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Anyone had any luck tapping into "green" or local building projects? Since "Buy Local" programs are becoming popular, especially in the food industry, I was wondering if any wood entrepreneurs out there in cyberspace have taken advantage of this opportunity??
I have a small custom door business that features Ponderosa Beetle Kill Pine Doors. The Beetle infestation here in Colorado is epdemic and a significant portion of our forests are succumbing to the problem. While a huge numbers of trees are logepole Pine a smaller number is Ponderosa which provides a very colorful and featured product. I've harvested, milled and produced from this wood and to a limited degree used its "green" element to sell with. Largely the color and figuring sell itself.
My company is only about 1 year old, but business has been reasonably good, given that we are new, and the economy is tough. We make custom furniture locally, using sustainably-sourced wood and eco-friendly finishes. Yes, there is a market.
I'm quickly learning, though that if you only focus on the "green market" you are missing the boat. I've opened up my efforts and am focusing now on a wider range of demographics - designers, for example. Once a prospect is interested in my work, I use the "green" and "local" aspects as a way to differentiate from the competition.
One of the main challenges has been a technical one, not a marketing one. By that I mean that I've been learning a lot about the difficulties (and hidden costs) of working with reclaimed wood (nails, anyone?) or small vendors or vendors of truly locally-grown woods (out of stock, too much moisture, terribly random sizes, etc.) It definitely can take more time to source the product, and to work it than using more traditional vendors. And that cost needs to be built into the product's price, which can be a challenge.
I constantly tweak my practices to try and streamline my sourcing and woodworking activities based on dealing with these issues.
We have attempted to appeal to customers with an interest in green and/or local products with little sucess for the green aspect, but with very good results in having a local manufactured product. There seems to be no "group" in our area that we can associate with, and I will say in our area, we can be a little behind the times. I have found that while many customers have an interest in green products, they will often choose a cheaper product over the green product. Personally I find it a little irritating when some plastic or vinyl products seem to be advertised by competitors as more eco friendly versus our wood product that is replenishable. Does the guy with the biggest ad budget win the green battle by creating the perception he has the greenest product?
I hope the biggest ad budget doesn't win the green battle because wood will likely be a loser. But, it's refreshing to hear that "local" (local manufactured product) has worked for some. I've been told that in some instances "local" is a much better selling point than certified, organic, green, etc.
Last September we opened a showroom in a town 25 miles from our rurally located shop. This community has a strong green interest. We have gotten jobs because we manufacture locally.
One of the most successful green angles we use was stumbled upon completely by accident.
I had pictures of past jobs displayed in the store front while we getting the showroom set up. One small area was dedicated to pictures of how we use our scrapwood and sawdust for heating the shop in the winter. We have pictures of a pile of saw edgings, briquette maker, bagged briquettes, and the outdoor woodburner.
You would not believe how many people stopped to look at those pictures. So many in fact that I came up with a permanent window display featuring this green aspect of the business.
Another wrinkle in the green/local building situation is the use of "urban" or city trees by some wood workers and entrepreneurs. My experience has been that selected urban trees (straight trunk and so forth) can be sawn into lumber that "fits" into many local green building projects - flooring, paneling, park benches, etc. I'm curious to hear from folks that have tapped into this market, ie., used "urban" trees for either a project or as the cornerstone of a niche business.
Steve, I've used many "urban forest" trees, and have had a lot of success. There is a small mini mill in town that saws slabs using only trees that grew in the city. I've made coffee tables, benches, and a number of dining tables, all using such wood. There are some samples of these on my website.
This has been so well-received that a local "green retailer" approached me and asked me to make a line of quasi-custom furniture using local wood. Just delivered the first couple of pieces a week or so back.
The interest in these products is at several levels. They like that these are local trees, and that I'm a local business. Also, and obviously, there is a "green" side to this because these are landfill-diverted trees, and so no new trees were logged to make the wood. Finally, the appearance of wide planks and slabs is so different from what people generally see in the store, that it really creates excitement.
There of course are challenges in working with this kind of wood, but I think its worth the effort.
Bob, great to hear you're using the urban forest for products!
Just was talking to what I considered a chainsaw carver in northwest Oregon about buying slabs from me and found more than I was looking for.
His specialty is "urban wood". Every tree and piece of wood must have a story because the "green" people really like that.
You can see his stuff at the above web.
The Oregon State University experimental solar kiln is currently park at his business location.
Since my original post on this topic I've participated in urban tree utilization programs in San Francisco and Asheville, NC (and had to decline an invitation at a Texas workshop). ... Bottom line - urban tree use is gaining momentum so those of you reading this that are tapping into this market are on the cutting edge (no pun intended) of this "local" resource and expanding market.
I mentioned in my last post I spoke at urban wood workshops in San Francisco and Asheville, NC (2011) This past spring and summer (2012) I spoke at urban tree utilization workshops in Illinois (2 locations), Durham, NC and Washington, DC. There is a growing interest in using this underutilized resource (community or municipal trees).