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Firewood Business Grows from Urban Roots
Timberwolf firewood processor supplied by Carl Neutzel Services helps company to grow
By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 1/7/2003
RICHMOND, Va. — Morris Cephas often heard his wife, Chiroya, and neighbors, especially women, complain that the firewood they bought was too big or bulky. He knew he could do better, so he started his own firewood business.
That was seven and one-half years ago. Today, Cephas Firewood Inc. offers packaged firewood wholesale. The company also retails truck-loads of firewood, mulch, topsoil and gravel.
The demand for firewood has been so strong that Morris recently purchased a Timberwolf PRO-MX processor to keep pace with it. The Timberwolf PRO-MX is Morris’s first firewood processor, but it is not his first piece of Timberwolf equipment. He bought a TW-5 log splitter four years ago. Then he added a Timberwolf conveyor to off-feed pieces to a truck.
The new Timberwolf firewood processor is already producing two and one-half cords per hour just one month into its service. Morris expects an even faster rate of production with the machine when employees fully learn how to use it.
Morris had such a good experience with the Timberwolf dealer who sold him the TW-5, Carl Neutzel, owner of Carl Neutzel Services in White Hall, Md., that he kept working with Carl. "We have a very good professional relationship," said Morris. Carl has always been "right there" over the years, no matter what Morris needed.
Morris rarely has to call Carl Neutzel regarding maintenance issues. There have been "very little problems, if any, with the TW-5," he said, and the splitter’s solid performance and durability figured in his decision to stay with Carl Neutzel Landscape Services — and Timberwolf — when he bought the conveyor and firewood processor.
When Morris put the Timberwolf PRO-MX in service, he chose the six-way wedge. The wedge is working out well, and he plans to continue using it, although he could switch to a four-way or two-way wedge if needed. The machine is used to process logs of mixed hardwoods, including oak and hickory.
Because Morris knows what it is like to split firewood with a maul, he was impressed by what the log-splitter technology offered. He is even more impressed by the Timberwolf PRO-MX. With the firewood processor, production has increased substantially. The machine is "working out great," he added.
Morris uses a Bobcat 883 loader to move logs in the wood yard and load them onto the live deck of the Timberwolf processor. Cephas Firewood buys some logs, but much of the wood comes from land-clearing operations of an affiliated business that belongs to Morris. "We always uses Stihl chain saws," said Morris. For skidding and removing stumps, Morris relies on heavy equipment that includes a CAT loader and a Trac loader.
Cephas Firewood has a Web site, www.cephasfirewood.com, that welcomes visitors with the image of a burning log in a brick hearth. It gives details about all products and services, and customers can place their order via the Web site. The company’s firewood is seasoned about 12 months. The business operates year-round with four employees and temporary help as needed.
Cephas Firewood has been a full-time enterprise for Morris for two years. Before that he ran the business part-time while employed as a Richmond police officer. The business took off, and Morris resigned from the force after 10 years of service to devote himself to his company.
Cephas Firewood, located in Richmond, now has customers in the city of Richmond and six surrounding counties. One of its biggest clients is the Ukrop’s supermarket chain, which it supplies with distinctively wrapped bundles of firewood. The packaged firewood is accompanied by a specially designed label, including the ‘Virginia’s Finest’ logo, and a sturdy handle to make it easy to pick up and carry. Cephas Firewood also supplies packaged firewood to Marketplace Holdings and Ellwood Thompson Natural Market.
Morris purchased a Mountain Valley BK2RS stretch wrapping machine about three years ago. Three men working together wrap about 180 packages per hour, he said; each bundle contains four to six pieces of wood.
A partner to Morris in taking Cephas Firewood to the level of a full-time enterprise was the Richmond Economic Development Corp. (REDC). Morris explained that the REDC has been "extremely important to us," helping Cephas Firewood develop a financial plan to match its business strategy. Another important partner has been First Market Bank in Richmond.
Good interactions all around with customers, suppliers and employees are valued deeply by Morris. "We have a very good relationship with all our customers," he said. "We appreciate their business, and we always thank them for choosing Cephas Firewood." Excellent customer service paired with a quality product are the keys to success, Morris added
His business keeps him pretty busy, but when he has leisure time, he likes to fish and read. "Even better," he said, "sometimes I can get them both together."
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