May 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
BOARDS FROM BEETLE-KILL
The Whiskey Flats Lumber Company has found a market niche for flooring
By Jim Sterling
Each time the splendidly-named Whiskey Flats Lumber Company sells a new floor, it becomes an instant conversation piece. The reasons are twofold. One, the value-added lumber remanufacturer specializes in using planks up to 20 inches wide in its flooring projects. They have the appearance that harkens back to the times of colonial construction. And two, the planks are manufactured primarily from salvaged timber: either Douglas fir or from lodgepole pine affected by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. The wood’s strength is uncompromised by the beetle’s infestation but the subtle blue/grey colouration they leave in the wood grain converts each piece into a unique visual work of art.
The five-year-old Whiskey Flats Lumber Company Ltd is based in Quesnel, British Columbia and operated by the husband and wife team of Marvin and Wendy Fox. They were both involved with careers with the Ministry of Forests in Quesnel. “But we wanted to try something for ourselves,” explains Marvin.
Marvin recalls seeing some wide plank flooring at a trade show in Atlanta. It prompted one of those questions—and answers—that can change your life. “I asked myself, `Why can’t I do that?’” says Marvin. “Quesnel has a wealth of timber and, with our forestry backgrounds, we have knowledge and contacts.”
And then there was Quesnel’s Wood Enterprise Centre. The pay-by-the-hour, shared-use facility is a division of the Community Futures Development Corporation of the North Cariboo. It acts as an incubator for budding entrepreneurs. It helps a range of wood users with good ideas, but not the capital, to develop their products and markets for them. “We had A and B so we wanted to see if we could come up with C,” continues Fox. “And it’s been very good.”
The Wood Enterprise Centre has some equipment he can make use of to help produce Whiskey Flats wide plank flooring. More useful still is the centre’s planer and dry kiln. Fox also has his own small sawmill. It’s on land adjacent to the Pinnacle Pellet plant near Quesnel, whose principals have been very supportive of the Fox’s endeavours. The mill comprises two basic machines. A Mobile Dimension saw breaks down the logs and a Baker Products re-manufacturing unit converts the cants. Both are kept humming by an electric generator. It’s not a big production operation but it does the job for them, he says.
Although Fox does his own logging, it’s mostly contracted out locally. “From falling the trees to installing the floor, you get to know every piece of wood very well,” adds Fox wryly.
He notes wide plank flooring has the added benefit of being easier to install than conventional narrow panel flooring systems.
Developing a market niche in the wood products business is not without its challenges, and Whiskey Flats Lumber has hadits share of hiccups. “Our market is where the higher end homes are. It’s a beautiful product. But our marketing program is not where it should be because of a lack of resources,” he points out.
Whiskey Flats generates around 50 per cent of sales from its website. And the company tries to pick and choose with care the venues where it can best showcase its products. They’ve attended trade shows in Las Vegas and a home and garden show in Vancouver three times, he says.
Fox was in the process of setting up a dealership in Kelowna, BC and another one in Arizona, while looking to participate in suitable expositions in Calgary and Edmonton. Most of the Whiskey Flats floors are laid in Canada.
Unlike many small wood product remanufacturers, accessing logs and/or lumber has not proven a major stumbling block for Whiskey Flats. For one thing, the operation is still small. “I only need about 1,000 cubic metres a year,” he says. “Soundness of log is the key. And we can use crooked wood. We have the best timber with our short growing seasons. The wood is very stable and conducive to flooring. It’s dense and durable.”
That said, Fox would like to see more of the resource made available to small volume users: people who can’t access a reliable, affordable supply of wood to exploit their marketing niches and create more jobs. “The small scale salvage program was perfect for us but it seems like it’s too hard for the ministry (of forests) to administer,” observes Fox. The Small Business Enterprise Program has been shelved by the provincial government with little to pick up the slack for small scale operators who depended upon it. “I’d like to see government establish small volume direct awards or even bids, a category to cater to the small business entrepreneurs. A Community Forest program would work well but it hasn’t got off the ground here,” continues Fox. “There are massive amounts of timber out there.”
Fox was also exploring the possibility of having members of the Cariboo Horse Loggers Association supply Whiskey Flats Lumber with logs from the group’s ecologged forest licence.
Whiskey Flats Lumber, incidentally, is more than just a catchy business moniker. The name has deep historical roots in Quesnel, explains Fox. Most of the dreamers responding to the Cariboo gold rush of the 1860s failed to strike it rich in nearby Barkerville. Broke and dispirited, many returned to Quesnel where they congregated in a tent and lean-to “city” on a sandbar where the Quesnel River flows into the Fraser. The impromptu community was dubbed Whiskey Flats. It endured until its inhabitants could get their feet on firm enough ground to move on. A fitting lineage for a growing wide plank flooring company.
This page and all contents
©1996-2007 Logging and Sawmilling
Journal (L&S J) and TimberWest Journal.
last modified on
Wednesday, October 18, 2006