Success of industrial sawmill spurs new company structure, paving way for growth and change
The success that Wood-Mizer Products has enjoyed in the forest products industry is indisputable. The company is the leading manufacturer of portable band sawmills. That does not mean, however, the firm does not continue to be challenged in a competitive marketplace.
Now Wood-Mizer is addressing the classic issue that all rapidly growing businesses eventually face: how to continue to grow and respond to expanding market opportunities without shedding the attributes that helped made it a success in the first place.
With these challenges in mind, Wood-Mizer recently changed its organizational structure, creating a number of divisions. Each division is still part of Wood-Mizer but operates to a large extent as independent company serving distinct markets. The new structure allows Wood-Mizer to keep the best attributes of a small company while still providing customers with the benefits of a big business, including research and development and financial strength.
Wood-Mizer is a classic case study of entrepreneurial daring. The company’s growth has come in the face of some of the most serious challenges the forest products industry has ever seen. Wood-Mizer, along with other progressive companies, has been a force in helping to shape a new and vital forest products industry for the 21st century.
When Don Laskowski and Dan Tekulve founded Wood-Mizer Products just over 25 years ago, little did they know the success their venture would reap.
Wood-Mizer portable band sawmills process billions of board feet of lumber each year and have enabled as many as 10,000 people to have their own businesses. They are also viewed as providing important environmental benefits.
Don and Dan would have been equally surprised to look into the future and see the direct descendants of their original portable sawmill working alongside Wood-Mizer stationary production mills that are capable of several million board feet of output per year.
“In just 25 years an idea who’s time had come, thin-kerf sawmilling, allowed Wood-Mizer Products to grow into a respected and sizable company marketing a broad product line that allows customers at every industry level to achieve their dreams for business success,” said Jeff Laskowski, Don’s son and now CEO of the company.
A big reason for restructuring the company at this point in its history was the success Wood-Mizer has achieved with its LT-300 stationary production sawmill and associated peripheral equipment, according to Steve Clark, president of Wood-Mizer Products and also vice president of the company’s blade division.
“The LT300 has addressed a market needing equipment that can saw at high enough production levels to allow for a lucrative business without the headaches and expense larger sawmills can bring,” said Steve. “When we introduced the equipment, innovators like Sam Dunaway, owner of what might be Kentucky’s largest sawmilling firm, saw the advantages inherent in going to more, smaller mills, built close to the log supply, and featuring the enhanced value recovery and yield that very thin-kerf blades provide. Four or five of our systems, each milling 3.5 million plus board feet of grade and pallet material and providing the yield enhancements that Sam is achieving in his plants, can be set up for nearly the same cost as a single traditional sawmill operation that is capable of cutting 40,000 board feet per shift. The industry interest — seen as a result of innovations like those Sam has put in place — meant we needed to develop the ability to focus specifically on this end of the market. We would have taken the step anyway at some time. The success of our industrial line pointed to the need to take the step now.”
While market opportunities influenced the timing of Wood-Mizer’s reorganization, the shape of the new business structure came from the need to continue providing Wood-Mizer customers with strong support and service, said Steve.
“Wood-Mizer’s initial successes came when the company was small,” said Steve. “As we grew and became a larger, global company, it became more difficult to deal with details. The new division structure allows us to go into smaller groups and truly focus instead of just hoping details get handled somewhere within the organization. That focus means each customer continues to receive the level of service we’ve become renowned for in our industry.”
The new organization allows Wood-Mizer to accomplish what would seem to be contradictory goals: serving both large producers as well as newly established, single employee companies and helping them grow.
Wood-Mizer’s new Industrial Products Division is led by Kevin Corder, vice president. “We have recognized that while we were taking thin-kerf technology to a new level, we also needed new ways and different methods to reach markets that could really use and benefit from it,” he said. “The LT300, for example, makes a lot of older mills, especially those based on circle head rigs, more efficient. Reduced labor, reduced operating costs, and higher yields all make for a very attractive system. We wanted, and needed, the ability to serve the new market with a sawmill that could provide them with these kinds of benefits.”
At the same time, the LT300 and Wood-Mizer’s long established Multi-Head resaw line also can meet the requirements of small businesses. “The technology is simple and cost effective enough that newcomers, — for example, loggers wanting to expand their business — can afford to process their own raw material,” said Kevin.
“On top of that, it definitely takes some pressure off the amount of timber growth required for annual output because the yields are higher,” Kevin added. “With the LT300, people can run fewer logs. It can be used ‘offline’ to increase head rig footage into mills that have underutilized resaw and edger systems. The LT300 takes less total energy consumption to produce lumber. It’s safer, it’s more environmentally friendly, and it costs out at a level that relatively small operations can afford.”
Wood-Mizer now has the capability to supply a lumber products business with all the equipment needed to take wood from ‘forest to final form,’ Kevin observed. “Producers can take logs, mill them into lumber, dry the lumber, and then produce value-added products like mouldings and other specialty products — all with machinery and equipment from one company, Wood-Mizer.”
The pallet industry already has reaped the benefits of equipment from Wood-Mizer’s industrial division. Operations at many pallet companies already range from the stump to the nailing machine, and others are considering the benefits of vertical integration.
“The Multi-Head horizontal resaw has been a very solid product line,” said Kevin. “It’s dependable, long-lasting and efficient. We see a lot of opportunities to build around that sector of the business. It’s something we have a great interest in, a rich history in, and a market that we will be further pursuing. Pallet operations that cut their own material from logs can also benefit from our primary breakdown equipment. By cutting stock from logs, the pallet maker takes more control of supply and cost. Grade lumber can be cut and sold at a higher value while lesser cuts can be best utilized within the pallet operation. Systems that feed directly into a Multi-Head horizontal resaw can be very productive and profitable, and cant sizes for resawing can be tightly controlled. The accuracy of the bandsaws will allow for tighter target sizes, reducing waste and further increasing yield.”
Summing up Wood-Mizer’s organizational changes, Steve said the company’s adjustments will allow it to continue to successfully serve its traditional markets while expanding into new market arenas.
“We always go back to our core technology, which is thin-kerf, narrow band, low cost and high yield,” said Steve. “We will always build from there. Our core technology enables companies to increase value and yield. And with our size and continuing growth, we can provide very strong customer service support.”
“There is also a natural progression in our products,” Steve added. “An individual can start small and gradually grow bigger, more efficient, and a little more advanced in terms of technology.”
“Like our customers, we have grown, and we have reached the point where we can supply industrial sawmill equipment. And we are seizing the opportunity to provide our customers with very good, low cost industrial level equipment that can give them high returns.”