LEBANON, Ohio — Tony Moore knows the value of having a business with diverse operations. His company, Cardinal Landscaping, Tree Service & Lawn Care, has three distinct segments, including firewood operations. That diversity helped it not only survive the Great Recession, but to prosper.
It’s good to have several different aspects to the business, Tony acknowledged, because one or two units can offset another that may experience a decline in any year. “Even during the recession, we managed to increase sales,” said Tony.
Tony has been involved in the firewood business since he was a student in college, and it continues to be an important part of his company. He relies on Timberwolf equipment in his firewood operations.
Tony, 47, grew up a short distance from Lebanon, which is located in southwest Ohio a little over 30 miles northeast of downtown Cincinnati. He began working in the firewood business while a student at The Ohio State University. He did various part-time jobs to earn money and occasionally did work at the home of a professor. He once helped to stack a load of firewood that was delivered to the professor’s home. In the process he got to know the man who delivered it, Tom Brown, and they exchanged phone numbers. Tom later offered Tony a part-time job splitting firewood, which he did toward the end of his four years at Ohio State University. Tony majored in landscape horticulture at Ohio State and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture.
After graduating from Ohio State in 1993, Tony went to work for a Cincinnati company called Natorp’s, which offers tree and landscaping services and also operates five garden stores.
While working for Natorp’s, Tony also did tree service work and landscaping on his own time. He used his earnings to purchase additional equipment for his own business, and he was able to become self-employed in 1997. “I’d buy more equipment each year,” he said, putting the money back into his fledgling business. “I knew I wanted to have my own business one day.”
Today, Tony’s company has three distinct segments: tree services, landscaping, and lawn care. He also has continued to include firewood production and sales in his business.
Tony has a core group of about 20 employees. During the peak months, from spring through fall, he hires additional seasonal workers and will have about 40-45 employees in all.
Tree services generated about 38 percent of company revenues in 2017, landscaping, 39%, and lawn care, 23%. Those percentages remain about the same most years, although in any given year one part of the business may experience an increase while another area may decline. The previous year, tree services — which includes firewood sales — accounted for about 45% of revenues.
The company has an office on a main thoroughfare in Lebanon with good visibility for the business. Tony’s wife, Mindy, staffs the office along with two part-time office workers. Mindy is a landscape designer with an associate’s degree from Cincinnati State in the Business of Horticulture Design and is also serving her third term on the board of directors for the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association.
Tony recently bought a lot near his office which he will be converting into a yard to stockpile materials, such as mulches, sand, and gravel. He also plans to move the firewood operations to the new location, which is only about a quarter-mile from the office. The office is located on 1-½ acres. “We use every square inch of the place,” said Tony. “We’re packed in there pretty good.”
Most tree work consists of removing or trimming trees for residential and commercial jobsites. One of Cardinal’s prestigious commercial accounts is Kings Island amusement park. Besides maintaining trees and trimming some for safety reasons at the amusement park, Tony’s company occasionally clears land to develop a new ride or other facilities. In those cases, Tony sometimes subcontracts to a logging company to remove trees.
The firewood business serves mostly homeowners. Tony is able to utilize wood material from his tree service operations for raw material for his firewood business, so he does not need to purchase any tree-length firewood logs. The company operates a wood yard where it hauls and stores wood material and produces firewood; the yard is at a more rural location.
For years he and employees have relied on chainsaws and Timberwolf splitters to produce firewood. Tony has continued to have a business relationship with Tom Brown because Tom later became a dealer for Timberwolf and Brownwood Sales and has supplied Tony with his Timberwolf splitters.
Tony has employed a retiree to work for him part-time to produce firewood, bucking logs with a Stihl chainsaw and splitting them with a Timberwolf TW-6 splitter. However, since the employee is now in his 70s, Tony decided the time was right for a firewood processor. Other factors in deciding to invest in a firewood processor were that he wanted to improve the consistency of the quality and size of firewood, and he also wanted to increase production. Tony purchased a Timberwolf firewood processor from Tom near the end of 2016.
Of course, producing firewood with the Timberwolf processor has made a huge difference. “His production has been amazing this year with that processor,” said Tony. “Now he’s really pumped…and it’s not killing him.”
Tony invested in a Timberwolf TW PRO MP X firewood processor and a 26-foot Timberwolf Conveyor. He already had some familiarity with firewood processing equipment. He usually attends the Paul Bunyan Show every year, a trade show put on by the Ohio Forestry Association, and has seen firewood processors demonstrated at the show and running in competitions. “It’s kind of neat to see all the equipment side-by-side,” said Tony. “Timberwolf usually out-runs the other ones…and their wood looks a lot better, too.”
Since he also enjoyed a good relationship with Tom, it was an easy decision to choose a Timberwolf firewood processor. “I’m pretty brand loyal,” explained Tony, and one reason is that by staying with a particular supplier you become more familiar and knowledgeable about that manufacturer’s equipment. In addition, he has been pleased with the level of service that Tom and Brownwood Sales has provided.
Timberwolf currently offers six models of firewood processors. They range from a TW-PRO MP equipped with a 36 hp diesel engine to the top of the line model, TW-PRO HD XL, which is powered by a 74 hp diesel engine.
The model purchased by Tony’s company, the TW-PRO MP X, is a step above the entry-level machine. It is powered by a Mitsubishi 47 hp engine. Like other models, it features the Timberwolf Top Roll clamping system to hold the log securely in place. Designed for logs up to 22 inches in diameter and 14 feet long, it also features an 8×6 live-log deck. The processor uses a bar saw for bucking. The TW-PRO MP X has a cycle time of 5 seconds, according to Timberwolf. Timberwolf also offers 12 models of splitters and five Timberwolf Conveyor models.
Automated Biomass Systems (ABS), which manufactures equipment for the firewood industry, recently acquired the assets of Timberwolf Manufacturing Corp. ABS, based in Marathon, New York, is continuing to manufacture products for firewood producers under its own brand name and also the Timberwolf brand. The complete line of Timberwolf equipment is being carried forward, and ABS will continue to provide parts and support for Timberwolf equipment through dealers.
ABS also offers the AutoSplit, which features a box wedge and automatic block return, the AutoFine, a top loading device for sorting and cleaning firewood and the AutoConvey, a multiuse firewood conveyor.
In Tony’s firewood operations, logs are graded and sorted — for species, size, and condition — to select and stock those most appropriate for firewood production. “We make sure they’re straight,” said Tony, and use logs up to 20 inches in diameter. Logs that don’t make the grade — they may be too crooked, too deformed, or too large — are supplied to a company that uses them for raw material to make mulch.
A John Deere skid-steer is used to log loads onto the log deck of the Timberwolf processor.
The employee who operates the processor produces about four cords per day, Tony estimated. That includes delivery time; he will produce two cords and deliver it, return to the yard and produce two more that will be ready to deliver the next day. His delivery truck, an International 4700 with a dump body, can transport two cords, stacked.
In 2017 Tony began supplying firewood wholesale B&B Carryous, a Marathon station in Waynesville, Ohio, that sells wood to summer campers.
Tony’s company sells about 280-300 cords of firewood per year. A minimum firewood order is a half-cord. The company also provides stacking services.
Tony advertises and promotes firewood for sale with signage outside his office and on the company’s Facebook page. This year he began promoting sales of firewood in a quantity measuring 2 feet by 4 feet. That attracts a good number of customers who will stop by to fill up the trunk of their car or the back of their SUV and come back for another load about a week later. “That’s started to take off for us,” said Tony, who also has a Yellow Pages listing.
Tony has been changing up his firewood operations recently. In the past he processed green material, then stacked the wood to enable it to dry and season. Now, he is letting the logs dry first, and the finished firewood is conveyed directly into the truck for delivery. The strategy saves on labor. “We’re eliminating a lot of that labor involved in packing it and letting it dry out,” he said.
Once his new yard is up and running, Tony plans to have some type of enclosure for the firewood operations.
The company is equipped with six pieces of equipment from Vermeer — three chippers and three mini skid-steers — and a Rayco stump grinder. He has continued to rely on Vermeer as a supplier of chippers and mini skid-steers for the same reason he chose Timberwolf for his firewood processor — brand loyalty.
The company’s tree service operations also are equipped with a bucket truck, three trucks for collecting and hauling wood chips, and a 75-foot ‘spider’ lift. Stihl chainsaws are used for all tree work. The company also has a couple of Bobcat skid-steers.
With a yard to stockpile supplies of materials, Tony may expand into sales and delivery of those materials, he indicated. “We’re not really into that right now.”
He wants to build up and increase the lawn care portion of his company, adding more services and customers. He is expanding tree services into tree care, too, not just removal and trimming.
During the winter months the company also does other work, like snow plowing and snow removal. The last two winters didn’t produce much snow, and the company did more tree work and hardscapes — building retaining walls, paver patios and similar projects — during those months.
The seasonal employees provide additional labor to supplement the company’s core group of workers. Tony acknowledged that it is a challenge to recruit, hire and keep good seasonal workers. He uses signage outside his office location and the company’s Facebook page to promote vacancies and advertise that he is hiring. He also pays bonuses to employees who help recruit someone.
“It’s a challenge, but we seem to do it pretty good,” he said. “It’s always something that we’re battling, to get good quality people.”
After a year, employees are eligible for holiday pay and a week of paid vacation; they get an additional day for each year of employment. Employees also are eligible for performance bonuses that are paid three times per year, a practice Tony began in 2017. They are evaluated for factors related to job performance, and the evaluation is reviewed with each employee. “We’re getting good feedback on that,” said Tony.
Feedback from customers about employee performance, good or bad, is recorded and communicated to the employee. “Most of the time it’s good, positive feedback,” he said. “It keeps them motivated.” Tony also gives gift cards to employees who garner good feedback from customers.
Tony has weighed investing in grinding equipment to produce mulch. “I’ve thought about it more than one time,” he said. “It might be something down the road that we get into.” A decision to expand the business that way may also be contingent on acquiring land for mulch operations.
Besides Mindy, Tony’s father-in-law, Jim Trammel, works in the business. Jim, who was looking for something to do in retirement, does maintenance work on trucks and small equipment at the company’s shop and runs errands for the company.
Tony is a member of the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association and is also a certified arborist through the International Society of Arboriculture. He and Mindy enjoy boating with their three daughters at Dale Hollow Lake in Tennessee on weekends when they can get away in the summer.
During the Great Recession, tree service work proved to be pretty consistent and stable. In addition, customers continued to rely on Tony’s company for services related to maintaining their lawn and landscape — services like mulching shrubbery or trees, cleaning up leaves and other debris, and so on. “People were still doing that,” said Tony.
Now that the economy has improved, customers are more able and willing to spend money on improvements to their home and yard, like installing hardscape projects.
Another reason the company prospered during the recession was that it took virtually every job that came along. “We didn’t turn anything down,” said Tony. “If we could make a buck, we did it.”