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Buchanan Hardwoods Continues Progress on Its Firm Foundation
Flooring Mill Is Latest Addition to Leading Manufacturer of Hardwood Lumber

By Jack Petree
Date Posted: 2/3/2003

R.W. "Mr. Buck" Buchanan already had 31 years experience running hardwood sawmills in the South when he and his three sons founded Buchanan Hardwoods in 1960. In fact, recounts Bill Buchanan Jr., who is Mr. Buck's grandson and a principal in the firm today, his grandfather had, when he and his sons cast off on their own, a well deserved reputation as a knowledgeable, progressive timberman with a flair for innovation.

Today, the firm the four men began a little more than four decades ago has become an international powerhouse. Selling to both domestic and export markets, Buchanan Hardwoods produces more than 50 million board feet of hardwood annually in its own sawmills and expedites the collection and sale of another 20 million board feet that passes through its distribution centers.

On top of all that, the company owns deep water docking facilities and manages more than 100,000 acres of timberland. It also has built a hardwood flooring plant with 20 million board feet annual capacity into a major business with a national clientele.

All that growth, Bill said, is the result of a business philosophy developed by his grandfather that still drives the company today.

From day one, Bill recounted, his grandfather, father, and uncles decided that their firm needed to set itself apart by organizing around three business principles they saw as being critical to success. "Then, as now," Bill reported, "our company was dedicated to producing a consistently high quality product, delivering that product on the date promised, and doing both of those things at a competitive price."

While those three principles are not necessarily extraordinary as stated goals for a company, the dedication to achieving the goals it has set for itself has distinguished the company throughout out its 40-plus years. "We will turn down an order if it means we will be late delivering another order or if we do not believe we can meet the deadlines necessary to fulfill that order," said Bill.

At Buchanan Hardwoods, he continued, the three principles the firm was established on are more than simply goals. They actually define the company, so there can be no compromise when it comes to doing what is necessary to achieve the goals set forward in the founding principles.

Buchanan Hardwoods is willing to go to unusual lengths -- including rejecting an order, if necessary -- to remain true to its founding philosophies. However, such extremes are seldom necessary, Bill noted. Decades of effort have put in place the facilities and processes needed to efficiently achieve the company's desires on a day-to-day basis.

He pointed to a combination of land ownership and on-going attention to timber acquisition from outside sources to ensure the stable supply of logs the company needs to achieve the volume necessary to meet customer needs. Modern production facilities allow for volume processing of the timber into products meeting the company's standards for quality. Lastly, Bill added, day-to-day process control and the availability of a broad range of shipping options at each of the firm's facilities enables on-time delivery even in a ‘just-in-time’ atmosphere.

The supply of timber needed to make the products for Buchanan Hardwoods customers now and into the future is maintained through a combination of buying logs from contractors, purchasing standing timber, and managing for a sustained yield more than 100,000 acres of timberland under company ownership or management. Owners and staff are active in promoting the future of forestry through membership and participation in a variety of trade groups as well as public policy commissions, such as the Alabama Forestry Commission, which establishes best management practices for forestry in Alabama.

While the company's primary production facilities are located in Alabama, it locates and purchases logs and lumber throughout much of the South. Buchanan's facility in Granite Falls, N. C., for example, purchases some 20 million board feet of green and kiln-dried lumber annually from producers throughout the Appalachian region, then redistributes the material both as green lumber and dried. The large geographical scope of its efforts is designed to allow the company access to a broad variety of top quality raw material. Its focus continues to be obtaining the best hardwoods in the region and processing them to the highest standards possible. (The company’s advertising materials declare, ‘There are four categories of oak: Northern, Appalachian, Southern, and, of course, Buchanan!’)

While Buchanan Hardwoods distributes some green lumber, much of the firm's lumber is kiln or air dried. Buchanan Hardwoods maintains more than 2 million board feet of drying capacity utilizing a combination of Nyle dehumidification dry kilns, some of which have been modified to act as steam units, and SII track kilns. Air drying is accomplished with modern ‘T-sheds’ capable of storing and drying more than 4 million board feet of material.

In order to process the 50 million-plus board feet of lumber products that Buchanan Hardwoods manufactures from logs each year, the firm maintains two sawmills. One is in central Alabama near Montgomery, and one is in west-central Alabama at Aliceville. The strategic location of the two plants gives it access to hardwoods from virtually the entire South.

To achieve accuracy in processing logs and recover as much volume as possible, each mill is equipped with a Corley carriage outfitted with Lewis controls and optimization. Each mill also has advanced bandmill technology with a 7-foot Salem head rig at Aliceville and an 8-foot McDonough at Montgomery. The object, Bill said, is to saw within 0.003-inch of target, both to reduce waste and to provide a consistently high quality lumber product to customers.

In 1999 the third generation of Buchanans began to assume management of the day-to-day operations. This generation, with their parents’ blessing, expanded into hardwood flooring. They established a separately owned but closely associated manufacturing facility in Aliceville. Buchanan Hardwood Flooring is an example of how the dedication to quality, on-time delivery, and competitive pricing that his grandfather, father, and uncles established as company principles has carried through to the modern incarnation of the company, Bill observed.

The flooring mill, located on 43 acres adjacent to the Buchanan Hardwoods sawmill in Aliceville, manufactures 3/4-inch solid red and white oak flooring in 2 1/4 inch and 3 1/4 inch widths.

The company went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that its Elite brand flooring would be unsurpassed on the marketplace, said Bill. Three years of research went into developing the state-of-the-art plant. The mill, which manufactures Buchanan's proprietary Elite brand of flooring, serves domestic customers throughout the U. S.

An optimized rip saw system feeds straight lined flooring blanks to a WACO side-matcher. End-matching is accomplished utilizing a Doucet machine. Moisture control is monitored -- both prior to ripping and after machining -- with Wagner in-line moisture meters. The manufacturing processes result in flooring that is accurately sized and also stable when installed.

Pallet cants represent an important product at the Buchanan facilities, too. Sawn to 3 5/8 inches by 6 or 8 inches, the cants are sold to pallet manufacturers throughout Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia.

While some hardwood lumber manufacturers look at pallet material as a secondary product, Bill says his company's philosophy applies to cants just as it does to every other aspect of the Buchanan Hardwoods business. "Our equipment allows us to offer a precisely sized cant," he said. "And on-time delivery is as important to our valued customers in the pallet business as it is to any other user. So we pay as much attention to assuring timely delivery of a cant as we do a top grade piece of lumber destined for a high grade furniture plant."

While producing high quality products from good raw material is vital, Bill pointed out that his company could not meet its objectives without paying as much attention to shipping as it does to timber acquisition and processing. Because Buchanan ships as much as 15% of its products to the export marketplace and the rest throughout the U. S., a variety of options is necessary to provide the on-time delivery the firm promises. Each of the company’s major plants is able to ship by rail, truck or container. To expedite ocean shipments, Buchanan Hardwoods owns and operates a deep-water dock.

Even as he pointed to the extensive attention that his grandfather, father, uncles, and third-generation peers in the business have paid to the mills and equipment, Bill said none of it means much without quality people dedicated to a common goal. "You can have the best machinery in the world, but if you don't have the right people working with you to make the highest quality product possible, then the machinery doesn't matter much.

"Fortunately," Bill continued, "we've been blessed with both. We have some of the best people in the industry working around here. That means I don't have a lot of people who work for me, but I've got a lot of terrific people who work with me to make sure this continues to be the kind of company my grandfather envisioned when he and his sons started the whole thing in 1960."

The silicone chip had not been invented when "Mr. Buck" and his sons established Buchanan Hardwoods in 1960. Just-in-time delivery was years away, too. Still, as Bill Buchanan Jr. pointed out, change does not mean that everything changes. The foundation that Buchanan Hardwoods was established on still serves the company well. According to Bill, quality products, delivered on time and at a reasonable price have been -- and will continue to be -- the hallmark principles of Buchanan Hardwoods in his generation just as they were more than 40 years ago.

"Some things may change," said Bill, "and we change with them. But the principles our firm was built on are, we think, timeless and important to those we do business with. So they remain at the foundation of everything we do here."

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