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Diversity, Strong Service Help South Carolina Company Grow
Mahon Forest Products: South Carolina company has grown by diversifying and responding quickly to customer needs; company’s principal machinery supplier is Samuel Kent Baker Inc.
By Peter Hildebrandt
Date Posted: 9/1/2008
A certain amount of diversity has been a key factor in the growth and success of Mahon Forest Products — that, and responding quickly when a customer needs service.
Owned by Furman Mahon, the company is located in
“Because we do everything from pallets to export boxes, we are very unusual,” said Furman. “We actually supply niche markets, making it hard to monitor our production. We might make 1,000 pallets one week and 200 the next. But during that week we might also be making 10 boxes, too, or sawing an extra 40,000 board feet of pre-cut pallet stock for other companies. In other words, a key thing keeping us competitive is we do a lot of different things. We don’t have a great percentage of doing just one thing, but when you add it all together, it’s a pretty good business mix for us.”
Nevertheless, the pallet market is certainly central to the company’s focus and operations, Furman acknowledged. “If you consider the fact that even for the sawmill part of our business, 50 percent of that volume is going to other pallet companies, we are still highly into the pallet end of things,” he said. “We’re not always exclusively into the manufacture of the pallets, but when you combine the operations, pallets are still the biggest part of our business overall.”
The company operates a hardwood sawmill. The mill has been supplied extensively over the years by Samuel Kent Baker Inc. (originally Kent Corp.) with machinery and equipment to process cants and rough lumber into pallet deck boards and stringers. In fact, all of the cut-up equipment carries the Samuel Kent Baker nameplate.
Furman grew up on a cattle farm. His father, Lewis, worked at a textile mill, but he also owned and operated a small sawmill on the farm, mainly processing logs brought to him by other farmers who needed lumber, fencing and other material.
Furman was first introduced to machinery and equipment in the sawmill, working with his father. “I loved being around that type of equipment,” he said.
After graduating from high school he went to
When he graduated from Clemson, Furman helped his father rebuild the sawmill. “At the time, I really had no idea I would actually be able to go into business with it at some point.” His father died soon after.
The mill was idle for a number of years. In 1996, Furman decided to begin operating the sawmill. At the time, he was still employed in the textile industry, so he hired three employees to run the mill.
His experience helping his father when he was a boy, rebuilding it together, and his education and background in the textile industry, all were valuable to Furman as he launched the business. “Being exposed to a lot of different types of manufacturing processes and equipment helped me grow from those first early years with the mill,” he said. “This was key in helping me move on into business with it.” When he started the sawmill business, the mill cut mainly pallet lumber.
By 2005, the sawmill business had grown to the point that Furman was able to leave the textile industry and work full-time in Mahon Forest Products.
Pallets a Good Fit
From the beginning, it was more difficult to find markets for low-grade material produced by the sawmill.
The company also does a small amount of pallet recycling. For a few customers they retrieve used pallets, inspect them and repair them as needed. “Recycling is just a very small percentage of our operations,” said Furman.
Manufacturing pre-cut pallet stock that is sold to other pallet manufacturers is an important business segment for Mahon Forest Products. Cut stock sales account for about 40% of the company’s revenues.
“We really haven’t had any major problems over the years,” said Furman. “We’ve lost accounts over the years, but the diversity in the operations we’ve set up here has allowed us to stay competitive and in business. For example, we may lose a pallet customer and gain a new lumber customer or gain another box business. It all seems to work out for us. As with a typical business, we’ll lose one and gain one. It’s been fairly consistent over the past three years.”
Mahon Forest Products buys hardwood pallet-grade logs from logging contractors and other sawmills, primarily oak, gum and poplar. The company also makes some softwood pallets, and for these it buys heat-treated pine lumber from United Forest Products.
Logs are broken down on a
“From the resaw system, the material is either going directly into our inventory here for the pallets we build or it’s going to go out directly to other pallet companies as pre-cut pallet stock,” said Furman.
Furman started to look for a thin-kerf band resaw in 1999 as well as some more automated equipment in order to increase production of pallet stock. He envisioned increasing production enough that he could sell cut stock to other pallet manufacturers. He quickly began to focus on Samuel Kent Baker Inc., a Missouri-based company that did business then as Kent Corp.
“They impressed me with the design of their equipment, so we purchased their five-head band re-saw, an automatic chop saw and a single-head notcher,” said Furman. The five-head horizontal band resaw was a perfect fit for his operations, said Furman.
Samuel Kent Baker
Samuel Kent Baker Inc. manufactures and sells machinery and equipment for the pallet, sawmill and lumber remanufacturing industries. The company’s product line includes band resaws, cut-off saws (from small, manually-operated chop saws to automated, multi-trim saws), and notching machines. SKB also manufactures a wide range of material handling equipment, such as rollers, decks, conveyors, unscramblers, stackers. Samuel Kent Baker also provides custom manufacturing services.
The machines have “definitely been reliable,” said Furman. “We’ve never had any trouble aside from typical electrical problems with power systems, which they were always quick to help us out with.”
The supplier has provided strong support and service, said Furman. “Whenever you call Samuel Kent Baker, you talk to a person, you get one on one contact,” he said. “I’ve always been impressed with how easy it is to get someone on the phone for assistance with the equipment as well as technical advice on running the equipment. They went above and beyond what might be expected, as far as parts and service, when we had downtime. We were up and running as soon as possible.”
“We’ve had a real good working relationship with them,” Furman added. “They’ve consistently been ready to help us out by going the extra mile, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve continued to stay with them through nearly 10 years now.”
Furman plans to purchase a round table or a turntable to place at the end of the resaw line to help sort and grade the finished material, and he also is considering buying a stand for re-crowning bandsaw wheels. “Those are the two items that SKB should be able to help us out with,” he said. “I look forward to them being as helpful, reliable and dependable as ever.”
The company is also equipped with a Holtec package saw to cut bundles of cants and lumber to length.
For assembling pallets, the company is equipped with a Pallet Chief I nailing machine, which uses pneumatic nailing tools. The company also has five work stations where pallets are assembled by hand with Stanley-Bostitch pneumatic nailing tools.
Export boxes are constructed from plywood and heat-treated softwood components. The boxes are built with a pallet-like base so they can be picked up, moved and handled with a forklift.
Finished pallets and containers are put into inventory or immediately loaded onto
Sawdust and scrap wood material are sold for boiler fuel to a mill that manufactures oriented strand board.
The company has a number of pieces of Case heavy equipment for handling and moving logs, lumber and finished pallets. The company’s inventory of equipment includes two Case articulated loaders, a Case 585E forklift and two Case 1845C skid-steer loaders.
Responsive to Customers
The company also does some limited custom sawing.
“We really don’t try to put a sign up to bring attention to us for custom work,” said Furman. “That’s not our main business.”
Furman’s staff has been quite stable. Whenever he has an opening, he can usually hire someone by word of mouth.
The manager of the sawmill operation is Mitch Hilton, who has 23 years of experience in the industry. “He’s been instrumental to us in all aspects of our sawmill operations,” said Furman. “Mitch’s son, Chris Hilton, is the sawyer for the sawmill. He’s done a great job for us as well.”
For marketing, the company advertises from time to time in different publications and locally with the chamber of commerce and Yellow Pages. “But the main thing we do…is to use direct phone contact,” said Furman. “We do that internally. I have handled all the sales directly. Now we have one associate here in the office who does a lot of phone contacts, too.”
In his spare time, Furman likes to restore old farm tractors, a hobby he has had since high school. His daughter, Lindley, runs errands for the company and works in the office, doing administrative and computer work. She is a student at
Responding to customer needs quickly has been an important factor in the company’s success, Furman said. “This is what’s kept us going over the years,” he said. Having somewhat diverse operations and not relying heavily on one single product or market, as well as responding promptly to customer needs, have been “absolutely essential,” he said.
Furman is also taking the company in a new direction: adding its own logging operations. Over the years he has received calls from time to time from people who have timber to sell. He plans to begin buying standing timber and harvesting the trees with the logging crew, which will have four employees. The logging unit will be equipped with a Tigercat feller-buncher, Timberjack skidders, and a Tigercat knuckleboom loader.
“When all that is in place we’ll be virtually a full-service timber, mill and pallet operation in many respects,” said Furman.