By Jack Petree
Clifford Goins’ approach to his wood products business is as neat, clean, and straightforward as his production facility. Over the years, Clifford has successfully parlayed a rented Wood-Mizer sawmill into a successful, multi-faceted, wood products business serving industrial clients, small business customers, and the custom sawmill marketplace throughout Central Oregon. The sustained success of Clifford’s business for more than 20 years has come from applying lessons learned about wood, customers, and sawmilling.
Custom Sawmilling and Stocking Lumber
Clifford’s company, Curly Burly Milling, is located in Cottage Grove, Oregon, a small town near the state’s famed Willamette Valley. The valley’s meeting of the Cascade and Coastal mountain ranges means an extraordinary mixture of tree species for Curly Burly to choose from.
Clifford offers custom milling both on-site and off and concentrates on the hardwoods of the area with oak, madrone, golden chinkapin, and big leaf maple. “The business is split about 50/50,” Clifford comments. “About half of the business consists of hardwoods I purchase then mill here, and the other half is custom milling, done either here or at the customer’s place.”
Clifford’s customer base is as varied as is his product line. “I have a retailer who takes quite a bit, and I sell regularly to cabinet makers, furniture makers, and woodworkers of all sorts,” he reports. “I also have individual customers who come in regularly and others who just show up wanting anything from a few pieces to a large amount of lumber or timbers for personal building products.”
To accommodate the various needs of his customer base, Clifford maintains a large variety of kiln dried lumber along with a selection of both air dried and green material generally available as well. Of course, he can mill and process to order.
“You never know what people will want when they come here,” Clifford says. “So I keep enough variety of products I know will sell to satisfy most customer requests.”
According to Clifford, Curly Burly Milling has relied on Wood-Mizer wood processing equipment from its beginning. Today the primary equipment includes an LT50 Hydraulic portable sawmill, a dehumidification wood kiln, and an FS500 log splitter. Secondary processing is accomplished inside a well-equipped shop. The mix of equipment is designed for both primary and secondary processing, which allows Clifford to provide his customers with virtually any wood product imaginable (given sufficient time to allow for special orders).
The Importance of Properly Dried Lumber
According to Clifford, an important part of his approach to marketing consists of educating himself, and the customers who come to his facility, about the wood being bought and sold.
“People will come up here eager to get going on a project,” he says smiling. “They’ll want to pick up a walnut slab that was maybe only milled a week or two ago and go home to make a table. If you don’t tell them about the importance of proper drying and the time it takes, you do both the customer and yourself a disservice. They will be unhappy with the results and, of course, blame you, and in the long run you’ve lost a customer and hurt your reputation.”
Every tree species is different, offering its own opportunities and its own challenges. Clifford points out that juvenile wood is different from the wood added as a tree grows. Different woods act differently as they are dried, so it is important to learn how to put milled lumber through a kiln.
According to Clifford, the purchaser’s intended use for the wood is as important as the wood’s physical characteristics. “Learning how people are going to use their wood is important to making sure you provide them with appropriate information and that you are milling what the customer wants. You’ve got to spend some time asking about what the customer wants if you really want to serve that customer, and that discussion will dictate what you cut.”
Profitable Waste Management
The most recent addition to Curly Burly’s processing capabilities came recently when Clifford purchased Wood-Mizer’s flagship log splitter, the FS500 model. Clifford contends the log splitter has been paying off significantly even though conventional wisdom would say he underutilizes the machine.
“In my operation at present, the wood splitter is more of a waste management tool,” he says. “I’m a sawmill operator, not a firewood processor. Like any other mill owner, waste management is a constant challenge, especially because it takes time away from the mill. This wood splitter took a whole bunch of waste product I had and turned it into a product I can sell. Just in terms of handling the waste management situation here it more than pays for itself.”
Clifford is particularly impressed that his machine can take huge pieces of oak, walnut, or other difficult-to-split wood, like a 30” log from the crotch of a tree, and process it down into firewood nearly effortlessly.
“I looked around and didn’t see anything that would work for me until I saw Wood-Mizer’s product,” he says. “I thought I might like the FS500 so I asked if I could show up and try it with my own firewood. They told me that would be OK, so I tried it out and was impressed.”
“I really like the height,” he adds. “I have access to baskets that fit off the end of the machine and allow the wood to drop right into them without having to bend down all the time, and the splitter really worked on some very tough material. I know I could do more with it if I wanted, but for my operation it is already doing almost everything I wanted it to do—handle my waste wood.”
With Curly Burly Milling, Clifford Goins is demonstrating that an operation doesn’t have to be a mega-mill to provide a good living, service to the community, or personal satisfaction in delivering a desired product to customers who are excited to have the product. Clifford also demonstrates that, when it comes to an operation of any size, professionalism and a thoughtful approach to customer service pay off.
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