Need for better control fuels Carolina firm`s growth

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Don't let the friendly demeanor, amicable personality and warm handshake fool you: Brett Henry has a keen eye for business and a willingness to act on it. The president and owner of W.B. Henry Contracting recognizes an opportunity from a long way off, knows how to grow his business, and appreciates what equipment will serve him best in doing so. As a result, his company is one of the busiest contract landclearing/grinding companies in the tri-county area around Charleston, SC, and, given the area's current rate of development, is poised for even more growth in years to come.

Eye to the Future
A native of Orlando, FL, Brett Henry looked northward in 1989, liked what he saw, and relocated to the Summerville area northwest of Charleston. What he saw nearly twenty years ago, was a huge potential for growth.

'It struck me that, with all the forested land this area had to offer, it would be an ideal target for future development. It was also obvious that there would be companies needed to clear that land for construction - why shouldn't I be one of those companies? So I made the move, starting out as a landscaper, but seeing where the real chance for growth was, later acquiring some equipment to begin a clearing operation.'

Henry's landclearing operation - modest at first - grew, both as a result of cleanup efforts from Hurricane Hugo and as development in the area skyrocketed in the mid- to late'90s. Fairly satisfied with what he had set in place, circumstances were about to force Henry to make another change in his business model.

Banned From the Burn
Up until the late 1990s, most landclearing professionals in South Carolina and other parts of the South were free to burn the debris they had cleared. For them, it was simply the most efficient, economical means of disposing of that problematic material. All that changed with the introduction of the South Carolina Pollution Control Act of 1998.

'The Act states that material cannot be burned within 1,000 feet of an existing roadway or structure,' says Henry. 'I won't deny that, at the time, I thought it was a real pain. However, I now see that it was probably necessary and it definitely forced us to look at an alternative method of disposal. It became apparent that grinding was the answer and, based on some knowledge of grinders, contacted Morbark (Morbark, Inc., Winn, MI).'

Henry says his decision to go with a Morbark grinder was based in part on dealings with a colleague in the landclearing business. 'We actually subcontracted to a friend's company to do some grinding for us on several projects and had a chance to see his tub grinder at work. He had nothing but positive things to say, both about both the grinder and how great the company was for support. That was all I needed.'

New Opportunities
Henry purchased a Morbark Model 1300 tub grinder in 1999 and says it was the single piece of equipment most responsible for the company's upturn in business during that time.

'We were finally able to take on projects that, in the past, were out of reach for our capabilities,' he says. 'And, because we had a serious grinding capability, we were now able to better control our own destiny, ensure deadlines were met, and so on. In the past, we were at the mercy of subcontractors whose priorities were sometimes not the same as ours. It was such a major turnaround for us that we acquired a second grinder, a Morbark Model 5600 Wood Hog, in 2002, and have been adding to our fleet since then.'

Today, W.B. Henry's grinding operation tackles a broad range of projects, from those as small as one-acre all the way up to massive landclearing jobs for major developments and occasional government projects.

'In 2002, shortly after we got the Model 5600, we did a project clearing 364 acres at the Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station between Charleston and Savannah. That's probably the largest one we've done but the point is: we can do it all. In 2004, I traded in the 5600 to upsize my grinding capabilities, and currently have a pair of Morbark Model 7600 Boss Hog horizontal grinders, as well as the Model 1300 tub. Each type of grinder has its own strengths: the horizontals are just grinding beasts that will give us the best production rates possible and allow a one-man operation. When we have large stumps, however, I'll bring in the tub. When we did the Marine Base, we encountered Live Oak stumps that were larger than the average SUV; it took two track hoes to pick some of them up. Yet the Model 1300 took them like nothing; they are just amazing machines.'

To Market, to Market
Without a legitimate market for the ground up material, W.B. Henry's grinding operation would be an exercise in futility. In true fashion, Henry not only established a relationship with one of the area's biggest users of mulch product, he took that a step farther.

'The material we grind is sold to an area paper mill for boiler fuel,' he says. 'Initially, we worked hard to get our product as clean as possible to meet their specs, but, despite all the extra work we put into it, we were still getting only the basic tonnage rate. So last year we added a trommel and started screening the material prior to shipment.'

According to Henry, the result of that extra effort - and extra investment - has been a contract that says his customer will take as much material as Henry can generate; there is no cap on his production. 'We spent a quarter million dollars on a screen and a track hoe but it was money well spent,' he adds.

Recovering Lost Revenue
By now it's obvious that, when Brett Henry identifies something that needs changing, he changes it. The most recent example of that occurred in late 2003 when, after regularly subcontracting out the logging facet of his clearing operations, he decided to bring that operation in-house.

'I did a 45-acre site and got $95,000 of timber off that tract, making me realize how much I had given away over the years. So after acquiring some equipment - a couple of John Deere skidders and saw machines, a Prentice log loader, among others - I added logging to my résumé and it's really paid off. In addition to having better control from a scheduling standpoint, it's become a whole new profit center for us.'

How profitable? Henry says he did about $850,000 in timber sales last year alone. That ability to streamline his operation, coupled with a reliance on quality equipment and a skilled workforce, has enabled him to grow his business to better than $4 million in annual revenue.

'I enjoy what I do and surround myself with some of the best workers in the business,' he says. 'That, and the fact that equipment like the Morbark grinders perform day in and day out with little risk of downtime, makes it really easy for someone like me to look good.'

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