Alfred Price built his company, Price Logging Inc., based in Jamesville, N.C., from the ground up. Starting from humble beginnings, today Price Logging is a booming family business that works a pine forest in eastern North Carolina.
Price is humble, and he is also very smart. Magazines and books line his bookshelves. They’re neatly stacked on tables in his offices, and you get the feeling that he's read every one. He can talk politics, medicine, machines and business. He knows the history and industries of his town and the surrounding area. It’s no wonder that Price Logging has grown to be a successful company.
To Price, a great-grandfather who works with dozens of employees, including a son, daughter, and son-in-law, a good day in the office is spent "out in the woods."
But in late February 2014, he’s stuck in his office. A wet spring has slowed down production a bit, but not for long. He explains that the "ground is tight clay that holds water." Price expects his crews to be at it before long, and sure enough, they are – clearing a section of pine forest he’s leased. The slash will be chipped in Price’s Model 3090 Bandit whole-tree chipper. Then the tract will be replanted and the crews will move on, and the cycle will start over in another 20 or 30 years.
“We don’t go in and just clear cut several acres,” Price explains. “It’s small portions.” A section will be planted. In about a decade, his crews will come in and thin out the trees to make sure the best trees have the best chance. Then that stand is left for another decade or two and the harvesting begins.
Driving the roads around Jamesville, you’re likely to see a semitrailer with Price’s name on it every few minutes, hauling a load of wood.
Price said it is a "point of pride" to see the trucks, but not because they have his name on the door. It’s because he’s providing good jobs to hard working people. And when he sees the loads coming at regular intervals, he knows things are running smoothly in the woods.
“We made a good living, and we made jobs available for about 44 employees,” Price said. “We paid above average wages for this area.”
Price is a strong believer in small businesses playing an important role in the economy.
“That’s the backbone of this country,” he said. So he manages his business to his goals, and to do right by his employees.
It all makes pragmatic sense.
It was that pragmatism that led him to buy Bandit’s Model 3090. Price had been running that other whole-tree chipper for many years before switching to to a Bandit chipper.
Price runs tree tops and other slash not suitable for lumber production through the Model 3090. The chips can be used for anything from energy production to paper production. But for emerging markets, a more uniform sized chip is becoming more and more important.
Price admits that his Model 3090 might be "too much chipper"for what he needs, but that was one of the reasons he bought it. “I think it’s better to have overkill on the machine and then chip when you need to chip and get the loads out than have a small machine like the one we had at one time,” Price said.
With Price’s Model 3090 (left), the chipping is done quickly, putting fewer hours on the machine. He also noticed his chip vans were packed tighter.
Price needs to get the most he can out of all of his machinery. “We’ve got several pieces of equipment – rolling stock – in the woods,” he said. That includes 14 trucks, 12 skidders, five fellers, and more.
When visiting his work site, even while discussing his business with Bandit, Price was watching his employees go to work.
Safety is a constant thought for him, from the trucks on the road to the guys in the machines. Price spotted a potential safety issue with one his his employees, so he called them on the phone. The issue was fixed, and work continued. Price said that a "good business does things right." It’s how he lives, and it’s how he handles his employees.
Growing up on a farm, Price went to work for Weyerhaeuser after graduating from high school. He worked his way up to a mid-level manager, but a worldwide recession in 1982 was the end of that career. Not many people would call being laid off "a good thing," but Price did. “In 1982, the recession came along and it sent 130 middle managers home,” he said. “I was privileged to be one of those.”
Price had to make a decision. He took a job managing a lumber mill, but quickly decided that if he was going to be in the lumber industry, he would do it for himself. Joining with his older brother, they made a business plan, leased equipment and in 1983 they went to work.
“I went into logging because I needed to make a living,” he said. “The business plan was to produce 15 loads a week. We were able to produce enough wood the very first week that we could have bought our groceries out of the extra pay we had.”
Through good management, Price’s company grew and grew. Eventually, Price had 45 employees. Then he began to focus on improving the company, not just growing it.
What that meant was getting smaller, and getting more efficient. He said a 150-man crew wouldn’t do anybody any good if you couldn’t manage them effectively.
“The logging business is a hard business,” he said. “You can do just a few things wrong and lose very quickly.” Price said there is risk everywhere in the logging industry. Trucks on the roads carry risk, equipment in the forest carry risk. Amid increasing complex regulations, downsizing seemed like the right thing to do for Price. It’s working, and it should continue to work for Price and his family.
He’s teaching his son, daughter and son-in-law to take over more and more of the business. They’re making more decisions and giving Price more time to peruse other things, like spending time with his great-grandson. Price will remain involved with his company for as long as he can, he said, passing on the wisdom that comes with decades of experience.
His advice when it comes to running a business? “You do the very best you can,” he said. “You manage your business and you reach your goals. When you break it down, you start off with safety and quality, and production, and somewhere down the line if you do all those things right, it’ll equal profitability.”