By Lindsay Mohlere
As Larry Heesacker, president of A-1 Logging Inc. out of Yamhill, Oregon, tells it, 2012 was a year of incredible change for his company. A complete flip-flop transformed the company and doubled his bottom line.
“In 2012, we completely reorganized the business,” Heesacker says. “We went from CTL to whole tree logging. We started charting each month and setting goals. Totally changed our office. Brought in Sharon Bjorn to do our books and Mike Porter to handle quality control. Replaced our worn-out equipment. That was the turning point. Now, we’ve doubled our business … and we expect to keep going at this point.”
Heesacker emphasizes that the decision to make such a drastic change in his company’s business model was the result of several components coming together at once. “There wasn’t any one reason. So many parts came together at the same time, it’s hard to pin down,” he says.
Bringing corporate trained people on board helped facilitate the change. “Our bookkeeping was a huge part of the change,” Heesacker adds. “Sharon is the former CFO of another company, so now the level of bookkeeping is incredibly better than the average in our industry. And I hired extra management. Mike is from a mill. He’s been a scaler and understands management.”
According to Heesacker, the company’s transformation also has a lot to do with updating the equipment, which bolsters A-1’s ability to tackle larger jobs, improve efficiency, and increase production goals.
“At first it was all about the financing and programs. After 2008, I wouldn’t sign for a machine until I owned one third of it. I didn’t trust the economy or our president at the time. So it was a big deal that Caterpillar worked with me and gave me a better RPO program,” Heesacker says. “We’re almost 100 percent Cat. Peterson [Cat} and Cat have supported us and helped build this company.”
The company’s preference for Cat equipment was solidified with the introduction of the Cat 325. “Once we got into them, the Cat 325 proved to be the finest machine we’ve ever owned,” Heesacker says. “In my opinion, Cat machines are the most comfortable, best put together, and easy to operate.”
Currently, A-1 utilizes seven shovels, one buncher, and two high-track Cats, along with a Cat yoder equipped with an Eagle Grapple or an Eaglet slack pulling carriage, a 90’ BU84 Skagit, and a 071 Madill. Since most of his iron is relatively new, Heesacker relies on Cat warranties but also backs his machines with a solid preventive maintenance program and a strong maintenance crew consisting of two fabricators, one independent first-class mechanic, and one entry-level trainee.
In addition to new management and equipment updates, a better benefits package for employees has also contributed to increasing his bottom line. Heesacker notes that losing a key employee led to the change. “We added more benefits and started taking better care of our people at that point,” he says. In addition to top wages, 401(k) plans, medical, and dental, A-1 Logging employee benefits packages also include annual vacations and sick pay for its work force. A clothing allowance is also available for employees who work out of the cab.
“All these things that come together make the business whole,” Heesacker says. “It’s a team thing. There’s no one piece here … it’s magical. We’re profitable four years now… it’s a percentage you can count.”
A Snapshot of Opportunity
Operating in Oregon’s Yamhill and Polk counties, A-1 Logging has been able to take advantage of several opportunities presented by being in the center of Oregon’s internationally famous wine country.
In 1991, Oregon had only 78 wineries. By 2001, the number stood at 195 and kept growing. According to Heesacker, the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) invested in Yamhill county and Polk county.
He says, “We we’re the second largest land clearing company in the area. We would log and clear the ground for the new vineyards.” Heesacker adds, “Because of California, we operated under the name Meadow Lake Land and Development. It was a name that was greener than A-1 Logging.”
At one point, A-1 cleared more than 1,000 acres in a year for the wine industry, but the boom slowed with the economy in 2008. Recently it started to rumble again. “The vineyards are just coming back now,” Heesacker says. “There’s more land being cleared.”
Today, the Oregon wine industry is the third largest wine producer in the country and employs over 15,000 people.
A Rough Ride to Stay the Course
From his meager beginnings as a firewood vendor and a tree faller in the early 1980s to his present day situation, Heesacker has made the most of the good times and the bad times. His experience with the crashing economies of 1983 and 2008, along with the other challenges the logging industry has faced, has strengthened his resolve to push onward.
“I had a rough start,” Heesacker says. During the recession of 1983, Heesacker started cutting firewood for a living. He then hired on with a log falling company, and the operator set Heesacker up in logging the following year. Characterized by the operator as someone who “works so hard and makes so little,” Heesacker went out on his own in 1984. “I made a little money, but I was underwater in ’85. It took me through ’86 to pay my way out,” he says.
A few years later, Heesacker became fully committed to logging. “I started up again in ’93. And we’ve been here ever since doing jobs as small as a load and a half to over 20 loads a day.”
Currently, the company roster tops out at 37 employed in logging, building roads, operation management, land development, brush clearing, and trucking. A-1 hauls its own logs, running six rigs along with several jippo truckers making up the difference. It operates five to seven ground and tower sides at any given time.
“All our yarders are stacked together on one side,” he says. “We’re compacted because this spring we had a dip in the market, and the landowner is holding us back right now. I put all of our equipment on one job to keep people busy, but we’re about to expand again. That’s why we do five to seven sides.”
The company is also working a side loaded with big trees. “We have one side that’s being cut and bucked by hand because the wood is so large. Second growth stuff.
It’s a real big side—five million board feet,” Heesacker adds.
Through the years, Heesacker has learned that setting realistic goals can keep his company strong and moving forward. Like many other logging companies, A-1 was nearly shut down when the economy tanked in 2008. During the six months they were without work, Heesacker and his top manager went to work every day and completely analyzed the operation of the company. They looked for every opening to increase efficiency from repairing hoses to the overall business model. What they learned from those meetings and previous lessons led to the company’s renaissance in 2012.
“We’re more efficient this year than we were last year,” Heesacker notes. “Our numbers are tighter, and it’s because of what we began in 2012. It’s the organization. We’re a team. Sure, a lot of it has to do with management and equipment, but it’s the crew that makes it. It’s the attitude. They like working here.”
On the Cover
Cover photo taken by Andrea Watt of RCD
lumber’s operation and Doosan DX225LL
RCD Timber is a young company succeeding in a competitive market
Boldly Stepping Into the Future
A-1 Logging transforms itself
Collision of Champions
2016 Lumberjack World Championships
Gwin & Sons Logging runs new Cat through its paces
A review of winch-assist machines
New at DEMO International 2016
A look at some of the innovative equipment that debuted at DEMO International 2016.
Forestry issues hinge on November election