By Chase Warner, Wood-Mizer Contributing Author
The veteran-owned and operated MB Tree and Landscape in Sturgis, South Dakota was established in 2010 by Matt King. As the business expanded, Matt found that he could receive up to five times more profit by producing firewood and lumber instead of selling raw timber from the trees he removed. By adding these wood products to his business, the tree service has grown from one man with a pickup truck into a full scale operation with half a dozen employees providing tree removal, firewood, lumber, and seasonal services to clients throughout western South Dakota.
While being host to one of the largest motorcycle events in the world, Sturgis, South Dakota is also home to a picturesque landscape with rolling hills and is bordered by the Black Hills – a mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America into the western part of the state. Sturgis and the surrounding areas are a prime location for supplying a variety of both rural and urban timber for Matt’s tree service.
In addition to tree removal, MB Tree offers seasonal services such as landscaping and snow removal in order to allow the business to grow steadily without any gaps during the year. However, tree work accounts for the majority of the operation. Not only has Matt found success in the diversification of his services, but also by adding the necessary equipment to meet the complete range of his clients’ timber needs. “Every little bit counts,” said Matt. “For example, I have a stump grinder. There are a lot of tree services that are literally a pickup, a chainsaw, and a guy who is a rock climber so therefore they climb trees, but then they don’t have the stump grinder to go with it. In today’s world, people want a one-stop shop, so if you have it all, you’re probably going to end up with more jobs.”
Timber for the operation comes from a variety of sources including homeowners, contracting work, and nearby municipalities. “I do quite a bit of work for the city of Deadwood, the city of Spearfish, and Sturgis too,” said Matt. “Generally speaking it’s the tall tree over a house or the storm-damage tree that no one wants to tackle. The majority of trees that I deal with every day are spruce, pine, cottonwood, elm, ash, and oak.” During the early years of the tree service, Matt was paying to dispose of quality trees because he didn’t have the space or funds to store the trees he was removing. “I’d been taking trees to the dump for the longest time, I thought I should put them back to use by recycling or reusing them,” said Matt. “A lot of times, you’re paying to take the trees to the dump. If you find a place to store them over time, instead of paying to get rid of trees, you get paid to get rid of them.”
With widespread availability to timber as a tree service, Matt decided to enter the firewood business in order to add value to the trees he was removing. “The first few years I stockpiled firewood so that I would have the supply before I marketed in case the demand was too high,” said Matt. “I didn’t want my well to run dry so to speak. We started with a small 2-way wood splitter, but buying something bigger has definitely benefitted production.” After receiving multiple firewood contracts, including providing weekly bundles for a city campground, Matt decided to upgrade his 2-way splitter to a Wood-Mizer FS500 log splitter in order to increase production and meet demand.
Matt opted to go with the Wood-Mizer log splitter for a variety of reasons including higher horsepower, more splitting force, and the 5-way flat wedge option. “The Wood-Mizer is a lot taller so it’s less stress on your back and can take whatever size logs you put in there,” said Matt. “Nothing has stopped the Wood-Mizer yet, where the other splitters at 20 tons are going to stop every now and then.” With a lower investment than a firewood processor, the addition of the log splitter has already proven to be profitable for the business within the first year. “I estimate the splitter could be paid off within a year or year and a half just from what we can take on right now with the amount of employees we have,” said Matt.
With the FS500, MB Tree is averaging up to 4 cords of firewood per hour depending on variables including the number of workers he has splitting. With nearly two decades in the military, Matt says that he has learned not to do anything alone, so he usually has two people splitting logs at all times. “The first time we used the splitter, the firewood pieces went right on the ground and we were getting a lot of dirt in the wood with all the small pieces mixing in,” said Matt. “So we made some homemade wood holders to go right underneath the end of the wing trays.” Made from recycled pallets, the wood holders catch and store clean firewood directly off the log splitter. The remaining pieces are filtered out until they are sold as kindling or biodegrade and sold as mulch. “I don’t like to get rid of anything,” said Matt. “Recycle, reduce, reuse is the name of the game in today’s world.”
According to Matt, log preparation and the temperature of logs are both key factors to increasing production and efficiency. “The biggest thing is having everything pre-cut to around 16 inches long,” said Matt. “The more you have pre-cut, the more cords you’re going to make in an hour. Also, cottonwood and hardwood might tear a bit more when they’re wet, but they pop and snap when they’re frozen, which makes them easier to split.” Matt supplies firewood to homeowners, ranchers, vacation property owners, and others who need wood for heat, but he has also tapped into the food service industry for people cooking with certain species of wood. “My plan is to always keep our firewood pile high because not only have we been supporting homeowners, there’s been a demand for wood heat ovens, pizza places and bar-b-que smokers,” said Matt.
Although Matt’s primary focus is firewood, he recently added a Wood-Mizer LT35 portable sawmill in order to offer lumber products in the near future. “The sawmill is a plan in motion right now,” said Matt. “I know there’s a market out there, but one thing I was told from other sawyers around here is that sometimes you don’t want to market yourself until you’re fully ready.” While easing his way into the lumber business, Matt has been setting aside some choice logs including blue stain pine and beetle kill pine. These wood types are popular for artisans and woodworkers due to the unique discoloration and wide array of color characteristics.
When working with tree services, a challenge often facing sawmill owners is receiving quality logs in appropriate sawing lengths. As a tree service, Matt has the ability to determine the tree quality and conditions before felling it which gives him the opportunity to select logs for their intended use. “I’ve had a ton of oak that I’d love to leave ten feet long or longer,” said Matt. “You find a lot of oak between houses, in backyards, or near fences where it’s physically impossible to remove in a long enough length for the sawmill. But I can take them out in one or two foot pieces and have them already prepped for firewood.”
With the ability to selectively cut to the proper dimensions when felling, Matt controls the entire process from standing timber to final lumber or firewood product. “If I’m selling a raw log, I could get maybe $50,” said Matt. “But if I take the time to prep and split it, therefore that log starts adding value to around $100 per cord. If you mill it, you’re talking about $300, so milling is going to be your best route. The reason I’m focusing on firewood right now is because that’s my biggest demand.” Through the addition of value-added wood products including firewood and lumber, MB Tree and Landscape has increased profitability for the business.
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