New business gets going fast with firewood processor from CRD Metalworks.
WESTMINSTER, Massachusetts – After more than two years of thinking about possibilities, Alex Wiktorski decided to act. In August, Alex launched Wildwood Cordwood, a company that aims to put the customer first in each and every transaction.
When we spoke with Alex in mid-December, he had been operating Wildwood Cordwood for just 4½ months. He was on track to process as many as 600 cords this year. And he had already moved into a mobile niche by taking his firewood processor to customers’ woodlots and producing firewood where trees were felled.
To get Wildwood Cordwood off to a good start, Alex wanted a firewood processor that he could work hard and move from place to place. He did considerable research. He also factored in the experiences he had had splitting firewood for his own use – manually and with processors. (Alex lives in a farm house built in 1778. The house is heated with an outdoor wood boiler and that boiler requires about 40 cords annually.)
Ultimately, Alex selected a Woodbine Rapido Loco 20 firewood processor from CRD Metalworks in Williamsburg, Mass. “I went out [to CRD],” he explained. “I met with Patrick [Davis]. We had a great relationship immediately.” Patrick is the director of operations for CRD.
Everything seemed right about CRD Metalworks, said Alex. The first was its location, just about an hour away. “It was a small town,” he explained, which had a strong community atmosphere that aligned with his own setting.
Family-owned and operated, CRD Metalworks was started by Chris Duval in 2006. Chris is the owner of the company and designer of the Woodbine firewood processor of which there are now a variety of models tailored to match the production goals of any business. The know-how that Chris put into the design of the Woodbine firewood processor includes the work experience that Chris had as a logger and a sawyer before he launched CRD Metalworks.
Alex chose the Woodbine Rapido Loco 20 model from CRD Metalworks because he wanted to give his business a strong start and be ready to scale up, if warranted. He did not think he would be scaling up production as quickly as he has. “Originally, I thought I was going to be producing 300-400 cords,” he explained.
But when the opportunity to produce more firewood arose, the Rapido Loco 20 met the challenge. “It’s a quick model,” said Alex. “It’s a fast machine. I can produce four cords per hour.”
The maintenance on the CRD Rapido Loco 20 is also a match for a one-man (with occasional help from friends) operation, explained Alex. “The circular sawblade was a no-brainer for me,” he said. “I was not interested in a chain.” He believes the circular saw is better able to deal with dirt that would otherwise interfere with the performance of a chain saw.
“I have over 200 hours on [the Rapido Loco] right now,” said Alex in mid-December. “Other than routine oil, filters and greasing” it has needed nothing.
The Woodbine Rapido Loco 20 gets high praise from Alex. “It’s an awesome machine,” he said. “It’s everything [Patrick] said.”
Before making the purchase from CRD Metalworks, Alex had the opportunity to visit the company, see machines being built and try out the model he would buy. He visited the CRD Metalworks with his girlfriend Gretchen Foster, who co-owns Wildwood Farm with him.
When he is not working in his new business, Wildwood Cordwood, Alex works at Wildwood Farm, an enterprise that includes beef cows, horses and boarding for horses. The acreage that Alex uses for Wildwood Cordwood is owned by Wildwood Farm. Alex has been a co-owner of Wildwood Farm for more than four years.
At age 26, Alex considers Wildwood Cordwood just the entry point for a broader business niche in firewood and related products. Although all wood is being sold green this year, he is putting aside wood to be sold seasoned next year. He is also looking ahead to kiln drying firewood, which he expects to become mandatory in his region because of the expanding ranges of the Asian longhorn beetle and the emerald ash borer.
In whichever direction he takes Wildwood Cordwood, Alex will undergird it with his firm commitment to “a good customer relationship.” That, he explained, is the essence of business.
“I stand behind what I deliver,” said Alex. “I call people right back.” The good experiences that customers have with Wildwood Cordwood will make them repeat buyers, as well as recommenders to others.
“The best way of advertising is having a quality product,” said Alex. Word-of-mouth advertising is part of the strategy for adding customers to Wildwood Cordwood. The marketing plan that also includes Craigslist and business cards that Alex leaves “everywhere” possible.
Procuring wood for processing involves a two-track approach. “I buy log-length from Andersen Timberharvesting,” said Alex. “With Mitch Anderson, owner of Anderson Timber Harvesting, being Gretchen’s brother, I am lucky to have the strong family tie. Mitch has been a huge key into getting me on my feet and running. I also cut my own woodlots that I have purchased locally.”
Species processed are mostly oaks – red and white, with some maple ash and birch. “I do have some customers that ask for red oak and I will make it all red oak, for example,” said Alex.
When Alex is doing the felling, he uses a Stihl chain saw and a John Deere tractor for skidding. He had prior logging experience, having once worked part-time for Anderson Timber Harvesting across a six-month span.
Alex uses a John Deere tractor with forks to load the Rapido Loco firewood processor. The pieces coming off the processor get dumped into a concrete bin that was available on the acreage. The bin had once been used to store silage. The wood is scooped out of the bin with a loader and put into a dual-purpose Ford pickup that is used for deliveries.
Even though the Rapido Loco has had only a several-months-long tenure at Wildwood Cordwood, it has been tested. “I’ve used it in all types of weather and I have had no issues,” said Alex. “I turn the key and it starts no matter what the conditions.”
The Rapido Loco is also fuel efficient. “I’m burning one gallon to a gallon and a half per hour,” said Alex. The machine can run “for 20-30 hours per tank of fuel.”
That long running time has given a boost to the on-site processing that Alex does for customers. “I’ve been taking my processor to on-site [jobs],” he explained. The “dynamic” part of the business is “another reason I went with the model I did.”
Alex simply uses a pintle hitch to attach the Rapido Loco to a 2011 Ford F350 and he is ready to go. About 75 cords have been produced at customer lots.
Wildwood Cordwood is located in Westminster, Mass. The town of Westminster has a population of 7277. It is part of Worcester County in the center of the state.
A genuine winter is a fact of life for residents in the region that Wildwood Cordwood serves. “Most of my customers use two to six cords of wood,” said Alex. “They burn it for heating” – some in wood boilers, some as a supplement in fireplaces and woodstoves.
Packaged firewood may offer another way to expand the product line and reach a new customer base – those looking for ambience or aesthetics, but Alex does not envision it in the near future. In contrast, kiln-dried firewood is “definitely” going to happen, he said. “I have it in the back of my mind.”
After high school, Alex pursued some higher education. “I was going to college for forest management and natural resources,” he said. Life intervened in a way that necessitated stopping short of a degree. Nevertheless, the different path has been a good one and he is very happy with it.
“My business is completely versatile,” said Alex. I strive to make [customers] happy. One of my main goals is to call customers back within 24 hours.” And the goals are the same for both the business situated in Westminster and his mobile business.
Getting Wildwood Cordwood started has been made easier because of the support from CRD Metalworks and the reliability of the Woodbine Rapido Loco 20. “CRD – it’s an awesome group of guys,” said Alex. “It’s small-town America, hard-working guys. They’ve been there for me.”
Alex sees a symmetry between his young company and the established CRD Metalworks in that both make serving customers a priority. He said he had one tiny problem with a sprocket, but he did not have it long because all it took was one call to CRD to get it fixed.
The philosophy behind Wildwood Cordwood is straightforward. “It is to provide an excellent product – to keep your customers happy,” said Alex. “I really stand behind the product.”
As for his work at his own company, Wildwood Cordwood, and at Wildwood Farm, Alex relishes all of it. “I enjoy that I get to work in my most favorite place on Earth, my home,” he explained, emphasizing that is outdoors and in the central part of the Bay State. “I love seeing customers happy.” And being a business owner is most satisfying because “it’s all on you.”
When he gets time away from work, Alex likes to hunt and fish and spend time at a waterside camp.