Success Stories

Father and Son Supply Niche Markets with Custom Wood Products

Father and Son Supply Niche Markets with Custom Wood Products

A quiet revolution demonstrated by businesses like Creative Inventory has changed the face of the world’s forest products industry in recent decades. In Orting, Washington, a handful of miles south of Seattle, Steve and Scott Fenimore operate a professionally managed and marketed custom wood products operation. Creative Inventory utilizes the attributes provided by thin kerf, portable, band sawmill technology to serve unique niche markets with sustainably-made products that the traditional wood products industry cannot economically provide.   



The first practical, production thin kerf portable mills were brought to market by Wood-Mizer just 35 years ago. Forest industry opinion makers of the time initially perceived the mills as being little more than an advanced tool for do-it-yourselfers or hobbyists but entrepreneurially minded businessmen and women quickly figured out the mills offered an exceptionally low-cost way to establish and build viable, locally based, business enterprises based on sustainable use of the forest resource. Throughout those 35 years, the portable band sawmill side of the forest products industry has seen almost logarithmic expansion even in the face of general timber industry contraction. In recent decades, tens of thousands of portable sawmill based businesses have been founded and have prospered. 



Creative Inventory is owned by the father and son team of Steve and Scott Fenimore.  “In the year 2000, a friend of ours had a home-made saw mill that he brought over to show us,” Steve explains. “Ever since then we’ve been hooked.”

Like many portable band sawmill owners, both Steve and Scott have held full time jobs while they’ve established their business. Scott works at Toyota lift NW as a diesel mechanic, and Steve is a millwright for Georgia Pacific Gypsum. Also like many portable owners the two men look to their mills as post retirement self employment.  “We go straight to the saw mill after work, then on the weekends you can find us at the mill for most of the day,” Steve explains.



While holding full time jobs allowing them not to be dependent on their mill’s income, neither Steve nor Scott are casual about their business. Looking to the future the two approach the marketplace with a businesslike approach that’s coming to typify today’s new breed of professional portable sawmill operators.  

Creative Inventory’s approach is based on the understanding that dozens of niche markets hungry for product are available to a portable sawmill business today.  They’ve approached those markets in a measured way calculated to assure a solid business foundation today, with significant opportunities for expansion tomorrow.   



As a first step in building that foundation a relationship with a single customer requiring a quality product on a regular basis has been established.  The customer purchases enough, according to Steve, to “cover operating costs.”

A second important income stream for Creative Inventory is, not surprisingly, portable custom sawmilling. “Traveling to customer’s houses or land and milling their logs is convenient to the customer because most of the time they don’t have to have a way to bring their logs to us,” he says. “It works out for us, because its fun, and we’re advertising while we’re pulling the mill down the road.”

Third, Scott and Steve also explore and serve the various niche markets available to them. “Lots of people are into the do-it-yourself side of things today,” Scott remarks.  They would rather build their own items than purchase a finished product.”  Others, Scott continues, want specialty products but want them finished and ready to go. “That works out great for us because we do both! Live edge slab are big.  We sell a lot of them but we also make products for sale. During the spring/summer picnic tables and benches are the largest sellers.  Other products include, “…wedding decor, arbors, bar tops, wood rounds etc.”  

According to Steve the breadth of product requires a plentiful supply of lumber and other wood products be kept on hand because one never knows what a customer might request.  Pointing out the firm’s name, “Creative Inventory,” Steve comments, “Without a whole bunch of wood sitting around you can’t be creative. People would come over before this business was built and ask, ‘What is that stack of wood for, what is this?’ The answer was always, ‘Its just creative inventory.”’  Even scrap wood is put to creative use; a line of unique wood and vinyl signs has become a big seller.



Marketing is the third initiative Steve and Scott have concentrated on as they’ve professionalized their approach to business.  Scott recently competed an online marketing class by Steve Larosiliere at Sawmill Business for mill owners and is putting his knowledge to work on an almost daily basis. “Social media is huge for us, we get a lot of interest from it,” Scott reports.  Shared posts are especially beneficial because they expose the business to people who may never have heard of a portable sawmill business before.  “We try to make a social media post every time our saw is running or when we have new customers or are working on a new item.”  

Shows have proven to be important marketing tools for Creative Inventory because of the exposure an event can offer.  “We were very fortunate to get in contact with a group of great chainsaw carvers that we attend shows with,” Steve says.  “We mill slabs for benches and relief carvings for the chainsaw carvers. Going to shows is extremely important for the building aspect of our business. They are profitable and are a form of advertising in the long run because of all the networking that we do at the shows.”



Looking to the future, Steve and Scott see expansion of the business on the horizon that they are planning for today.  A Wood-Mizer twin blade edger and a resaw attachment allow for optimized production levels of Creative Inventory’s LT40 Hydraulic sawmill. “Those accessories improve the productivity of the operation immensely,” Steve reports.  “Recently Scott and I were able to use our resaw attachment to cut 300 fence boards in 1 hour. To put it into perspective, without the resaw that would have taken us about 3 hours.”

The creation of, and on-going success of professionally managed and operated firms like Orting’s Creative Inventory truly has changed, and is continuing to change, the face of the world’s forest products industry in the 21st Century.  Not only do individual proprietors like Steve and Scott Fenimore benefit, society as a whole benefits as truly sustainable use of the forest resource has come to the woods in the form of a sawmill pulled behind a pickup truck driven by a dedicated small business owners. 

 

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