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The Williams siblings, and their family of companies, are the 2018 Timber Harvesting Logging Business of the Year.
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The Williams family, Elaine and Theo Williams, front; from left, behind, Susan Williams, Tim Williams, Martha W. Sanders, Reg Williams and Deanna Williams.
t five years old Tim Williams was the boss of the family’s peach field in Edgefield, SC, his sister Martha Sanders says with a laugh. She then points to her other brother, Reg, saying that by five he was telling a mechanic how to fix something. Fast forward a few years (okay, decades…) and those leadership skills from Tim and Reg, supported by Martha’s talents have grown their father’s logging operation to a family of companies that includes a timber procurement company employing 20 harvesting crews, 10 of which are Log Creek’s company crews, a trucking company with 40 power units with a dedicated dispatch
and logistical staff, on-site NAPA Auto Parts store with a Stihl dealership and a variety of other diversified interests. Tim, Reg and Martha have been working in the family business since the 1990s. In that time the family company has grown exponentially and predominately under the radar. Each of the three handles a different aspect of the business, and just like a perfectly executed screen pass on a gridiron for the championship, they each protect each other while knowing their roles and performing them at the highest level. Tim handles daily in-woods operations and manages the procurement team. Martha handles all paperwork
and management of office staff. Reg is the self-proclaimed behind-the-scenes guy, keeping the ball moving down the field. For Martha, it just works. “Tim is grinding every day and Reg is the one that is plugged into the outside,” she says. Reg’s industry involvement includes service to the South Carolina Forestry Assn., presiding as Chairman in 2016-17. He keeps Tim and Martha abreast of changes that will affect their sizable operation in Johnston, SC. When looking at the business acumen of the Williams siblings, it’s easy to see why their companies, under the Log Creek banner, are the perfect choice to receive Timber Harvesting’s
Technology is the backbone of the Dispatch Center that Log Creek relies on to manage their fleet of trucks and mobile equipment. Foremost Authority For Professional Loggers
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2018 Logging Business of the Year award. (Log Creek is the second company from South Carolina to receive the nod from TH during the award’s 21-year history.) When notified about the award, the siblings were humbled. They immediately started pointing to their employees, saying that Log Creek would not be what it is today without them—their day-in and day-out dedication to doing their jobs to the best of their ability. “It’s too big for just us now,” Martha says. “Our employees are very supportive and defensive of all of us.” Reg adds, “The neat thing is, if you let someone try to step on the three of us, the employees will bow up.” Martha believes the employee loyalty comes from the family-oriented atmosphere. It has been difficult to maintain as the company has gone from a mom and pop small business to
a company with over 130 employees, but Log Creek has retained the sense of one big family. Log Creek hasn’t forgotten where it started.
Humble Beginnings In the early 1980s their father started logging while maintaining the family’s peach farm. At that time, the business was fairly standard—a single crew cut, skidded and loaded pine logs, their mother handled the bookwork and errand running. Tim and Reg grew up pitching in on the peach farm and watching their father work the woods crew. When Reg graduated from Clemson University with a degree in ag economics in 1992, he immediately entered the family business. After Tim’s degree in business was complete at Presbyterian College, he also returned home to log. Martha
Loader operators strive to have loads sorted and ready for trucks as soon as they return to the dock.
Each of the company crews uses a full complement of harvest equipment. 14
spent 10 years working outside of the family upon finishing her business degree at Presbyterian College, but when she got pregnant with her daughter in 1996, she realized she wanted to return to the business as well—giving her the chance to spend time with her daughter and help her mother who was, at that time, the only one doing anything office related for the company. “I came back with Rachel in a carrier and she and I started doing the errands,” Martha says. Things began to really change for the Williams family in 1997, when they formed a second crew. In 2000 they started buying their own wood; by 2007 they were operating four inwoods crews. In 2007 Reg’s wife Deanna, a professional CPA, joined full-time to take over some of Martha’s duties: payables and overseeing the general accounting, which freed up Martha to move to the timber side keeping up with paying truckers, crews, landowners and other assorted tasks. Tim’s wife Susan came into the business in 1998, spending one day per week in the office handling payroll and helping her sisters-in-law with records. Early on, the siblings realized it was difficult to keep everything under one banner company for insurance and liability. They decided to operate everything separately. Log Creek Timber Co. is the company that employs ticket processors, foresters and logging crews. Log Creek Thinning is the company that owns the in-woods equipment and also employs the logging crews. Log Creek Logging, doing business as Felix Transport, is the trucking company. Tim quips that by operating each separately it’s easy to tell which company is making money and which one isn’t. Reg’s role grew and changed as the business evolved, but he always maintained a solid involvement in the industry—something Martha says has given Log Creek an edge. Of her brother, she says, “It is the thankless part of the job, because you don’t see what he does. He’s got a crazy amount of knowledge and it helps us so much.” With an operation like Log Creek, there are a lot of moving parts and even the smallest regulation change can take a big toll. Reg’s involvement with outside groups helps Martha anticipate and prepare for upcoming changes, especially with trucking. With operating so many trucks and
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trailers, Log Creek has seen its fair share of DOT audits—and overseeing them is part of Reg’s responsibility.
Current Operations Tim and six procurement foresters buy wood and oversee the 10 company and 10 contract logging crews, and with that many pieces of moving iron it’s not always smooth sailing. Especially when it comes to getting the loads hauled. Tim says a lack of loggers in the area forced Log Creek to grow its company crews over time. “2003 was a terrible time for loggers,” he remarks. “From 2003 to 2013, we had wood orders to deliver with our timber company that we couldn’t fill because of the logging capacity.” In order to move the wood, instead of relying on more contract crews, the siblings added more of their own. Crews work mainly on properties within an 80-mile radius of the Johnston facility—though Tim says most tracts are within 50 to 60 miles. Most all of the crews are three man operations. Company crews make use of two floating skidders and two floating saw men that move as needed to get the job done. Tim believes the three-man crew with floaters set up gives Log Creek flexibility while maintaining efficiency. “You always have something you can’t get to. Instead of running short on production, we’re better off dropping a floating skidder in there and try to keep trucks rolling, so our trucks are not sitting a whole lot. When we have a crew moving, a site gets wet or for whatever reason something breaks down, we’re able to shift trucks to the other nine crews. We can divert and do other things,” Tim explains. Each crew has a dedicated foreman, and Log Creek has a “Lead Skidder” that travels between the crews. One of the Log Creek foresters approached Tim about using the best skidder driver to float to the different crews. Tim loved the idea: “Wherever he shows up, he gives us feedback on the crew: What needs to be improved and what doesn’t, because the skidder is the one that goes to the feller-buncher and the loader, so he sees the whole job over the course of a day. It’s been a big, big help.” In terms of labor in the woods, they have a strong nucleus of people that are in the 40-55 age range helping get it done. Even though Log Creek has been lucky to land a few young guys Foremost Authority For Professional Loggers
Upgrades to larger, more efficient skidders have improved production while reducing costs.
in their 20s that are good operators, the future of the industry needs a vocationally trained workforce. “The business has grown exponentially over the last few years,” Martha says. “That growth has created numerous opportunities for change in our business model.” Log Creek has added a Safety Coordinator to handle monthly safety meetings and oversee compliance. With growth, the company has added staff dedicated to the HR functions of a company this size, a fully staffed accounting department, and an administrative support staff to aid in managing the workload of the foresters and process sales, and an IT department.
“We’ve had to financially lay out a mere fortune on our trucking arm; therefore it immediately became a huge focus.”—Tim Williams “This level of staffing allows us to monitor compliance on a wide range of issues and to maintain control on income and expense data so that we can recognize trends in both our business and in the industry,” Reg says. To show gratitude for what all employees do, the siblings host a Family Fun Day every fall and an employee appreciation dinner at the end of the year. At this dinner employees’ tenures are celebrated with 5-year increment gifts. Reg notes Log Creek has one employee who’s been with them 30 years, and several 20-year veterans.
Trucking Concerns As the in-woods operation grew, the trucking side had more issues. “If you were here in the spring of last year, we would have had 20 Felix trucks running and about 30 contractor haulers,” Tim says. In the summer of 2017, the siblings decided to expand the trucking operation to 40 company owned trucks and consolidated to just 10 contract haulers. “We’ve had to financially lay out a fortune on our trucking arm; therefore, it immediately became a huge focus,” Tim notes. This is a direct reflection of the independent hauler’s insurance costs. For the last 15 years, Log Creek had a full-time dispatcher managing company trucks and assisting with contract trucks. Now, Log Creek operates 40 company trucks, with a logistical staff covering dispatching, DOT regulations and unit/driver compliance. Tim says they have been trying to work on the company’s SMS score, and have recently taken big strides in reducing it. “Log trucks are scrutinized from the woods to the gates of the mills by the public and by enforcement agencies,” Tim adds. Martha says one of the biggest challenges in operating a logging business is the trucking: “Drivers who want to stay local now have options aside from just hauling logs. We’re a decent sized timber company whose continued success depends entirely on daily deliveries to the mills who purchase our products. The competition for truckers is about to paralyze the entire timber industry.” Log Creek is within 100 miles of multiple mills. Its serves an abundance SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2018
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Without shop and support staff the entire operation would slowly grind to a halt.
Office staffing is key: admin support, accounting, human resources and safety.
Dispatching is the one piece of the puzzle that is absolutely critical.
Crew leaders, key equipment operators form the backbone of the woods crew.
of markets (see sidebar), and Tim says it was impossible there are three new markets to keep rolling under those that are slated to open reconditions. gionally within the next “That’s just one of two 12–24 months, which Tim reasons we’ve converted believes will further enback from decoupled truckhance market strategies. ing to one driver with one But Tim adds, “In another trailer they are responsible year we may well find ourselves for,” he continues. “In order unable to fill the mills’ needs. for us to keep drivers, the You can always buy a truck, but drivers do not like to get out you’ve got to have a qualified and unhook and re-hook driver sitting in the seat to operwhen it’s 100° or 20°. In ate it who can meet insurance order to improve the workstipulations and doesn’t have ing environment and hire multiple safety violations. That Foresters and wood buyers lead the way in keeping the business “in business.” more drivers, we’ve had no is what we see from an industry choice but change.” standpoint as the big puzzle to solve. In the and Pitts in the mix. Trucks typically Each truck is outfitted with Verinext 12-24 months, it will become increasstay with one trailer throughout the zon fleet management GPS, which is ingly difficult to keep the log trucks rolling day, but with mill closures and shuthow dispatch is able to monitor wood unless we are able to get more money in the downs, dispatch will reroute trucks to flow. Inside the dispatch center is equation. We’ve got to be smart as owners, the facility to drop a trailer for storage one large main monitor with four but the mills and everyone else that’s inin order to keep wood flowing. sub-monitors. Reg says it is all devolved has got to work together.” Tim says in the past he tried running signed to maximize the loaded miles Log Creek runs a combination of decoupled trucking, but it just didn’t the trucks haul within the day. Western Star and Freightliner trucks, work the way he wanted it to. He found Some trucks have scales, and some with the majority being Western Star. drivers had the bad habit of dropping do not. Tim says that when they were Most have been purchased through trailers with a brake out of adjustment, running decoupled trucking it was Shealy Truck Center in Columbia, SC. or a flat tire or a light needing to be tremendously difficult to keep the air Of the more than 70 trailers Log Creek fixed. With increased eyes on off-road scales calibrated. Now that trucks uses, most are Evans, with Big John haulers, and increased DOT regulations, and trailers are dedicated, he hopes 16
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Nuts & Bolts Production: 85% pine; 15% hardwood ● Equipment: —10 John Deere 748L Skidders —3 John Deere 748H Skidders —1 John Deere 437E Loader —6 John Deere437D Loaders —5 Tigercat 234 B Loaders —2 John Deere 843L Cutters —3 John Deere 843K Cutters —1 Tigercat 724 Cutter —4 Tigercat 720E Cutters —1 Tigercat 718E Cutter ● Dealers: Flint Equipment Co, Tidewater Equipment; Shealy Truck Center; GCR; Whitehead Tire ● Preferred Tire Brands: Firestone; Bridgestone ● Fuel consumption: 18,000 gal. of fuel per week ● Present Markets: Paper mills include Resolute-Catawba, IP-Eastover, IP-Augusta and Resolute (formerly Abitibi)-Augusta, plus GP-McCormick, Kinard Post-Ehrhardt and Enviva-Greenwood. Plywood mills include GP-Prosperity and Boise Cascade-Chester. Pine sawmills include West Fraser-Newberry, West Fraser-Augusta, GP-Prosperity, Collums Lumber-Allendale, Cameron Lumber-Cameron, The Timbermen-Camak, Pollard Lumber-Appling and King Lumber-Liberty. Hardwood sawmills include Beasley Forest Products-Hazlehurst, Battle Lumber-Wadley, Beal Lumber-Little Mountain, Clendenin Lumber-Donalds, Durham and Dunn Lumber-Pickens. Chip mills include IP-Silverstreet, IP-Hardcash, Evergreen-Kinards and Capps-Easley. Other markets include Norbord OSB-Joanna and GP OSB-Allendale, plus the pole mills of McFarland/Cascade, SC Pole and Piling and Koppers. ●
to get some continuity back to the scale systems. At this point, trucks are not outfitted with dash cams, though Reg believes that is more than likely the next step for the organization. Insurance plays a tremendous role in the day-to-day operation of the Log Creek Companies. “It’s nice to have an agent that is both knowledgeable about the industry and also a family friend,” he says of Palmetto State Agency, LLC of Lexington, SC. 18
Dual flagging and permanent trailer strobes are the latest in Log Creek’s ongoing effort to be safe.
Iron Registry Log Creek runs an assortment of iron in the woods, heavy to John Deere and Tigercat (see sidebar), and some Caterpillar and Komatsu support equipment. Each crew operates with one feller-buncher, one skidder and one loader with a delimber and buck saw. Some loaders have grapple saws.
“In the next 12-24 months, how are we going to keep the log trucks rolling if we are not able to get more money in the equation? We’ve got to be smart as owners, but the mills, everyone that’s involved has got to work together.”—Tim Williams In total, Log Creek has 13 skidders, one running full time on each crew, two floaters and one spare. Ten feller-bunchers run almost every day, with one held in reserve as a spare. If the buncher gets ahead of the crew, often the operator will jump on one of the five bulldozers and do other work. Ten of 12 loaders run full-time, with the other two being used primarily for small tracts or for replacement on crews to allow for maintenance without sacrificing production. The company also has skid steers with street sweepers and two motor graders to
build roads and do BMP work. Reg says they tend to buy more than one piece of equipment at a time, so there is continuity between makes and models. This helps the mechanics in the shop get used to working on a certain set of the same, as well as cut down on the number of parts needed. Typically equipment is rotated in a three to five year window, with bunchers and loaders running a little longer than skidders. Just like with trucking, as the logging crews grew bigger and bigger, the shop struggled to keep up. Now, five full-time mechanics and one rolling assets manager work the equipment and help with equipment purchasing decisions. “They keep our organization running,” Tim says. According to Reg, the shop manager is the only person who looks at JD Link on a daily basis. In 2014, the siblings went into the auto parts business because they saw a need. The lack of parts availability for their operation alone was frustrating, not to mention similar problems for the other area loggers and peach farmers. Now they own four NAPA locations, with one located at the facility in Johnston. There is also a Stihl power equipment dealership attached to the Johnston facility with a dedicated small engine mechanic. Along with being able to get nearly everything needed from their auto parts store, the mechanics in the shop make use of a software program called TRACS, which enables mechanics to track repairs, parts consumption and
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PM work. Both the job and part numbers are recorded just as if a dealership had done the repair, allowing Tim and Reg to go back and see what has been done to each piece. While the mechanics aren’t completely dedicated to certain repairs, they all naturally have their expertise. All work (including tires) on inwoods equipment, service trucks, pickup trucks, support equipment and log haulers are done by the five mechanics. The wash bay is open 24 hours a day, with in-woods equipment brought in and washed every two months.
Tim says. “It should be where someone could take over as the CEO and manage the wood buyers and provide quota from mills to loggers.” Martha says one of the driving forces behind putting plans in place was after a tragedy two years ago. A key employee was involved in an offduty accident on a Saturday morning and died. “So, on Monday morning, we couldn’t call him and ask him anything,” she remembers. “That changed the three of us. And it changed our
perspective. We have got a plan in place so that if one of us doesn’t come in tomorrow, we can still function. We have 130 plus employees. You can’t just not show up.” While the siblings don’t agree on everything, and refuse to function as “yes men” for each other, they do agree on this: Log Creek Timber’s roots have always been in the logging side of the business, and regardless of what happens, they love what TH they do each and every day.
Looking Forward “We could not have done what we’ve done without the support and the training our parents gave us growing up and the work ethic they showed us,” Martha says.
“It’s too big for just us now. Nothing is perfect, and you get frustrated in the day in and day out. But our employees are very supportive and defensive of all of us.” —Martha Sanders Until 2016, their mother, Elaine Williams, was in the office helping out with paperwork. “Dad (Theo Williams) is 84. While claiming retirement in 1998 he remained actively involved until 2010. You can still find him enjoying a cup of coffee in the office most mornings even today,” Martha laughs. While each of the siblings’ children are fairly young, the future of the company is not uncertain. Martha explains that while this may not seem like a mom and pop family business anymore, it is still 100% owned by the family. However, strides have been taken over the last several years to set things in motion where Log Creek and the family of companies will be able to continue regardless of death or retirement. All three siblings are very set in the decision that if their children want to return to Log Creek, they must first work for someone else for at least two to five years to gain valuable experience from outside the company business. “The timber company that is the basis of all of it, should outlive us,” Foremost Authority For Professional Loggers
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Timber Harvesting 2018 Logging Business of the Year Log Creek Timber Co.