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Virginia Business Adds Kiln-Drying to Its Firewood Production Operations: Company Upgrades to Kiln-Direct High Performance Kiln for Volume Production
New, high performance system from Kiln-Direct helps Virginia business expansion into kiln-dried firewood ramp up production.
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 1/11/2019
FAIRFAX, Virginia — A Virginia business that added firewood production to its operations expanded into kiln-dried firewood with the help of Kiln-Direct. Now the business is ramping up production even more with a new, high performance system from Kiln-Direct.
Remington Mulch is a well-established company that has been doing business in the Northern Virginia region since 1989. It has multiple locations in the region, producing mulch and other products for homeowners and primarily landscape contractors, garden centers, and similar businesses.
The company was started by John Armstrong and a business partner, Ross Jones, in 1989. They previously operated a landscape contracting business when they discovered a void in the market, explained John’s son, Brent. At the time, there were limited facilities in the region where they could dispose of landscape debris material. What landscape contractors like themselves needed was a single place where they could offload debris material and purchase and pick up mulch, top soil, and other materials they needed in their business.
As they launched a new business and began operations to produce mulch, they initially continued landscaping operations, and sales of mulch to their own business and other contractors paid for the costs of producing mulch. As the mulch operations took hold, they closed their contracting business and focused on producing mulch, topsoil, compost and other products primarily for sale to landscapers. “We’re just in a great area for that,” said Brent.
Today the company has six sites throughout the Northern Virginia region, including one in Elkwood and in Gainesville and in the more heavily populated and developed areas of Dulles, Springfield and Fairfax, where it operates a landscape ‘super store.’ In Fredericksburg, further south, it operates a wholesale division under the name Quail Ridge Products.
John, 53, oversees the company’s financials and also runs the Fairfax retail location, which also has a store and offers sales and service of outdoor power equipment. He also coordinates deliveries. Ross, also 53, is in charge of mulch production operations and oversees those along with the maintenance and repair of the company’s equipment and machinery.
Brent, 24, is manager of the Springfield location and also is in charge of the company’s relatively new firewood operations.
Remington Mulch produces and sells hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of mulch, soil products, and compost annually, according to Brent. “Mulch is the king,” he said. “Mulch is what we do the most of.” It sells products in bulk form and bagged.
Convenience and service to landscapers is an important aspect of Remington Mulch’s operations. At the Fairfax site, for example, landscapers can offload debris, pick up supplies of mulch and other materials, and drop off lawn mowers or other equipment for service.
The company charges tipping fees to landscapers and tree service businesses to offload their waste material. Tipping fees vary according to the location. Further north and east, such as at the Fairfax site, contractors are willing and can afford to pay a premium. Tipping fees are less in the company’s more rural locations. At the Elkwood location, the most remote, Remington Mulch does not charge a tipping fee. Waste wood and other material collected at the company’s locations provide the raw material for producing mulch, soil products, and compost — and now, firewood.
The company has multiple grinders and performs grinding operations at a number of its locations. It utilizes Diamond Z 1463B tub grinders and one Vermeer horizontal grinder.
Remington Mulch produces four colored mulches: brown, walnut, black, and red. It uses a liquid colorant supplied by Greenville Colorants that is applied and mixed with use of the company’s trommel screens.
The company’s market area is Northern Virginia although it also sells to wholesale markets in Maryland.
Brent has been working in the business since he was in middle school and began working full-time after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism with an advertising focus in 2016.
It was his idea for the company to expand into firewood production and sales. He realized that Remington Mulch had a lot of logs that were suitable for firewood and recommended to his father and Ross to expand into firewood production, which they have supported.
The company added firewood operations about 18 months ago. “It’s something we like because anytime you can take in material at a site like Springfield and turn it into a saleable product on that site, it eliminates a lot of handling and trucking,” said Brent — added costs associated with producing mulch. In addition, it is a value-added product.
The firewood operations are conducted at the company’s Springfield location, where the company has a good, steady supply of suitable material that is offloaded by tree service companies.
Two Multitek firewood processors are used to cut and split firewood logs. Remington Mulch purchased a Multitek model 1616 in used condition from Multitek and also a new model 1620. Both processors can handle logs up to 18 inches in diameter and 20 feet long, according to the Multitek website. Remington Mulch also is equipped with a splitter that is attached to and powered by a Bobcat skid steer.
Firewood is sold wholesale to garden centers and other outlets as well as retail to homeowners, roughly 50-50 between those two markets. “The homeowner market is the best,” said Brent. Deliveries to homeowners typically are offloaded by a dump truck. The company does not offer stacking services.
Brent, John and Ross decided to invest in a firewood kiln earlier last year. Brent explained the reasons for adding a kiln to produce kiln-dried firewood. “It allows you to be relevant any time of year. If you run low on seasoned firewood, you can take green logs, process them, and dry it, and sell it in a couple of days.” In addition, firewood competes with mulch for storage space at the company’s locations. “It gives us a guarantee that we’ll always have dry wood, and that business won’t be placed on hold,” added Brent. Kiln-drying also adds value, he noted.
Initially they decided to purchase a Kiln-Direct 6 cord Mini-Quick unit, and Remington Mulch began operating the kiln in October. However, they quickly decided to upgrade to a system that could increase production instead of simply ordering a second Mini-Quick.
After discussions with the Kiln-Direct staff, Brent and the two partners settled on a 12 cord Small Quick Performance firewood kiln. It has twice as much firewood capacity, and in addition the drying time is about twice as fast. Constructed of 100 percent stainless steel, the 12 cord Small Quick Performance firewood kiln is capable of drying 3,000-3,500 cords of firewood annually. It heats the firewood to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, which meets federal heat-treating requirements.
“For high production firewood businesses, this is the go-to kiln,” said Niels Jorgensen, founder and president of Kiln-Direct.
Niels discussed his company’s development of the high performance firewood kiln. Kiln-Direct developed the model a few years ago. It reaches heat-treating temperatures in only 3-4 hours.
As the firewood industry has grown, a lot of small entrepreneurs, like landscape contractors, have gotten into the firewood business, observed Niels. They found there was a lot of material handling involved in loading and unloading smaller kilns and began seeking systems that were more efficient. That was what prompted Kiln-Direct to develop its high performance unit.
According to Kiln-Direct, the high performance kiln will dry firewood in 22-32 hours. However, the company says that every customer equipped with the kiln reports being able to dry firewood in less than 24 hours.
With ¾-cord firewood baskets, the high performance unit can be loaded with only eight movements of a forklift rated to lift 10,000 pounds.
“The turn-around is so much faster,” said Niels. “They get more efficiency in the turn-around and in planning, production, and volume. And the footprint is smaller.”
The 12 cord Small Quick Performance firewood kiln was introduced in 2017 with twice the heat, twice the air flow, and additional control features and air flow enhancements. Kiln-direct upgraded its manufacturing in 2018, enabling it to construct kiln chambers in 100 percent stainless steel. The combined developments have allowed Kiln-Direct to manufacture a true high production kiln — with production capacity of 3,000-3,500 cords per year — made of the most durable material.
The kiln ordered by Remington Mulch was the ninth of the new high performance model, noted Niels, who expected to deliver the 10th unit to another customer the following week.
Remington Mulch replaced its original kiln with the 12 cord Small Quick Performance firewood kiln, and it began operating in December.
Brent was attracted to Kiln-Direct by the drying speed of its firewood kilns. “The speed of the Kiln-Direct systems is what really caught our eye,” he said, “the speed and the high temperature.” Another factor was the proximity of Kiln-Direct, whose headquarters and operations are located in Burgaw, North Carolina, about a 5-hour drive.
“The kiln is very high quality,” said Brent. It is computer-controlled, and Brent can access it, monitor and regulate the operations with his cell phone. “They make it really easy to make sure your kiln is working. There’s a lot of R&D (research and development) that’s gone into them.”
Brent had high praise for Kiln-Direct and its staff. “The service has been tremendous,” he said. “The support after the sale,” he added, has been top-notch.
“They answer the phone when I need them,” he said. “They work in the pouring rain to get you running.”
“A couple of their service techs have gone way beyond my expectations,” said Brent. Kiln-Direct “puts their money where their mouth is.”
“Kiln-Direct has been awesome. We’re very happy with them.”
Marketing wholesale sales of firewood to garden centers and other outlets has been easy because of the reputation that John and Ross have built up over the years. “I have instant credibility,” said Brent. He can easily make contact with owners of garden centers because they are familiar with Remington Mulch, its products, and good reputation. For reaching homeowners, Brent has done some spending on digital media marketing, such as Facebook and Google.
Remington Mulch likely will not delve into markets for packaged or bundled firewood although it has produced a small volume of bundled firewood for sale at its Fairfax store and some garden centers. “If we can sell it bulk, there’s no reason to package it,” said Brent. In addition, production of packaged firewood requires the wood to be split into very uniform pieces, he noted. “The wood has to be perfect.”
Brent sees potential and growth in company’s firewood operations. He already foresees the day when Remington Mulch may have to sort logs at other locations and truck them to Springfield to have an adequate supply of logs.
“It’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s like topsoil. We get paid to take dirt from landscapers, and we can put it through a screener and get paid to sell it right back. Firewood is similar.”
Kiln-Direct, a supplier of pallet heat-treating systems, lumber and firewood kilns, will mark its 25th year in business in 2019. It has more than 1,200 units in operation — pallet heat-treating kilns, lumber kilns, and firewood kilns. Kiln-Direct employs about 50 people and has annual sales of about $7-8 million.
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