Fast-growing Burn Wood Industries Aims for More Growth in Firewood Sales and New Products

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Looking for toughness, speed and ease of use, company chooses Multitek®. 

HAWTHORNE, New Jersey – It’s been said many times in many ways. But Mike Chirico, president and co-owner of Burn Wood Industries, Inc. cut right to the core in expressing the sentiment.

“There’s something about wood that I love,” said Mike. Indeed, he has a passion for wood and for the business he and Jeff Cummins, the vice president and co-owner of Burn Wood Industries (BWI), established three years ago.

The two-year business plan for BWI includes kiln-drying and packaging firewood, as well as expansion into manufacturing pellets on site. Now, though, the focus is on maximizing output that can be achieved with the new Multitek® 2040xp2 firewood processer that was put in service on June 1, 2014. When we talked with Mike in mid-November, BWI was looking for a big bump in annual output. “We’re on track to hit 6,000 cords this year,” he said.

“We use completely 100 percent recycled wood” said Mike. “All the wood we get [and] process would be garbage wood.”

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The Multitek is a match for the less-than-perfect wood. “Even using the wood we use – a very abusive wood and a very difficult wood, with absolute junk [wood], we’re [at] 3½ to 5 cords per hour,” said Mike.

That’s close to the 4-6 cords per hour the Multitek can produce with optimal raw material, explained Mike. Moreover, the processor takes very little effort to maintain. There is “daily greasing, weekly greasing” and that’s about it, he said.

“Easy access” simplifies maintenance, said Mike. “Everything is very user friendly.”

The Multitek 2040xp2 is available with a chain saw or a 60” carbide-tipped circular saw. The circular saw can process as many as 1,500 cords before the teeth must be changed.

Clean, green firewood is the single product BWI sells at present. The wood “never hits the ground,” said Mike. The Multitek 30-ft. infeed conveyor is loaded with a Serco log loader. The machine also includes a 15-ft. outfeed conveyor and a 15-ft. firewood tumbler.

The outfeed conveyor propels firewood directly into a truck, which is used to convey the firewood to a concrete pad. Two F450 pickups are used to deliver 2½-cord loads to buyers and a Volvo WG dump truck is used to deliver 40-yd. containers.

Looking ahead to kiln-drying and packaging, Mike settled on a Multitek TSS-16 splitting head. With its patented assembly, the Multitek 16-way splitter uses hydraulic cylinders in series to produce the correct size split and at the same time to eliminate jams.

The Multitek 2040xp2 is also configured with a laser-guided measuring system. Although custom orders are not part of its business model, BWI does get occasional requests for a specific and precise size, such as 20-inch. The Multitek laser-guided system makes it easy to fill them, said Mike.

Some prospective buyers ask for a particular species. “A lot of restaurants ask for hickory, bakeries ask for ash,” said Mike. “Pulling aside” species takes time and that adds to the expense of producing the firewood. So he considers such requests in the context of the full scope of the BWI operation.

The current focus on “bulk wood for fuel” requires a combination of steady production and good communication with customers, explained Mike. He and Jeff reasoned that by not seasoning firewood, they would free up space and time.

“We’re selling to people who buy nine to 10 cords,” said Mike. Part of the conversation with customers includes discussion of why they should buy a year ahead and season at their own location.

“We’re selling to homeowners as though it’s a fuel,” said Mike. As such, “they should buy two years ahead” to prepare for cold weather. Wood as fuel requires the same outlook horizon as propane or heating oil as fuel, he explained.

Oak, maple and ash species predominate in the mix of firewood. “All we handle is hardwood,” said Mike.

BWI has a relationship with a residential logging company, Downes Tree Service, from which it takes logs for processing. BWI is also situated on the same 25-acre site as Downes Tree Service and its wood waste becomes raw material for the Diamond Z grinder with which Downes produces mulch.

Ever since the inception of their company in 2012, Mike and Jeff have embraced the concept of fully recycling wood. They process everything possible into firewood, even the stump. In the earliest days of their company, they bought a Megabyte stump shear, which can split “nasty” material, said Mike.

Owners/operators of BWI, Mike and Jeff rely on help from several laborers and delivery drivers. Residential buyers take 50 percent of BWI’s output and resellers take the other 50 percent.

Before launching BWI, Mike, age 26, and Jeff, age 27, each had another business. “We were both landscaping,” said Mike. “One winter, we decided to combine forces. We started selling firewood.”

Initially, Mike and Jeff were brokering and delivering firewood. Very quickly, they were selling 100 cords, delivered, every week. “We would go to a guy that had 100 cords and offer to buy it,” said Mike. “He’d laugh at us.”

Yet Mike and Jeff used their talent for sales to move the firewood fast. Then, they would get more firewood and sell it. Production came next. (So did a hunt for bank backing or an investor, which proved significantly more daunting than moving firewood.)

After a short interval, Mike and Jeff decided to start a new business, BWI, and say goodbye to their respective landscaping companies. They bought a wood splitter and a logging truck. And they found an investor in the owner of Downes Tree Service.

Mike and Jeff did not know each other until shortly before they started brokering firewood to carry their landscaping businesses across the slow cash-flow period of winter. But the two had a lot in common in addition to being contemporaries in age. “We both started [landscaping] real green,” said Mike. “We both wanted to be our own boss. We are both good at sales.”

And “wood, for whatever reason,” had the attention of both BWI partners, said Mike. Shared “work ethic” was just a given for the two men. It is that work ethic, said Mike, which helped persuade the investor to support BWI.

Referrals and word-of-mouth, which includes social media communications, bring business to BWI. There is no advertising budget.

So happy with the performance of the Multitek 2040xp2 was Mike that he produced a video showing the machine in action; it can be found on the internet. “I think this machine is bar none the best in the industry,” he said. “It produces consistently – more wood, the same size.”

Multitek spent three days onsite to ensure that the Multitek 2040xp2 processor was up and running and being operated according to its capability, said Mike. “I would just recommend them across the board. They stand by their product 100 percent. This year they completely changed their machine. They’re looking to the future and we’re looking to the future.”

The two-year business plan for BWI includes three parts, explained Mike. “We want [to continue] with bulk wood for fuel. We want to package for the high-end market. We’re looking to make our own pellets.”

As early as this January, Mike expects BWI to decide on a drying kiln for firewood. The options have already been narrowed and it will either be SII Dry Kilns or Kiln-Direct that gets the nod. One thing is certain, the heat source will be natural gas from the grid. Yes, he has already run the numbers and determined the fuel source will add the smallest cost to the production side of the equation.

Efficiency is a top priority for the principals of BWI. Being efficient requires reliable equipment and support. Multitek support is excellent, said Mike. “I call them with ‘crazy’ questions – they’re always available.”

Burn Wood Industries [BWI] is located in Hawthorne, N.J. Hawthorne is a borough in Passaic County, which is in the northeast part of the Garden State. It has a population of approximately 18,800.

Mike spent one semester at a community college during which he took a course in entrepreneurship that only made him more restless. He wanted to get out and get going on business. “Since I was a kid, I wanted to go into business for myself.” He started his first business – landscaping — with a mower that belonged to his father and the purchase of a leaf blower and truck, and soon had 50 lawn accounts.

Joining the wood products industry was a good decision – the right decision for him, said Mike. He feels he is immersed in the best possible niche, although he learned a lot about business from his experience with his landscaping company. “I just love it,” he said of his work. “It’s consistent. It’s year-round.”

When Mike takes time away from BWI, he enjoys vacations and skiing. Of course, in talking with him, one also gets the sense that he never stops thinking about how to improve on and expand the business. He exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit.