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Kaple Lumber Continues to Change and Grow

Company with Sawmill, Pallet Plant Sees Mulch Division Rise; Advanced Recycling Machine Increases Production

By Jack Petree - Contributing Author
Date Posted: 6/1/2001

SHILOH, Ohio — Kaple Lumber Company has grown and prospered for 105 years because it has been willing to change. The company was founded as the result of change and continues to adjust its operations to improve its products and services.

The market for mulch has "seen nothing but growth in recent years," said Paul Kaple, the company’s vice president for sales and marketing. As a result, Kaple Lumber adjusted its sawmill and pallet operations in order to increase production of mulch for the rapidly expanding market.

Kaple Lumber invested in an Advanced Recycling Equipment Challenger® grinder to increase production of mulch. The Challenger® has been an important factor in adjusting the company’s operations and allowing it to continue producing quality products, according to Paul.

Kaple Lumber, its pallet division, Crestline Wood Products, and its mulch division, N-ViroMulch, are located in the central part of northern Ohio. The community of Shiloh is convenient to both the Appalachian hardwoods that supply Kaple with its raw material and to large metropolitan markets for its products.

The business, owned by five cousins, was started by Paul’s grandfather, Ben Kaple; he traded a sack of potatoes for a log that he had sawn into lumber and then sold the lumber for a profit.

Kaple Lumber Company and its subsidiaries feature a significant amount of both vertical integration and interaction between the divisions. The company contracts for its own timber, then does its own logging; it generally focuses on selective cuts that leave the residual trees still growing as a functioning forest. Logs are milled in the company’s own sawmill. It works mainly with red oak, white oak, ash, cherry, hard and soft maple, poplar, hickory, and walnut. Grade lumber goes to local and regional markets, and even international customers seek out its quality hardwoods. Lumber not suitable for furniture and other markets is sawn into cants and pallet stock for the Crestline Wood Products pallet plant, making up as much as a quarter of the material required. Waste from both plants is utilized to create a variety of products, although colored mulch is making up an increasing volume of the business related to residual products.

The colored mulch segment of the business came into being in the early half of the 1990s. The owners researched it and decided that colored mulch could be a profitable way of disposing of the large volume of waste from the sawmill. The company already was producing mulch, sawdust and chips for a variety of markets; colored mulch seemed to be the kind of value-added product that could help round out the company’s residual product operations.

Kaple Lumber purchased Crestline Wood Products in 1997. The acquisition increased the wood waste stream at the same time the mulch business was growing. The company increased production of residuals by using waste generated from notching, chamfering and trim operations in the pallet plant.

The company has positioned itself further in the colored mulch business with its investment in the Advanced Recycling Equipment Challenger®. "We had been making chips," said Paul, "but had just made some changes in the sawmill to improve our yield. Our chipper was shot, and we’d decided the chip market was not a great money-maker for us anyway, so we were looking at alternatives. The mulch has grown into a key piece of our business puzzle, so we decided to look at expanding our grinding rather than invest in chipping."

Kaple Lumber had extensive experience with grinding previously. The reason it decided to look at Advanced Recycling Equipment’s Challenger® line of grinders was the capability to make a consistently sized product from a variety of materials. As Paul pointed out, the grinder processes slabs and edgings from the sawmill, turning them into a uniformly sized mulch.

"Quality is definitely an issue in the mulch market," said Paul. "The Challenger® seemed to us to be the machine that could produce the quality mulch we needed, so we invested in the equipment. It has since proven to be able to live up to its reputation."

The Challenger® grinds 80-100 cubic yards of material per day with the consistency his company requires, especially in its colored mulch product. "It’s rare that you can run that kind of volume through a grinder and have a finished product that’s ready to go to the market coming out of the machine," said Paul. With established customers relying on the company to supply upwards of 25,000 yards of mulch annually, producing a consistently good product is critical, Paul noted.

A Becker-Underwood Second Harvester system colors the mulch, which is stored in a heated block building that was designed by Paul. The mulch is stored in four bins, one for each of the basic colors the company sells: red, brown, gold and black. The mulch is sold primarily to landscapers scattered throughout northern Ohio.

The landscapers have worked hard to build good reputations in their own markets, so they count on Paul’s company to supply a quality product they can take confidently to their customers. "We listen to them and make sure we are producing the product they require," Paul said. "That’s why it was so important to us to purchase a grinder that is capable of the kind of quality production the Challenger® gives us."

The market for quality residual products continues to get bigger although in recent years it has also grown more competitive, Paul noted. Still, mulch was once thought of as little more than a nuisance product that enabled a mill or manufacturing plant like Kaple Lumber Company to get rid of its waste material without losing too much money. Now it is an important profit center capable of standing on its own in competition with other company operations.


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