July and August 2006
 

 

 

Creating a Contractor

Bruer Contract Logging carves out a successful business in the Northwest

By Bob Bruce

Twenty-five years ago, Michael Bruer was just another young guy out in the brush with a chain saw, bucking timber on a cutting crew, trying to make some money. These days he is head of one of the busiest contract cutting outfits in the Pacific Northwest. He has about 50 people out in the brush, and over the years he’s spent roughly $30 million on equipment — whether new or used, all of it purchased and never rented or leased.

Michael Bruer stands with his 370 Link-Belt, just one of many Link-Belts in his fleet.

“Without making it sound grand,” says Bruer, with an honest sense of humility, “we’re not the biggest but we’re definitely one of the most unique companies in the industry because we do more with less than most people.”

He also admits that when he first started in the timber harvest business, he “didn’t have a clue” what he was doing. “When I realized I didn’t know what I was doing, I tried to surround myself with people that would make up for my shortcomings, and that part was easy.”

Bruer says one of the reasons he has so many Link-Belt shovels right now is because of their fuel economy.

What wasn’t easy, he says, was being able to go out and find experienced loggers who were willing to share with him the tricks of the trade from a business standpoint. For that he had to look to his own natural skills and to his upbringing.

“My father was a very frugal man,” he says. “My mom and dad both came through the Depression and WWII, so they managed things well and didn’t believe in overextending yourself.” Plus, he notes that his father was naturally gifted in mathematics and, while he can’t lay claim to the same sort of math wizardry his dad possessed, he does feel that a lot of his dad’s sense with numbers rubbed off on him.

One of the keys to Bruer's success is a well-compensated and skilled team.

Young and Impatient

Michael says he started out clearing creeks and fire trails around Sheridan, Ore. His boss eventually moved him into logging rights-of-way and running the skidder and similar duties.

“But I was young, and I wanted more,” he says, “and in those days it was pretty hard to get more. I wanted more responsibility and I could see that wasn’t going to happen for a long time. Being impatient and young, I decided between that and the pay I’d just go get a job cutting trees.”

He got what he calls his first real cutting job up by Estacada, when he was hired to buck for his older brother for the outfit he was working for. “A good old boy owned the cutting company and he was just a great guy to work for,” says Michael. “I cut about six months and decided that I’d be a contract cutter.”

Link-Belt 240 with Waratah head and a Diamond 210 swing yarder in the background.

He saved up his money and in 1989 he bought his first buncher. Soon after, he bought a second one. Within about 15 months, he owned four of them.

“The mechanized falling made sense,” he says, which is why he ramped up so quickly with equipment. But he also admits, “It didn’t make that much sense the first 30 days though. It was getting close to having to make the first payment on the first buncher and I started to think about having them take it back. But I had a friend of mine that knew a guy that had run bunchers and I requested him to come out and run the machine so I could watch him run it and work with me. He came out for about six hours and I never had any doubts from that day forward.” Michael never looked back.

Building a Business

One of the ways he financed his growing business was that back when he got started, most of the timber owners paid cutting draws. “You could get a draw every two weeks on the work you were doing,” he says. “You were only getting part of your money, but you put profits into financing your labor, financing the jobs. Then about 1983, the market just went in the tank, and that was the first time a lot of outfits were not strong enough to pay $50,000 or $100,000 out in cutting draws.”

It was about that time that he discovered what he calls a window of opportunity. When bidding on jobs, he would sometimes ask who else was also bidding, or how many other crews had put in bids. Often as not, he would hear that the one with the leading bid was also quoting a start date of two or three weeks out.

“I started to notice a real pattern develop among guys running small crews that couldn’t give the customer what they wanted,” he says. “They were trying to make the customer take what they could get. So I realized that if you need 12 cutters, then have 20. Then that way when these jobs come up, you can tell them that you can start tomorrow or the next day.”

Operators on the Link-Belt 290 and 240 work in tandem.

Investing in the Workforce

Something else he says he’s learned over the years is that while many owners continue to complain about the labor force, “Nobody stops and thinks who trains that workforce? Hello. We do. If we’re not going to spend the time and the investment to train, and invest knowing that each employee is going to screw up and cost you money, then your days are numbered in this industry.”

For Bruer Contract Logging, the key to success is having a well-trained, competitively compensated team. It’s not possible to have only superstars, but if everyone works as a team with a common goal, then at the very least you can achieve high quality and performance.

Almost 100 Machines

Since buying that first feller buncher in 1989, Bruer has gone on to purchase upwards of 100 machines, 93 of which have been brand new. “We don’t lease, we don’t rental purchase, everything is purchase. Some people buy equipment based on personality — if they like one guy better than the other they’ll buy even if it’s an inferior product. I’m just the opposite. I buy what I feel is the best product whether I like them or not. I need to do what’s best for my company.”

The crew's number one goal is to achieve high quality and performance.

“All loggers want to have their cake and eat it too,” he continues. “We all want everything if we can get it. We like horsepower and speed. We want the 10,000-hour minimum undercarriage. We want to be able to go on steeper ground. But there’s other things you have to weigh. One of the bigger things I’m looking at right now is fuel economy versus performance. That’s why I’ve got so many Linkbelt shovels right now, because they have Isuzu power plants and they get the best fuel economy I’ve found on the market.”

 

Michael Bruer runs enough equipment to fill a dealership lot. Here is just some of his current equipment:

• 2002 172 Madill yarder

• 1997 Diamond 210 swing yarder

• 1997 6140 Thunderbird swing yarder

• 2004 3800C Madill shovel

• 2004 240 Link-Belt shovel brush piler

• Two 2005 290 Link-Belts that work under their small towers

• 2004 370 Link-Belt shovel for shovel logging

• A recently-purchased 2005 300LL Komatsu for shovel logging which has the Komatsu engine in it for fuel economy

• 1997 1210B Timberjack forwarder

• 2004 1270D Timberjack harvester with a Koehring 762C head

• 2005 1410 Timberjack forwarder, 1998 2628 feller/buncher hotsaw, 2000 950 Timberjack with a 24” Koehring hotsaw

• John Deere 953

• 2001 Timberjack 608L with a 762 Koehring cut-to-length head that works under a tower

• 475EX Valmet feller-buncher with a 24” Quadco sawhead

• Two Link-Belt 240’s with 622B Waratah heads on them

• 2004 Daewoo 300 with a Pierce DeLimbinator stroke delimber

• A variety of Cats, a 2001 TD12, 1984 TD20, 1979 8220 and a 1973 TD20C and D7

TW

This page was last updated on Sunday, January 21, 2007