Ice and Fire
Quebec based reman and Distribution Company Goodfellow Inc has emerged from the ice storm and a fire with upgraded facilities
By Helen Johnson
Trials by ice and fire struck Goodfellow Inc.'s main facility and head office in Delson, Quebec in 1998 and, luckily, operations barely skipped a beat. In fact, the company-one of Canada's largest independent remanufacturers and distributors of lumber and specialty wood products- has managed to exceed its goals for expansion and diversification in the face of both crises. When the ice storm hit Quebec and parts of eastern Ontario in January 1998 the complex in Delson, a community just south of Montreal, experienced only minor damage and continued to operate uninterrupted. Partly for humanitarian reasons and partly for business purposes, the plant's 10,000 square foot office was made into a shelter for the company's employees and their families. While easing the circumstances of its employees for a week or so, the shelter also made it possible for the company to obtain fuel for its generators during the worst of the storm and its aftermath-which in turn allowed the plant to run at about 90 per cent capacity during that time. Later in the year, about 150 employees from the Delson facility were playing in a summer Saturday afternoon golf tournament commemorating the company's100th anniversary when a plume of smoke became visible on the horizon. It turned out that a major fire was under way at their place of employment. "It put a pretty quick damper on the golf tournament," says company president Richard Goodfellow.
The fire, which took place on August 22, 1998-just nine days before the company's fiscal year end-caused damage of more than $6 million, all of which was insured. Luckily, no one was hurt in the fire that started in the facility's shavings storage area. Eight 60,000 board foot capacity kilns were destroyed along with four Vacutherm drying cylinders, the plant's garage and all its tooling, the boiler room and shavings storage areas. "Within a 12 hour period, all that evaporated," says Goodfellow. "The first thing of course was to continue to operate and we did that by building a temporary shavings facility to store and load our shavings. We did that within a 48hour period," says Goodfellow. Previously, the shavings were burned in the boilers, which were out of commission at that point. "Within a 60 hour period we had our mill and remanufacturing facilities back and operating. Within 72 hours we had cleared the site of all debris and basically began reconstruction. I think when you're faced with adversity like that, it's very important that you move quickly to reassure your customers, your suppliers and your employees," he says.
"By Christmas we were pretty well rebuilt. We were loading kilns and operating normally." To replace the facilities destroyed in the fire-which was mostly new in 1990-the company installed 10 new FEI steam kilns with a total capacity of about 500,000 board feet. The new, all aluminum kilns are ideal, says Goodfellow, they aren't easily corroded by the acid and tannin in oak lumber. The kilns dry mostly hardwood-mainly birch and maple for furniture manufacturing in central Canada and the US northeast. Two large, 300hp automatic wood waste boilers were salvaged and renovated. The plant's garage, which had been totally destroyed, was rebuilt and relocated so that the 12,000 square foot structure was separate from the other building. "One of the vulnerabilities during the fire was that every thing was together in one long building," says Goodfellow. "We also rebuilt and doubled the size of our shavings storage area and as a result, through the efficiencies of the new kilns and the additional capacity that we rebuilt as a result of the fire, we probably increased our overall capacity by about 35 per cent," says Goodfellow. The large reman facility on the more than 100 acre site was not affected. "Other than the 48hour period where we were unable to blow our shavings somewhere, the reman continued uninterrupted ."
The reman facility resaws and dresses both hardwood and softwood species, but mainly white pine, cedar and western red cedar. It houses two high speed planers- a large, 12inch Wadkin moulder and a Yates A12 matcher-and two high speed, twofaced planers for hardwood-one a 60inch Buss and one a Newman- as well as a variety of other moulders and cutoff equipment. The Delson facility also houses the largest pressure treating plant on one site in Canada. A secondary wood processor with more than 2,000 suppliers, Goodfellow Inc. is known throughout North America as a remanufacturer and primary supplier of heavy timber, which encompasses timber from 6x6 to 24x24, from eight to 60 feet in length. The company has the largest timber inventory in North America, says Goodfellow. It also has large reman facilities for reclaimed and recycled timber which recently processed nearly 20 million feet of timber, 12x12, 14x14 and larger, out of three fresh water rivers-the Ottawa, the Gatineau and the St. Maurice. "This boom timber was removed when the sawlogs and pulp wood timber were no longer allowed in the rivers," says Goodfellow. All of the wood was either remanufactured or processed through the Delson facility. Special packaging and timber fabrication facilities are also part of the Delson complex.
The company is involved in restoration fabrication and recently participated in the restorations of the Rideau, TrentSevern and Lachine canals. At the moment, the company is working on three large, timber based roller coaster projects in Norway, Belgium and the US. Flooring, decking and other value-added specialties are increasingly emphasized within the company. Other recent diversification included sales for major wharf, marine and mining sites, as well as restoration of a wood pipeline in Jamaica. Goodfellow Inc.'s total sales in 1999 exceeded $400 million, up from about $340 million in the previous year, while sales for 1998 were up 17 per cent over the previous year. Goodfellow predicts an increase of 10 per cent in sales for fiscal 1999/2000. The company's relatively new sales operations in the US, based in Bedford, New Hampshire, exceeded a set goal of 15 per cent of total sales in 1999. Today, the company has more than 500 employees. All of them are able to participate in a profit sharing plan which, at the end of each year, distributes a percentage of before tax earnings on the basis of seniority, skill level and job classification. "We have an extremely low turnover of employees and certainly that's been our strength," says Goodfellow. The same strategies continue to work for the family controlled business today.
Since becoming president in1988, Richard Goodfellow has continued to diversify the company. He is proudest of the reclamation and recycling of boom timber processed at Delson, an important accomplishment for the company. "It raised the profile of the company and we got a lot of credit for that ." Another important achievement has been the company's continued diversification. "I think we've made a lot of progress in terms of diversifying the company into many products where we cover pretty well all the lumber and panel product lines. So the company really has many foundations on which it stands," says Goodfellow. That diversity means greater stability in an industry whose players are often adversely affected by its cyclical nature. "If two by four lumber's not selling, if housing starts aren't going well, their fortunes are down. We would suffer from that, but remodeling booms at the time when new housing starts are off and we benefit equally from remodeling, so we kind of have a natural balance there," says Goodfellow. "By following a process of diversification and looking for opportunities, we've been able to grow our business internally, not by acquisition or merger." That continues to be their policy, he adds. "Our success has been related to letting each product group do what they have to do. We operate with a fairly loose organizational structure and people respond to that. We don't have a book with plans and policies in it. We basically adapt to the situation at the time and I think that that's what a lot of people in this type of business look for ."
That nonstructured flexibility allows the company to be more responsive to whatever market opportunities present themselves, he says. Despite earnings in excess of $4 million in 1998 and more than $6.6 million in fiscal 1999, Goodfellow says "we still define ourselves as a small business." And he still answers his own phone. "I was absolutely deathly scared when we put in our voicemail system because some people tend to use it as a protection device. That may work for Jean Chretien, but not for a small business. You have to answer your own phone."
This page last modified on Monday, November 03, 2003