Standardizing grinder line helps Richmond firm reduce costs

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Wood waste processors, like most professionals, are experts at adapting to changing times, conditions or economics. That change will, of course, vary according to the situation at hand: if the issue is transportation-related, they will work to shorten routes or find more fuel-efficient vehicles; if the issue is cost, they will find a way to do things more efficiently; and so on. For Grind-All Wood Waste Recycling, a Virginia producer of soils, mulches and other wood waste products, steadily-growing costs for parts and service, coupled with increasing fuel costs, prompted a need to re-think their entire grinding operation. When all was said and done, the Mosely, VA-based firm had standardized its fleet of grinders to a single manufacturer — a move that has yielded impressive annual savings.

Continual Evolution
Grind-All has been in existence —in one form or another — since 1992. Originally owned by Paul Robins, and operated under the name East Coast Wood Recycling, the company was solely focused on selling wood products at the wholesale level. Three years later Robins joined forces with Robbie Urbine whose expertise in retail sales allowed the company to open its first retail outlet for wood products. According to Robins, additional sites and further growth continued until 2000 when a blower division was added and another major partner was added.

“When Bill Stinson, who was already a notable player in wood waste grinding, came on board, we adopted the name of his company, Grind-All to the manufacturing side of the business, and renamed the retail and marketing side Yard Works. That’s where we stand today, with two dedicated Yard Works locations, two dedicated recycling centers and one site at which we do both. It has really taken off more than even we ever imagined.”

Robins’ level of surprise is understandable. Despite those somewhat humble beginnings, the firm as its exists today grinds in excess of 700,000 yards per year — mostly material taken in from area municipalities.

“We do some offsite contract grinding, but the bulk of the material we take in is the result of a contract we have with the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority. In that agreement we handle the yard waste recycling programs of different municipalities around the metro Richmond area. It addresses a waste disposal problem for the smaller towns without them having to incur the capital expense of purchasing and maintaining a grinder. We, in turn, get the material we need to create wood waste products; it’s worked out well for everyone.”

All About Standardization
Like many other wood waste processors at work today, Grind-All had a number of different makes and models of grinders in its fleet — in their case, machines acquired both through the mergers and purchased afterward. In the course of reviewing expenditures for operation and upkeep, says Robins, the firm had something of an epiphany.

“A number of things came to the forefront during that review,” he says. “First, we realized that we could really benefit from rotating our grinders out every four years or so to minimize excessive hours-related maintenance costs. We also saw that the newer grinders Morbark was manufacturing allowed us to get better production rates, an increase that could minimize the sting of the steadily rising fuel costs everyone is feeling.”

In addition to those factors, Robins and others at Grind-All saw an opportunity to standardize their line of grinders — a move which they saw could provide previously unseen benefits.

“Having a single line of grinders at work meant we could easily cross-train our operators to work every machine in our fleet. More importantly, however, it could save us a significant amount in parts costs. Morbark immediately got our attention because they have a parts store right here in Richmond. The other line of grinders we were using had no local parts representation; any parts issues had to be handled either though prolonged downtime or high overnight shipping costs — neither one an attractive option. We chose to go with all Morbark grinders and estimate that by doing so we are saving anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 per year on shipping costs alone.”

Today’s Lineup
Grind-All’s grinding fleet today consists of a pair of Morbark 1300 tub grinders and a pair of Model 6600 Wood Hog horizontal grinders, also from Morbark, with additional purchases being considered.

“For many of us, our affiliation with Morbark stretches back to the early 1990s when we used some of the first units they manufactured. We feel they’ve grown to where they are today by listening to what their customers have to say and acting upon it. They are a strong ally to have in this business: their units are powerful and reliable, they offer great parts availability, and their manufacturing facility is state-of-the-art. But what really separates them from the others, is the level of support they offer; you just can’t overemphasize that. Our Morbark salesman is locally-based, so he is very accessible and able to get things done quickly which is what you need in this business. In addition, he was once a mechanic, so he knows those machines better than most. In the event we have a problem, he has far better insight into what could be wrong. All these factors weighed into our decision.”

The Model 6600 horizontal units, recent additions to the fleet, are not track-mounted, says Robins, but a track-mounted unit is being closely looked at.

“Morbark just introduced its 4600XL — a redesigned track-mounted unit that is one size down from the 6600 — and a unit like that could be a good fit for us in onsite applications where mobility is key. We could also easily windrow with it and that could be another plus. We’re definitely intrigued by that unit.”

Grind-All’s Growth Strategy
Grind-All’s ability to become the go-to source for wood products in the Richmond area is the result of its ability to respond to the needs of its markets. What was once a fairly limited product offering, has today expanded to include mulches in a variety of grades, blends and colors; playground material, topsoil; turf mixes, and more.

“The colored mulch product has really taken off for us,” says Robins. “We’ve seen those sales double each of the last three years, and today colored mulch is 25-30% of our overall sales. That’s an amazing increase in demand.”

The company has also expanded its blower division and has broadened its scope to include a strategic partnership with a company called Filtrexx International, LLC (Grafton, OH).

“While the wood products are literally our bread and butter, the Filtrexx products allow us to get into some of the most innovative applications imaginable. For erosion control and filtration applications, they utilize a blend of our compostable material in a ‘sock’ which then, depending on the use, either stops the erosion situation, promotes vegetative growth or traps sediments by acting as a filter. We are also able to blow the compost-based material onto Filtrexx Compost Blankets which can stave off or prevent erosion on slopes. All of these have really generated a good deal of interest from both private contractors and highway departments alike.”

According to Robins, Grind-All’s culture relies heavily on equal parts hard work, good people and solid business decisions. And it’s paid off nicely: where they once had to seek markets for their products, they are now able to utilize every bit of what they take in on an annual basis, with continued growth on the horizon.

“We’ve worked hard to get to where we are today and a lot of that success is a result of the decisions we’ve made on products, markets and equipment. That extends to the grinders as well. When we looked at the numbers, standardizing to an all-Morbark line made perfect sense from an operational, logistical and production standpoint. And the numbers bear that out every day.”

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