While Rod Wilcox credits his experience in the logging industry and hard-working TimberKing B-20 bandmill with some of the success of his sawmill business, he gives most of the credit to the hard hours of research and phone calling he did in search of customers.
Logger for 25 Years
Before Rod built his sawmill business, he was a logger in Minong, WI for 25 of his 44 years.
"But I got tired of digging all that deep snow logging," Rod recalls. So he started looking for a retirement business.
After all those years of logging, Rod knew the wood business well. He decided he might be able to make a go of it with a small sawmill. And while a high quality bandsaw wasn't cheap, Rod says, "It seems like a small investment to start a small business. I always tell people that for a price of a used pickup, I got my own business".
Compares Bandmill Design
As Rod tried to decide which bandmill to purchase, he compared most of the major brands. "The four-post head and the fact that you stand in one place to operate it" were what most impressed Rod with the TimberKing.
Rod also likes the fact he could get a kiln and planer through TimberKing.
"I like going through one company," Rod says. "They recognize me when I call and I get everything from one spot."
Research Pays Off
Once the TimberKing's rugged design convinced Rod that it was the mill for him, he started working to line up business for his new mill. The winters are long and cold in Minong, and Rod found this was the perfect time to research and contact possible customers.
"My wife Muriel and I went to the library, where we got phone directories from cities within 300 miles of us," Rod recalls. "And we started calling wood products plants to see if we could help them. They were almost all real responsive and were all looking for stuff we could provide."
Rod also thought he might be able to sell wood blocks to carving supply houses, so he bought some carving magazines and started making calls. Most of the companies already had suppliers, but that day, Rod became the supplier to 2 of the companies.
Rod's logging experience provided him with another big job, cutting staves for a barrel maker in St. Paul.
"We used to sell them logs when I was logging. Well, when they decided to shut down their own sawing operation, they heard I had a mill and called me. We do all kinds of wood for them -- bass, poplar, oak -- and they use the barrels for coffee, whiskey, furniture, you name it."
Rod figures "There are four or five different ways you could go to sawing full time. A lot depends on availability of logs and what people want." And, as Rod's experience shows, it depends on getting out and looking for business.
Rod didn't have much trouble getting his logs because of his contacts with local loggers. And he found a good way of getting very high quality logs cheaply.
250% Profit on Small Logs
"The big mills," Rod explains, "Will rate a smaller log a #2 even if it's a nice log. So we pay the loggers halfway between the #2 price and the #1 price for these logs. They get more money for their logs, we get great logs for less."
Rod pays about $400 per thousand for the good #2 logs. He cuts them and sells the green lumber for about $1000 per thousand. "That's pretty good cash flow," Rod says of his 250% gross profit.
Being able to get good logs, Rod says, "is the key to the whole thing. If you work hard to get an order but you can't get wood, you can't fill the order. Since I can get people what they need, quality stuff on time, I've got customers as far as 900 miles away."
Muriel provides the office support for the business, answering phones and keeping the books so Rod can concentrate on sawing.
Cuts Timber Frame Homes
In addition to taking care of his steady customers, Rod cut some timber frame homes with his sawmill. One of the homes he assembled on spec and is now for sale. "All of the wood, from tongue and groove to the two-by-fours, was cut on my bandmill. Everything but the windows." The other unassembled timber frame house is also for sale.
Rod likes to hunt and fish, and when he retired from logging, he thought about buying a fishing resort in Canada.
"But", he says, "I figured that with the sawmill I'd be doing the same thing everyday, yes, but with so many different results. It's satisfying to see what you've done for people. That makes you feel good."
"The only problem," Rod laughs, "Is that I haven't had a day off since I bought my mill!"