Quality Employees Key To Growth Of B&B Lumber

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New York company likes truck-mounted Cargotec loglift crane for handling logs in yard.

JAMESVILLE, New York — Picture a thriving lumber company located in the middle of a 3,000-acre stone quarry just five minutes away from Syracuse, New York. Picture that same family-owned operation producing nearly 17 million board feet a year, using state-of-the-art equipment.

Meet B&B Lumber, a successful lumber business comprised of two sawmills and a pallet plant located in the geographic center of New York State.

Gary Booher, B&B Lumber Company vice president, said his family has been in the lumber business for three generations. “This particular company was started in 1973 by my father and my brother, but my grandfather started companies prior to this in the same general location,” he said. “When we were looking for a place to locate this operation, we chose this quarry because of the good, hard ground. We’re about five minutes from downtown Syracuse.”

B&B Lumber started out simply and grew into the multi-faceted operation that it is today. “We started out primarily in low-grade, pallet-type logs that we processed into lumber, and then we took them further and made them into pallets,” Gary said. “Then we started a high grade operation which processes higher quality logs, and then we started the flooring business (Premier Hardwood Products Inc.) after that. And we also have a machinery business (U-Cut Enterprises Inc.) that is a saw service and supply company. We do it all.”

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Forestry is a significant industry in the Syracuse area, Gary said. “There are a few more sawmills and a kiln operation within 30 miles of us,” he said.

Keeping a family lumber mill prosperous in an area with competition, and in today’s economic climate, is a challenge that keeps the Booher family busy. Currently, five family members actively run the business. Jeff Booher, Gary’s brother, is the president of B&B Lumber, and his son, Brent, runs the night shift operation of the low-grade scrag mill. Gary’s son-in-law, Patrick Buff, is in the wood procurement division and cruises timber for the company. Marcus Welsh, a nephew, runs the wooden flooring mill, Premier Hardwood Products. All together, there are about 150 employees in the three businesses.

B&B Lumber makes use of all the timber they bring in, taking the logs through all stages of production, whether the final products are pallets, kiln-dried lumber or hardwood flooring.

“We bring in logs and process them up into the most desirable products that we can get out of them,” Gary said, “starting with high-grade lumber, then flooring lumber, then pallets, and obviously the by-products — bark, sawdust, chips and shavings. We take the pallet lumber to the finished product of the pallet, and we take the flooring lumber to the floorings. The high-grade lumber we sell mostly as kiln-dried lumber.”

About half the hardwood logs the company uses are hard maple. Oak, cherry, poplar, ash, soft maple and basswood make up most of the rest of the species. The high-grade lumber is sold to global markets for furniture, cabinets, and molding. Low-grade wood is used to make pallets that are sold throughout the Northeast.

Because of the size of the lumber business, the company has expanded to accommodate typical ongoing maintenance demands. A staff of seven full-time maintenance personnel includes an electrician, two welders and other workers who keep the trucks and equipment running and rolling. An extensive machine shop is equipped with a drill press, milling machine, lathe, iron worker, press, a set of pullers and other gear. A portable repair cart allows the technicians to move a diesel welder and cutting torches around the yard and into the buildings.

Jeff estimated that B&B Lumber has between $100,000 and $150,000 in maintenance equipment and tools. The company even stocks a wide range of spare parts. “Anything that’s going to put one of our machines down, that we know you can’t get off the shelf of a supplier overnight, we’ll put it into stock,” said Jeff. Extensive planning and preparation are part of what keep B&B Lumber running efficiently.

Gary said this three-generation success story stays competitive because of an exceptional staff and superior equipment. With a level of production of 17 million board feet a year, it’s imperative that B&B Lumber keep up-to-date with the most reliable equipment on the market. Recently, the company purchased a truck-mounted Cargotec Loglift hydraulic crane to load raw material and finished lumber products.

B&B Lumber bought the crane from Barry Equipment in Webster, Mass. Although it was their first purchase from this business, Gary and Jeff already knew Tom Barry personally, and he knew several other lumbermen who had bought equipment from Tom and were happy with both the equipment and service. “Tom Barry has a good reputation, so we bought there although we could have gone directly to Cargotec in Ohio,” Gary said.

The Boohers did a lot of research before they settled on the Cargotec crane. “Two years before we bought it, we went to the manufacturing plant in Sweden to see their operation,” Gary said. “While we were there, we bought a Jonsered stationary-mount loader.”

Gary said he and Jeff liked what they saw at the manufacturing plant. “We were favorably impressed with their technology and their engineering and how they designed the crane,” he said. “At the time, we had decided to look at the designs of those that go on the back of trucks to haul logs up and down the road. But we felt that this machine was superior. The double-extension boom reaches 32 feet, while other cranes are only 20 to 23 feet.”

“And, even with more reach and better capacity, it still weighs less than the conventional American-made ones,” Gary added. “The technology is heading that way, and eventually the manufacturers will be forced to redesign their machines. They’ve already started to copy European designs.”

Gary added that the staff from B&B Lumber especially liked the operator “creature comforts” offered in the cab on this model. “Most truck-mounted log lifts don’t have a cab,” he said. “The cab sure makes it better when the operator has to be sitting out there in snow or rain.”

The crane’s stainless steel cab goes up and down. It has a good heater, fan, and even a radio. High pressure hydraulics and joy stick controls make it easy to operate. Despite having a better cab, a much-longer reach on the boom and superior technology, the equipment is one-third lighter than the other models that Gary considered buying. “Weight is a big issue,” he said. “We don’t want to carry more weight than we need to.”

Gary said the biggest ongoing challenge that B&B Lumber faces is government rules. “The biggest threat we feel is the loss of raw materials because of increased regulations,” he said.

If there’s any one thing Gary sees as the reason B&B Lumber continues to thrive, it’s the quality of the people who work for the company. “We owe our success to the exceptional crew of employees that have helped our business grow,” he said. “That’s the reason for our success.”