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Building on Success: New England Mulch Business Relies on HogZilla Grinders
Marco Carrier and his brother, Richard, own P.R. Russell, which manufactures and distributes mainly mulch. They have grown the business substantially in the short time they have owned it. Sales have almost doubled. The company now relies totally on CW Mill Equipment Co. Inc.
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 10/1/2011
Marco Carrier and his brother, Richard, have taken a good business and made it bigger and better – fast.
Along the way, they have forged a strong relationship with a leading manufacturer of industrial grinding equipment that is located half-way across the country from their New England operations.
The Carriers are 50-50 owners in P.R. Russell, which manufactures and distributes mainly mulch but also other wood fiber products. The company has operations in Maine and New Hampshire, and its markets are in the New England states.
Although the Carriers are relatively new to P.R. Russell, the company has a long history. It was started by Peter Russell in Maine in 1989. The Carriers approached him in the summer of 2007 and bought into the business. In 2 years they took full ownership of the company.
The Carriers are no strangers to the forest products industry, however. The men are originally from Canada and grew up in Quebec, about an hour from the Maine border. Richard, 59, has been in the logging and trucking segments of the forest products industry for about 35 years. For 30 of those years he has lived in Skowhegan, located in central Maine less than 40 miles north of the capital of Augusta, where he owns and operates Richard Carrier Trucking. Marco has been involved in the forest products industry for more than 15 years in New England.
Richard is not active in the day-to-day operations of P.R. Russell while Marco, who lives in the Portland area in southern Maine, serves as the company’s general manager.
They have grown the business substantially in the short time they have owned it. Sales have almost doubled. A lot of the growth has had to do with the opening of the second location in New Hampshire, he noted.
For years P.R. Russell has been based in Richmond, about 15 miles south of Augusta. After the Carriers bought into the company, they began planning an expansion into Brentwood, New Hampshire, and the company opened its facility there the following year in 2008.
When Marco and Richard entered the business, P.R. Russell had two HogZilla grinders at Richmond along with two other tub grinders. The company now relies totally on CW Mill Equipment Co. Inc., the Kansas-based manufacturer of the HogZilla brand of grinding equipment. P.R. Russell owns seven HogZilla Grinders ranging from year 1996 to 2011: a TC-1464P, a TC-1564P, four TCII-1564P models, all tub grinders, and a HZL-7650SE46, which is a horizontal grinder.
The Maine facility, which employs three full-time workers, consists of seven paved acres and two additional acres with a small office and a shop. The company buys bark and pulp wood. It buys spruce, fir, pine and hemlock bark, and some tree-length pine pulp wood. The bark is supplied by sawmills and paper mills in Maine and Quebec and trucked to the plant; about 60 percent of the bark it buys is supplied by companies in Quebec. It grinds the material and colors the wood fiber to produce various mulch products. Mulch products are sold and shipped in bulk and bagged form. Products made at the Maine facility usually are shipped to customers in Maine.
In New Hampshire, the company has 15 paved acres and is in the process of expanding. The facility mirrors the operations in Maine but on a much larger scale, employing 12 full-time people. Raw material is trucked in by the same mills that supply the Maine yard, along with some local area mills. Brentwood is located in southern New Hampshire only about 10 miles from the Massachusetts border. From this yard the company sells to customers in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and RI.
The company has five of the HogZilla grinders at work in New Hampshire and the other two in Maine. It also has an assortment of front-end loaders at both locations as well as truck dumpers to unload incoming bark. The company also has state of the art laser scanning systems at both locations.
Between the two locations, P.R. Russell produces 500,000 cubic yards of mulch annually, according to Marco. The company sells mainly to landscape supply companies, garden centers and property management firms. Richard’s trucking business does the bulk of the delivery of inbound material while they utilize a fleet of owner operators for the customer deliveries.
For coloring the bark mulch, the company prefers to use dry colorants that do not require water. The colorant is rolled into the raw material before going through the grinding process.
The company uses only two colors of dye – black and red. They process a large portion of their mulches without any colorant. “Customers are going more
and more to a natural, non-colored product,” said Marco. There is increasing concern among customers about chemicals that are used in the coloring process
even though they are environmentally harmless and safe.
One reason they use dry colorants is because it keeps down the weight of the finished product. “It doesn’t add weight,” said Marco, like water-based colorants. Dry dye also processes into the bark rather than simply coating it with color.
If the Carriers had any reservations about dealing long distance with the principal supplier of their bread and butter machinery, CW Mill Equipment quickly eliminated them.
“They’ve taken care of that concern,” said Marco, “because they’ve been treating us very well, and their service is very good. We really can’t complain that way.”
“They have an excellent unit,” said Marco. “It’s built very, very well.”
“The after-sale service they are providing us is excellent,” he added. “Basically, there is no reason to go anywhere else.”
Marco was comfortable having a single supplier for the company’s grinding needs and sees an advantage in it. “You put your purchasing power into one place, so when you need help or service, they obviously have an incentive to help you the best they can. I think it’s very wise to buy at the same place.”
All the company’s HogZilla grinders are diesel-powered machines. These machines utilize hammermills for grinding.
It was a good move to open a location in New Hampshire, explained Marco, because it gave the company access to markets in the greater Boston region and enabled it to pursue those markets from a very competitive position. Once the company opened a facility in New Hampshire, a lot of its business migrated to that site from Maine.
The company has one full-time salesman who covers New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and Marco’s daughter, Kristen Carrier, sells to customers in Maine, Connecticut, and RI.
The company made investments in New Hampshire recently to enter the market for mulch that is sold by the bag. It put in a state-of-the-art Premier Tech automated bagging system that has a capacity to package 20 bags of mulch per minute. The line began operating late in the past season so it was not utilized fully for the peak period of business. “We’re looking forward to next season,” said Marco.
P.R. Russell promotes its premium bark mulches as more consistent, with richer color and better texture, because it uses quality bark from northeastern forests. The company has state-of-the-art production facilities, an experienced crew, and uses industry-leading processing techniques.
The fibrous texture of its bark mulch, rich in smell and color, is ideal for gardens; it provides a more favorable environment for roots, prevents erosion and enhances the contrast of plantings. The company’s mulches moderate soil temperature and retain moisture, reducing the need to water. They mitigate splashing from rain or irrigation water, reducing the spread of disease, and block the germination of many weeds. In time they decompose and lend their nutrients to the soil.
The raw materials are recovered from wood manufacturing operations that do not use the bark. P.R. Russell recovers and recycles materials that, 20 years ago, would have been incinerated or dumped in a landfill. In addition, much of the company’s raw material comes from Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certified operations.
The company sells a good volume of wood fiber material for playground surfaces to schools, local governments, and other customers made of 100% virgin engineered wood fiber that is certified through the American Society of Testing and Materials. Other products include composts, biomass fuels, bedding for livestock, and firewood. They are also a distributor of wood pellets.
The company has not been impacted by the downturn in the economy, particularly the housing sector and the sawmill industry that supplies building materials. “Keep in mind that we also get some bark from paper mills,” said Marco, “which are not affected in the same way by the economy.”
One of the strengths of their business, explained Marco, is Richard’s trucking company and the extensive business relationships he has with mills that enables them to tap supplies of bark and pulp wood.
Because they both have worked in the forest products industry and they have good access to markets for raw materials, “I think it’s a big advantage to what we do,” said Marco.
“I would also like to include our staff as a major key to our success,” he added. “P.R. Russell would not be successful without our knowledgeable, determined and dedicated staff. They work closely with customers to ensure excellent customer service, the highest quality products, and unbeatable delivery.”
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