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Firewood Dealer Faces Changes, Challenges
New Hampshire Company Relies on Newest Multitek Machine to Produce Firewood
By Carolee Anita Boyles
Date Posted: 1/1/2008
WESTMORELAND, New Hampshire — Relationships mean everything in business. And sometimes those relationships help companies build their businesses.
The relationship between Treehugger Farms and Multitek is a case in point. Because of the long-term relationship between the two companies, Treehugger Farms’ owner Jon Clark has built his firewood business into a thriving enterprise over the years.
Located in Westmoreland, New Hampshire, Treehugger Farms has a variety of different facets that make full use of all the firewood they cut, as well as the waste they generate.
“We are primarily a firewood dealer,” said Jon. “We cut and split firewood with our Multitek processor and deliver it to homeowners in our general area. We also do wholesale firewood by the tractor trailer load, and that goes to different companies all over New England.”
Jon has been in the firewood business since he was a boy growing up in Massachusetts. His father, Greg, started a firewood business on Cape Cod back in the early 1970s.
“We grew up doing firewood on the Cape,” Jon recalled. “When the first oil crisis hit, firewood started to catch on, and that was my dad’s niche.”
“We started out as a very small operation, cutting firewood by hand,” Jon said. “Then we progressed into various kinds of splitters. Dad bought his first Multitek in the late 1980s, and then everything was automated and very fast compared to the old fashioned way of doing things with a saw and splitter.” With that first Multitek, the operation was able to produce more firewood faster with less labor, which helped the company start to grow.
“We moved to our present location here in New Hampshire in 1993,” Jon said. “We bought a couple of log trucks and would haul logs. We set up our firewood processor here. Then we set up a wood stove shop where we sell Lopi Wood Stoves. Lopi stoves are made in Washington State, and they sell wood, gas, and pellet stoves.” The store also sells a little bit of everything related to wood stoves, including pellets, tool sets, hearth guards,
Just like they had on the Cape, Jon and his father set about to develop good relationships with suppliers and customers. “We developed good relationships with the local loggers and sawmills, and were able to find a good supply of tree length firewood,” Jon said. “By moving here to New Hampshire…we were able to establish more contacts for supplying logs.” Jon bought the business from his father in 1998, and continued with the family tradition.
Treehugger Farms deals in mixed hardwoods, including oak, maple, ash, beech and birch. The company buys firewood logs that are delivered to the farm. “We don’t cut the timber,” explained Jon. “A couple of years ago I actually sold the log trucks we had, so now we completely rely on having wood delivered from other companies and contractors.”
Through the years, Jon has continued to rely on Multitek firewood processors to convert the tree length wood into wood that is cut and split, ready for the fireplace or wood stove.
“Between Dad and me, we’ve had about 10 Multiteks over the years,” said Jon. “Right now I have the most updated Multitek, the 2040XP2, with a 30-foot conveyer. It’s their newest circular saw rig. Instead of having a bar and chain like a chainsaw, it uses a circular saw to cut the logs.”
Bucking the logs to fireplace length with the Multitek’s circular saw has a number of benefits, said Jon. First, it’s faster.
“Second, and just as important, it doesn’t require bar and chain oil to lubricate the saw,” Jon said. “So we’re able to eliminate our usage of bar and chain oil, which over the period of a month’s time was quite expensive. That’s a huge advantage to us. Those two things helped us make the decision to buy this particular machine.”
Jon has been using the Multitek 2040XP2 since August. It is so efficient that it does the work of two of the older models, he said. “Being a new machine, we’ve had a few little hiccups, but the factory has been very helpful in working through those things with us,” he said.
At one point the company operated three Multiteks. “We’ve seen a decrease in the volume of our sales for several different reasons,” said Jon. Some customers with a fireplace or wood stove put in pellet stoves. “So I had cut back to two machines. But when we got the newest Multitek, the production with it is so good that I felt like I could eliminate another machine and save some money. So right at the moment we’re running only the one Multitek.”
The Multitek 2040XP2 provides a steady flow of firewood that keeps four people busy — Jon, his two sons, Brad, 18, and Eric, 17, and an employee. Jon’s wife, Donna, runs the office.
“The boys have grown up around the business since a very young age,” Jon said. “This business has helped to establish a good work ethic in both of them.”
The company sells up to 8-10,000 cords of firewood annually although some years sales have only reached 4-5,000. Jon predicted the company’s 2007 sales would reach 5-7,000.
The firewood business has been through a lot of changes in the past few years and continues to face challenges, Jon noted. “We have to deal with increases in the cost of fuel, labor, and insurance,” he said. “But when you’re marketing that cord of wood to your local customer, that customer wants to pay as little as possible. They really don’t care about your fuel costs because they’re using firewood to save money. So it’s a very competitive business, and there’s not usually a lot of profit after all your expenses.”
That’s one of the reasons why Jon likes the Multitek 2040XP2 so much; it has helped him keep his costs down. He doesn’t have to handle the wood as much with the 2040XP2.
Jon’s company supplies clean firewood. Every piece of wood is screened before it goes onto the truck. The screen, similar to a gravel screen, helps shake off sawdust and remove other debris.
“When I say clean, I mean just that,” he said. “Our customers get consistently sized pieces of split wood that are loaded properly and have no debris or dirt or mud on them. People want to have clean wood to bring into their houses, and that’s a challenging thing to do when you’re dealing with a forest product that comes out of the woods in all kinds of weather.”
Treehugger Farms delivers all wood in loose, bulk form, not wrapped or bundled. The company has a small dump truck for deliveries to local customers, and it contracts for trucking for large volume deliveries.
“Most of our business is in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire,” Jon said. “About sixty percent of it is local homeowners and about forty percent is commercial.” When the wood is delivered to a homeowner, it is dumped where the customer designates.
The company produces firewood year-round. “We have wood available that’s green, and we have wood that’s seasoned that’s typically been stored here on the yard for about a year,” said Jon.
The company also has a kiln to dry wood. The logs go through a debarker first and then are processed with the Multitek. The finished firewood then goes into the kiln for three to four days to be dried at a temperature between 160-200 degrees. “The wood comes out of the kiln ready to burn,” Jon said.
Jon’s father named the company Treehugger Farms because of the socio-political climate of the times. “Everyone is kind of on an environmental kick, and they want to make sure that the products they’re buying are as environmentally friendly as possible,” said Jon. “And that’s what we try to do here. Everything here is utilized, including sawdust and bark.”
Bark and other wood debris from the firewood operations go into a tub grinder to be turned into landscape mulch that is sold by the farm. “Also, we use a wood gasification system to heat the hot water that heats the kiln.”
Having a retail store is not a new idea for Treehugger Farms, which also provides stump grinding services to homeowners. “We had a store on the Cape where we sold wood stoves, and it was always very successful there,” Jon said. “And as energy costs increase, people are always looking for ways to offset those costs. Using firewood is one way to do that. Burning firewood is typically about half the cost of oil.”
The firewood business is facing some big challenges in the next few years, Jon noted. One of those challenges is the escalating cost of fuel. “Because of the cost of fuel, trucking costs have gone up tremendously,” said Jon. “So to get logs in here at a price we can afford, and process it, and be able to keep our prices down to our customers — that’s a big challenge.”
One thing Jon is doing to meet that challenge is purchasing raw logs from a variety of sources. “We try not to keep all our eggs in one basket, so to speak,” he said. “And by utilizing one hundred percent of the wood, we’re maximizing the investment in the raw log, which helps tremendously.”
Other than that, he said, there’s not a lot they can do to offset rising fuel prices except to buy firewood logs in the off season — the summer, when demand isn’t as high.
“We typically buy year-round,” said Jon. “The more logs we can buy during the summer, the better off we are. That’s always a challenge, because people are thinking about other things in the summer, and they’re not thinking about buying firewood for the winter.”
In 2007 customers delayed buying firewood. “A lot of people waited until the last minute,” said Jon. “Many of them usually buy their firewood in May or June, but they put it off this year. So we have a lot of last-minute customers this year, which is keeping us busy.”
Over the next few years, Jon said, he would like to improve and increase the production of kin-dried firewood. “I think that’s a very nice product,” he said. “And as people plan ahead less and less, having a firewood product that customers can burn on short notice is going to be a plus for us.”
It wouldn’t surprise Jon if he adds another Multitek 2040XP2 in a few years, too. “We’ll probably go back to two machines as we improve and increase our production,” he said.
The retail operation will probably undergo some change in the next few years as well. “We’re always looking for new technologies to sell in the store,” Jon said. “I think that with fuel prices the way they are, we’re going to see a lot of new technologies come out, such as more efficient and cleaner burning stoves. So we’ll be involved in that as much as we can.”
The best thing about being in business for himself, Jon said, is that he’s in control of his own destiny. “The fact that we have a family business is very rewarding,” he said. “And it’s rewarding to see my two sons coming up in the business. We all pull together as a family and take a very challenging business and make it work.”
He likes dealing with customers, too. “I enjoy interacting with customers and giving them an honest measure of a good, clean product,” he said. “I like giving them the best they can get for their money.”
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