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Upgrades at Wolverine Hardwoods Put Company in The Position for Expansion
Wolverine Hardwoods: Upgrades at Michigan company position it for expansion as improvements streamline manufacturing processes; its hardwoods are popular with customers on West Coast.
By Pete Hildebrandt
Date Posted: 3/1/2007
ALLEGAN, Michigan — Javan Mallery likes to keep in mind some words of wisdom he received from his father: “find a need and meet it.”
Javan has been in the forest products industry all his life. He and his brother, Mike, grew up in the hardwood business; their father, uncles and cousins worked in the hardwood lumber business for over 75 years. Their father, John, and his brother, Bob, and the late George Mee operated several successful businesses for many years, and John and Bob still are active in the industry.
Javan’s dad and uncles owned Mallery Lumber Co. with operations in Hancock, N.Y. and Emporium, Penn. The company eventually spawned three other businesses, RGM, RAM, and Wolverine Hardwoods, which is owned by Javan.
“At first our operations were basically a wholesale, out-of-the-office, brokerage-type company,” said Javan, 37. As the wholesale business thrived, he and Mike began looking to acquire a company that had actual lumber operations.
“When this facility became available and was close to where I already lived, I jumped on that opportunity,” Javan recalled. The concentration yard, which he acquired in 2002, is located in Allegan, Michigan. “It’s turned out to be a great chance for me and my family,” he said.
Javan is the founder, president and CEO of Wolverine Hardwoods, which he started in 1995. Wolverine Dry Kiln Operations are located close to Michigan’s western lakeshore border, about 40 miles south of Grand Rapids. The company has expanded to include a satellite office in Pennsylvania.
Javan is a graduate of Roberts Wesleyan College. He and his wife, Francine, and their four children live in nearby Dorr. Mike joined his brother in the business in 1998 as vice president and opened the satellite office in Kane, Penn. Both men were trained in the National Hardwood Lumber Association lumber grading school. Mike, 44, handles sales and purchasing out of the satellite office, and his wife, Cris, runs the satellite office and coordinates logistics.
Wolverine Hardwoods also has a full-time lumber buyer, Ed Paciencia, who has over 40 years experience in the hardwood lumber industry, a sales staff and a dedicated yard force of 25, including two lumber graders – about 30 employees in all.
Javan’s sister-in-law, Tina Mallery, manages the Allegan office; her duties include inventory control, dispatching, sales and human resources. She is assisted by the bookkeeper, Jean Plaisier.
The business is based on the concept that a company has to be like a family to succeed. Javan emphasizes that, “With our group, we all depend on each other, and we are continually learning from each other.”
The company’s main lumber products are green and kiln-dried No. 2 Common and Better Northern hardwoods. Most lumber is sold 4/4 in random width and length although some species are offered in 5/4, 6/4 and 8/4. Species include cherry, soft and hard maple, red oak, beech, figured wood, and a variety of miscellaneous species.
Wolverine buys green hardwood lumber from sawmills in Michigan and neighboring states. The lumber is dried in its own kilns, surfaced and graded. The company’s primary market focus is manufacturers of furniture, cabinets, mouldings and flooring.
About 20% of the company’s volume is sold to businesses in Michigan. In addition to U.S. and Canadian sales, it exports lumber to Europe and Asia. Most domestic or Canadian orders are shipped via truck while export orders are shipped via container. The company can provide just-in-time delivery.
“The cherry, hard maple and soft maple are probably the woods we are best known for,” said Javan. “We also do other wood species or whatever the customer has a need for. Hard maple is perhaps the trickiest of the woods we work with. People tend to want that very white, so we try to dry it until it’s as white as a piece of paper.”
Wolverine Hardwoods operates six 50,000-board-foot capacity dry kilns in which the company dries about 750,000 board feet of lumber per month. The kilns were constructed from pre-cast concrete and are equipped with SII computerized controls. Depending on the season and ambient temperatures, the lumber drying process is 7-10 days.
The property covers some 15 acres with the kilns occupying about seven acres. Most of the yard is paved, and the company has T-sheds capable of storing 500,000 board feet of lumber in inventory. The planer mill is equipped with a Newman-Whitney 382 planer for surfacing the lumber. The company also can provide straight-line ripping.
For moving and handling lumber and other material, Wolverine Hardwoods has four Hyster forklifts and a JCB loader. The loader is used for moving sawdust, snow removal and container loading.
Scrap wood goes into a Weima grinder to be processed into boiler fuel, and the fuel is burned in a boiler system — natural gas is an alternative fuel — to operate the dry kilns. Shavings generated from the planer mill are used for fuel for a Hurst boiler system that produces steam for the drying operations.
“At certain times during the year, such as particularly cold winters, we supplement our fuel shavings with sawdust we obtain from area mills,” said Javan. “Right now this has been a real challenge, but in normal years it is not.”
This year the company has had to compete with farmers who buy sawdust for animal bedding. “From what I’ve heard,” Javan explained, “our very wet and mild winter this year — as well as the lack of snow — has caused farmers to have a much higher demand for sawdust for keeping their animals dry. We’re hoping once things freeze over this winter, farmers will quit buying the sawdust.”
Wolverine Hardwoods expenditures for sawdust are based on company history, which is used to formulate a budget. “This has all been shot out of the water this year,” said Javan, “a challenge for sure. Added to that was the fact that logging conditions have been poor until recently, so sawmills haven’t produced as much lumber or sawdust.”
The slow-down in the housing industry has impacted Wolverine Hardwoods somewhat, but Javan is not one to complain. “In the past five years since we first bought this place, we have done better every year,” he said. “Our sales last year topped $14 million out of this facility alone. We try to keep things cranking out from our kiln operations as fast as possible.”
Javan has made a number of capital improvements to the business since acquiring it. Last fall the company upgraded its stacker with a combination of new and used equipment.
“For the first few years it seemed like the business was nothing but a ‘money pit,’” Javan recalled. “But then we finally reached a point where things were operating profitably. Each year we have placed a certain amount into capital expenditures to try to improve things. In the past year we have done some things to streamline our manufacturing processes, eliminating three or four positions at the same time.”
Wolverine Hardwoods takes pride in maintaining relationships with both new and established customers. “By meeting both the customers and suppliers’ needs, we can build lasting relationships with both,” said Javan “It is our goal to find a need and meet it.”
The company does a considerable volume of business with customers on the West Coast. “They prefer our Michigan maple out there,” said Javan. “The majority of the lumber companies in this area of the country send much of their maple and red oak out to California. This is an interesting development over the past few years.”
Wolverine Hardwoods employees are eligible to enroll in a group health insurance plan. “We’ve found over the years that if we don’t offer health coverage, workers tend not to be as involved in staying healthy,” said Javan. “I feel that if they’re not making the investment in their own good health, it simply doesn’t mean that much to them. We’ve noticed that workers with health coverage seem to take better care of their families and are more dependable when it comes to working, perhaps because they are in better overall health.”
Wolverine Hardwoods is an active member of Penn-York Lumberman’s Club, the Michigan Association of Timbermen, the Lake States Lumber Association, the Indiana Hardwood Lumberman’s Association, the Michigan Forest Resources Alliance and Wood Links U.S.A. The company operates a Web site at www.wolverinehardwoods.com.
Javan is optimistic about the future. “I believe the business will continue to grow as the ever-demanding market grows. People want good furniture made from good quality hardwood, and we have it!”
“I’m looking to expand as we have plenty of room for more kilns,” he added. “I’d also like to look at the possibility of expanding to other facilities or into other aspects of the business as well. It may be either another kiln or two or even a new sawmill a bit farther down the road.”