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Finding Success by Building Trust
Kevin Black Logging builds generations of trust in Douglas County
By Bob Bruce
Ryan Black is a 31-year-old fourth generation logger, which right off the bat brings up a few important points.
First, despite the hard work, he must really enjoy the logging lifestyle. Second, because he is in charge of the ground side while his dad Kevin runs the yarder side, he must be pretty good at what he does. Third, and more important maybe, for the Black family to have survived in logging for four generations, they must have a pretty special way of doing things.
Deliver on Your Promises
Actually, according to Ryan’s dad Kevin, the only real “secret” to their success is simply making sure that they deliver to their customers what they promise. “It’s all about trust,” he says.
Building and maintaining trust is particularly important with regard to their primary customer, Roseburg-based Douglas County Forest Products.
“If we say something, we’ll always do it, and that’s something they [Douglas] ran into trouble with in the past,” says Kevin. “A logger would make a promise or bid a job, and two days after they started they were trying to get more money. Well, that’s not our policy.”
Involved from the Start
One of the ways Kevin and Ryan are able to make promises they can keep is they are able to get involved way back at the planning and layout stage of each job.
“We don’t bid jobs with Douglas. When they go to buy one of these patches, we go look at it right with them, same time they do,” says Kevin. “We talk about how much we can get out, what some of the issues might be, or whatever. It’s just a trust thing — they trust our opinion on what the job site will get them, so I think they feel they’re getting a lot for the money.”
The Blacks’ relationship with Douglas is not necessarily unique, but it does bring a lot of benefits that most other loggers do not normally enjoy. For over a year, Douglas has been their only client, and while they are not employees of Douglas, they do make every effort to be available as needed. The result is that they have had to pass on some other opportunities in order to avoid schedule conflicts.
The big benefit, however, is that they are able to stay busy — no small bonus in today’s economy.
Seven Days a Week
“We work every day,” says Ryan. “The mill needs the job done, so we’ll work weekends or whatever it takes. We try not to have any downtime. We just try to please the mill. It’s so tough to find jobs any more that if you have something good going, you want to keep it going.”
Sometimes the guys on the crews complain about having to pull a long week in order to bring a job in on time, but as Ryan explains, “When we work Saturdays or something, we’ll get up early, and my dad will take them to breakfast. It’s all overtime hours to them so everybody’s happy to get a big paycheck.”
The main reason the Black family has been able to stay busy is because Douglas has been one of the more successful mills in the area. The mill buys up a lot of BLM and Forest Service timber sales, as well as a fair number of private sales. Not only that, but the mill has been able to secure steady markets throughout the downturn.
“They’ve been one of the few mills through this whole thing that has kept a steady flow of wood moving,” says Kevin. “Everybody’s had logging going on, but they’ve been able to sell their lumber when nobody else has.”
Keeping the Right Equipment Available
For the Blacks, that means having the right kind of equipment to handle a range of projects and the willingness to travel to wherever those job sites may be. For example, they recently went from a thinning job out in La Pine, Ore., to a clearcut job south of Bandon, Ore.
At the time TimberWest spoke with Ryan and Kevin, they were running a yarder side up around Yoncalla on steep terrain, along with the ground side at Bandon.
“Like I told Douglas,” says Kevin, “we’re not set up to be great at any one thing, but we can do many things very well. In eastern Oregon, we were logging small diameter timber. In Bandon we’re logging larger stuff. On both our yarder side and our ground side, we do thinning and clearcuts.”
With their home base just south of Eugene, working a job out in eastern Oregon or down on the southern coast can always be a concern in terms of fuel costs, travel times, and possible lodging. Fortunately, says Kevin, “They [Douglas] always try to pencil in all the variables – the place to stay, how much that is, the lowboy costs, all that. Even though sometimes it doesn’t work out like it’s supposed to, our relationship with the mill is good enough that if need be they usually give us what it takes to do it.”
They don’t run a large crew on either side. On the ground side for example, they have just four guys: feller buncher, processor, shovel, and loader. When they come across a stem that’s too big to run through the processor and needs to be delimbed by hand, it’s typically Ryan who jumps down off the feller buncher and grabs a chainsaw.
As far as iron is concerned, Ryan says their machine of choice is a Komatsu with a Waratah head. On the ground side, they use a 300PC-5 Komatsu with a Waratah HDH-24C head, a 300HD-5 Komatsu shovel, a John Deere 953G buncher, a 940 Thunderbird shovel, and a John Deere D50 grapple cat.
Over on the yarder side, they use a 071 Madill, a 220 Komatsu with a Waratah HDH-20 head, and a 3400 LinkBelt shovel.
Ryan’s Komatsu dealer in Oregon is Modern Machinery. “We like the Komatsus because they are really fuel efficient, low maintenance, and pretty long life,” says Ryan. “They’re just really good machines. The 300s are sort of a medium-sized shovel — they are big enough to load the big, oversized stuff and still quick enough to load the small stuff.”
Versatility is a key feature for the work the Blacks come up against — not only for the shovels, but for the processor heads especially.
“Most of the wood on the Bandon side is 20-plus inch bdh,” says Ryan, “and on thinning jobs, the diameters are a lot smaller. The Waratahs are pretty much bulletproof. They can handle clear down to a 3-inch log and clear up to a 30-inch log, so it’ll do pretty much anything we would run into.”
Smart Business Decisions
Ryan and Kevin both agree that the real “glue” holding the operation together is the family matriarch, Catherine. She assures that the company makes smart business decisions and makes money.
“She’s the number cruncher, and she knows what goes on,” says Ryan. “If something’s not working out, she’ll make out a spreadsheet and show it to us so we can try to fix it. Like on this job, the scale wasn’t running real well so she made out a spreadsheet and we took it to the mill and showed them, and they said, ‘OK, maybe we need to do something a little different.’ Because of that, we were able to make an adjustment so everybody was happy.”
Catherine is much more than just a bookkeeper, he points out. “If we need parts or whatever, she runs and gets parts. She knows what goes on out here; she’s always calling and checking in on us and making sure everybody’s showed up and doing their job. She’s the big boss.”
In the end, the secret to the Blacks’ success is simply: work hard, work smart, and keep your promises. They’ve been doing it for four generations, and they don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
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