            For Custom Mulch & Recycling in Jacksonville, Fla., that meant capitalizing on its 20-plus year history as a mainstay in local and regional trucking services.

            Even with that edge, the company still needed to address some serious equipment issues before it could turn the corner toward profitability. With the purchase of a pair of horizontal grinders, all the pieces were in place to help it grow from a start-up less than a year ago to one of the area’s fastest growing suppliers of mulch and mulch products.

 

Building on an Idea

            The brainchild of co-owners Richard Meeks and Cecil Eunice, Custom Mulch & Recycling drew on a rich business history to enter the wood grinding industry. For decades, Eunice and his family have owned and operated Cecil Eunice Trucking (CET), which serves the north Florida and southwest Georgia region, with offices in Jacksonville as well as Blackshear, Ga.

            According to Richard, the genesis of Custom Mulch came about largely because of CET’s successful dealings. “In addition to trucking, the Eunice family has also been a long-time player in manufacturing wood utility poles for regional power companies,” he noted. “As a result of those businesses, they became closely acquainted with many of the logging operations as well as the many pulp mills that operate in the area. That helped us identify potential customers early on.”

            In addition to having key people with strong business savvy, Custom Mulch had the benefit of fortuitous timing. Another company had tried recycling wood waste, failed at the business effort, and, in the process, had stockpiled a tremendous volume of raw material. Richard and Cecil looked into acquiring the property, raw material and equipment.

            “We looked at the big picture and knew that — with the trucking company — we could make it work,” said Richard. “Even being new to the business, we realized that, to be successful, you have to be able to make product when people need it, and, more importantly, guarantee delivery of that product. When people start having doubts as to whether or not you’re going to deliver, no matter how attractive the price is, they will start looking somewhere else. We felt we had that part of it covered and made the purchase.”

 

Growing Pains

            Though it sounds like the classic American success story, Meeks was quick to point out that Custom Mulch’s transition into the wood waste market was anything but smooth.

            Buying another business often means also buying their headaches. In this case, the headache was a grinder that was not running properly and eventually came to a halt.

            Problems with the machine led the partners to invest in the purchase of a pair of Morbark horizontal grinders. It was one of the best business moves they’ve made so far, said Richard.

            “Early on in our business, at a time when we desperately needed product, we were facing a major issue with our existing grinder and were having no luck getting the manufacturer or their service people to get us back up and running. Frustrated by how things were going, I contacted Stan Gibson, the Morbark field rep for this area. Fortunately for us, they had a unit in the area that they were demonstrating for another customer. Stan brought the grinder — a Model 7600 horizontal — in and personally ran it for a couple of days to help us get caught up.”

            Morbark’s commitment to helping them did not stop there, Richard added. Stan was not satisfied with the fact that the hammers were configured differently from the previous demo session. He insisted on changing them to make them better suited for the product Custom Mulch needed to produce.

            “That, of course, meant the 7600 would have to be out of service for a while,” said Richard, “so he called Larry Burkhalter, Morbark’s regional manager, who located a Model 4600 horizontal grinder and brought it in for us to use while the 7600 was being reconfigured. Mind you, at this point we had never even said we were going to buy a grinder from them. We just couldn’t believe how they went to bat for us.”

 

Grinders Find a Home

            Stan got the hammers reconfigured on the 7600 the way he wanted and worked it all day on a Saturday, enabling them to get back on track to meet production goals.

            “The production we got through that machine was like nothing we had seen before,” said Richard. “It just blew us away. Later that evening, Cecil came in, saw the volume of material that had been processed through the two machines and said what I’d also been thinking: There’s no reason for either of those machines to leave the yard — we need to buy them.’ We did, and our operation has never been at a loss for production since.”

            Custom Mulch & Recycling provides a variety of colored and uncolored mulch products to some of the largest retailers in the Jacksonville area and ships mulch to firms further down the Florida coast. It is also in the process of providing feed stock for pellet fuel that eventually will be exported overseas.

            “That will be a totally new area for us,” said Richard, “but growing the business means recognizing new opportunities, and we’re getting good at doing that. We also send a decent volume of material to area paper mills for use as boiler fuel, so there is literally nothing that goes to waste here.”

 

Machine Specific

            Custom Mulch keeps its two Morbark grinders continually busy. The larger Model 7600 runs 10 hours a day at the company’s Jacksonville yard, and the Model 4600 is dedicated for mobile grinding operations.

            “Each machine has its advantages,” Richard explained. “The 7600, obviously, gives us the high volume production we need. In fact, at the outset of our business, it was responsible for getting rid of the mountain of debris we inherited from the previous owners. I can’t imagine any other machine being able to do what that one machine did. The Model 4600, on the other hand, is an extremely mobile unit that we can take anywhere without having to deal with permitting issues. That has allowed us to carve out yet another niche in the area.”

 

Commitment, Loyalty

            The niche he referred to is performing on-site grinding of reject logs at area mills. The mills stockpile the wood until they have a large enough volume, then call Custom Mulch, which transports the Morbark Model 4600 to the site and grinds the logs into mulch.

            “It’s an ideal situation for us,” said Richard. “The mills charge us $2 a ton just to get rid of the material, and we are able to use that to create our mulch and sell it at a decent profit. The point is we are only able to do that because the 4600 is both productive and mobile. In fact, we are generally about three to four jobs behind with that machine — it’s kept that busy. Should there ever be a lull in that part of the business, however, we can simply bring it back to the yard to work alongside the larger grinder.”

            Richard added, “We can’t say enough about Morbark as a company. They helped us when they didn’t have to, they’ve been excellent in supporting us, and, as a result, they have a customer for life.”




 






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