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Handling the Ups and Downs
Ron Staley Enterprises invests in the long haul
By Bob Bruce
Anyone who has worked in the timber industry for any length of time knows that one of the keys to long-term survival is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances over the years; whether those circumstances be market conditions, changing state and/or federal regulations over harvesting, or even the fluctuating popularity of logging as a career path.
Ron Staley, owner of Ron Staley Enterprises out of Lebanon, Ore., has been out in the brush since 1989, and he has seen his share of ups and downs. For Ron, the best way to adapt has been to diversify in terms of equipment and capabilities, while at the same time specializing in terms of finding and keeping quality people.
According to Ron, he has always had a strong desire to have his own company. Of course wanting something isn't a guarantee of success. The other ingredient Ron brings to the table is a constant drive to make sure his company can stay in business for the long haul, no matter what it takes.
Investing in a Future
When he first started out, Ron says, he had no problem signing his name to some big purchase contract if that's what it took to get the equipment he needed. He still believes that you need the right machines on hand, but he has become a little more realistic about whether it always needs to be the absolute newest and best.
"It can be hard when a new piece of equipment costs $650,000. Over time, more than anything, I've learned that I'm tired of making those big payments. I'm happy to run with serviceable equipment with a manageable debt load. My long-term goal is to be debt free, but that's a lot easier said than done."
It's extra hard when that six-figure piece of machinery suddenly sits idle and worthless because of conditions that are completely out of your control.
Ups and Downs
"When we first got into the business, that was about the time of the spotted owl restrictions, and the market went really bad," he says. "It was a difficult time, because instead of being able to get work from the large timber companies, we had to run around and find these little farmer patches and then a lot of times, worry about getting paid."
Things took a turn for the better when the cut-to-length thinning market opened up. In response, Ron invested heavily in new equipment with a five-year payoff horizon. Unfortunately, he got hit with another market shift midway through. "We had a pretty good run for a while, but then the cut-to-length thinning just up and died. So there we were with all this cut-to-length equipment, doing sort of OK, but forced to go into the clear-cut marketplace in order to stay busy, but with not the right equipment."
Nobody ever said logging was easy, but this was turning into a problem that needed solving. "It seemed that by the time we could get tooled up, we'd have to re-tool just about the time we were ready to reap some rewards. Especially in a specialized market like the cut-to-length thinning, that's so specialized that you can't do anything else with the iron so you're kind of hung."
Turning to Diversification
Ron's solution to this ongoing reality of the timber processing industry was to diversify.
"If you're too focused on one thing, then it's real hard to stay busy unless you have a real good home to work out of. As a result, we have branched out to where we now do cable logging with the yarder, and we also do ground-based shovel logging. We have recently diversified into road maintenance and construction as well."
His goal is to give himself enough flexibility -- both equipment-wise and employee skill-wise -- to be able to take on pretty much whatever his customer might need, without having to re-invest in new equipment at every fluctuation in the market.
"We try to be whatever the customer needs us to be," he says. "We come there as an employee, not as an additional boss or consultant. We don't try to impose our views on them."
Ron says he has three main customers, all large landowners such as Cascade Timber out of Sweet Home. "We have been fortunate, I would even say blessed, that we have been able to establish a relationship with these large landowners who like our work and who seem interested in helping us survive. In that way, we can jump back and forth between them and stay busy."
People Are Key
Ron typically runs two sides -- a shovel logging side and a yarder side -- and he employs about 16 workers total. He proudly speaks about the quality of people he has working for him, and of the two men who manage each side.
"Danny Wilson takes care of the shovel logging side, and he really is a great asset there. Clint McCollum is the hook and drum operator and takes care of the yarder side."
"No matter what you've got for equipment," he emphasizes, "it is the people that are your strength. You don't just find people like that -- you run into them, or they are brought into your life somehow. I know there are some who believe that employees are just employees; you offer them a job, and you pay them a decent wage."
Ron looks at it a bit differently. "We hope to make an impact in their lives whether they're here for eight years or whether it's just short term. It's not like I wake up every day with that as my goal, but I do hope that by the end of the day, it's something we have achieved."
The Right Equipment Equals Productivity
On the equipment side of things, Ron's daily goal is maintaining the proper balance between productivity, upkeep, and adaptability. On the yarder side, he runs a Thunderbird TMY 50 with a Boman Mark 5, a Komatsu 220 with a Waratah 622B processor head, and a Kobelco 210 log shovel. Support equipment includes an 8230B Terex and a 518 Cat skidder.
Over on the shovel logging side, there's a Kobelco 250 with a new Log Max XT7000 head and a Cat 325 yoder that they can use for double duty as a shovel or, because it has drums, for doing short yarding. Also on the list is an Eagle Claw with a JD 748 skidder running next to it, a Kobelco 210 excavator, and a JD 450.
Ron purchased his new Log Max XT 7000 processor head back in August 2009, to replace an existing Log Max processor. "We had an older Log Max that we had purchased used -- it had a lot of hours on it when we bought it, but we still got a couple of good years more use out of it because they are built so well."
Even so, there came a point where maintenance and downtime were beginning to impact his crew's productivity. "It is important for us to be able to keep accurate lengths and diameters and keep the machine producing every day. With this new processor head, we expect to get at least a healthy five trouble-free years out of it."
He says that his XT 7000 is essentially a stock package with no special bells and whistles, except for one thing -- the Find End sensor option. "The Find End feature really speeds up processing because the operator doesn't have to look for the butt. As long as you've got clean butts then the sensor finds it and stops the head at exactly the end of the log."
As part of Ron's diversification strategy, he is also looking into adding rock production to his road building and maintenance capabilities. "It would be a portable setup with a tractor-mounted jaw. I believe it would dovetail nicely with the road building and maybe even be an entity by itself. Fortunately we already own most of the iron we'd need, like the large excavator, dump trucks, etc."
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