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Proven Formula

Quebec logging contractor Fernando Perrier finds that the best business formula to have, in good times or bad, is to work hard—and be flexible and innovative.

By Heather Ednie

               How do you transform a single tractor-trailer into an $8-million a year logging and transportation enterprise? Fernando Perrier, owner of R R F Perrier, knows the secret. He is the dominant logging contractor in the Red River region, north of l’Ascension, Quebec, about 150 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

            “It took a lot of risks and a lot of hard work,” Perrier says. “That, combined with technological advances, has been the key to our company’s growth.”

            Perrier’s territory extends from l’Ascension 100 kilometres north towards Parent in Mauricie. The region spans land owned by the provincial government which is used for logging, serving many area sawmills. Perrier has been a primary contractor in the region for over three decades. He has lived the excitement of nurturing a struggling company into a successful, booming business. He benefitted from the economic highs and persevered through the lows. Today, he knows the area’s forests like his own backyard.

About 75 per cent of the timber Perrier harvests is balsam and spruce.  Production was more than 250,000 cubic metres in 2001, but was down slightly this past year due to American tariffs on softwood lumber.

            Approximately 75 per cent of the wood harvested is balsam and spruce, used for boards and panels. The sawmills set up contracts for land utilization with the government, then contract Perrier to cut and supply the logs.

            “The government gives the sawmills a plan of where to cut, and they outline the job for me,” Perrier says. “We cut with regeneration protection. I used to also be involved with replanting work, but not anymore. There are regional contractors for that.”

            Perrier began his career in the forest industry at the age of 15. Between 1958 and 1960 he took courses in forestry at L’Ecole du Chesney in Quebec City, and then throughout the following decade held various jobs in the pulp and paper industry, including operations manager. In 1971, he began working as a contractor.

            That year saw Perrier launch the company with his cousins Robert and Réal—hence the R R F in the company name. They owned one logging truck and drove day and night for various logging contractors. Little by little, their efforts paid off and they were able to add more trucks to their fleet. The company branched out in 1976 when the cousins landed their first cutting contracts.

            The economic crisis of 1982-83 resulted in the closure of many sawmills in the area and R R F Perrier was forced to sell its 15 trucks and start back at zero. No newcomer to growing a business from the ground up, Perrier prevailed and today owns 80 per cent of his company, with partner Jean-Marc Carriere owning the other 20 per cent. Cousins Robert and Réal left to start their own businesses.

The Forget sawmill in St Jovite is Perrier’sprimary client, but he supplies wood to 10 sawmills in the region, depending on the type of wood harvested.

            Perrier has 75 employees and 70 machines throughout his present operations. His fleet includes 13 trucks, and the spectrum of logging equipment from bulldozers to loaders and multi-functional cutters. All of the equipment, except for three multi-functional harvesters from Timberjack and a Tigercat harvester, are supplied by John Deere. Today’s major forestry enterprise—covering the gamut of the local industry, including road construction, logging and transportation—marks quite a significant growth from the original logging truck he and his cousins started with.

            The Forget Inc sawmill in St Jovite is Perrier’s primary client, but he supplies wood to 10 sawmills in the region, depending on the type of wood harvested.

            Vision and an understanding of the role technology plays in growth have helped drive Perrier’s success. In 1989, he pioneered the use of multi-functional harvesters in Quebec, with the purchase of two Timberjack 990 machines. He was one of the first in Quebec to use the cut-to-length method for harvesting. He was the only one using such a machine in the province for five years. In 1993, he was one of the first in Quebec to purchase an advanced multi-functional harvester, the Timberjack 1270.                                               

            “I participated in a visit to Sweden in 1986, where I learned about the multi-functional machines,” he explains. “Recognizing the impact such technology would have on the industry, I bought two machines in 1989. My principal mechanic and I attended a two-week training program in Sweden held by Timberjack, and I’ve sent a number of my mechanics for training since.”

RRF Perrier was one of the first contractors in Quebec to go cut-to-length. These days their equipment line-up includes Timberjack and Tigercat harvesters,although most of their equipment is John Deere

            Perrier’s success with the cut-to-length method inspired others in the region to purchase similar equipment. Having pioneered the use of such technology in the province, Perrier has worked closely with Timberjack representatives to tailor their machines to withstand the harsh conditions.

            “Our area experiences very harsh winters, with hard, uneven ground, heavy snowfall, slippery roads and very low temperatures,” he says. “The original 990 couldn’t withstand it and we had to almost rebuild the machine to make it applicable in the area.”

            Forestry is the main industry throughout the region and logging is done almost exclusively by Perrier. Logging is executed over 10 months of the year, with a suspension of operations between March 20 and May 20 for the spring thaw.

            Last year, Perrier’s production surpassed 250,000 cubic metres. This year, however, that number will be slightly less due to the poorer market caused by the American softwood tariffs. As well, R R F Perrier builds about 70 kilometres of new logging roads each year.

            “The softwood tariffs are being felt by the local sawmills,” he says. “They’re  selling less lumber, so we, in turn, have less work. But there will be a turnaround.  I’ve lived through bleaker times, and we survived.”

            Throughout the operations, Perrier has a few equipment combinations to optimize efficiency. Three harvesters work with three forwarders for large contracts and smaller sites are logged by one Tigercat harvester working with two grapple skidders and two delimbers. The company has three loaders, with at least one working day and night to load 13 logging trucks with logs ranging from 8 to 16 feet. Logging road construction is accomplished with a hydraulic shovel working systematically with a bulldozer and two 10-wheel trucks.

            Truck hauls average approximately eight hours from site to sawmill. All equipment maintenance is done in-house by the six mechanics on staff. The company owns three garages where the drivers themselves are trained to help work on the trucks.

            R R F Perrier began as a family business and is continuing in that direction. Perrier’s two daughters, Claudine and Marlene, run the business office and his son David drives a truck. His two sons-in-law work in the business, one as a head mechanic and the other as a truck driver. His grandsons work as drivers and mechanics in the summer. He makes no attempt to conceal his pride at having his family join the company he created.

            “This company was built as a family operation and will continue to be one,” he says. “We have no plans for expansion in the near future, but we have a steady contract base. Combined with the proper tools, a dedicated workforce and a lot of knowledge of the industry, the outlook is bright.”


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