Toronto-area grinding firm grows while keeping it (very) local


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There's no arguing that Justice Veldman's age belies his experience. At 27, he already has more than a decade's worth of success heading up various businesses including firms that specialize in site maintenance, a nursery, a soil mix and compost operation, and more. His latest endeavor, operating under the banner of Couse Corporation - founded by his now-retired partner, Pete Couse - is a grinding and mulch recycling operation. Located in Tillsonburg, Ont., about 130 km southwest of Toronto, that business has reaped the benefits of excellent planning and solid equipment performance to make impressive inroads in mulch processing and sale after only one year's efforts. Think that's impressive? Consider that they've done it all while working within a 15-minute radius around Tillsonburg, and those achievements boggle the mind.

A Natural Progression
Couse's grinding operation was an outgrowth - and a perfectly sensible one - of their soil mix operation. According to Darwin Van Wynsberghe, the firm's equipment manager and operator, Pete Couse spent years developing contacts through the soils business that allowed them to add grinding to its list of capabilities.

'Pete was very active in promoting and developing business throughout this area,' he says. 'So, while he was growing the soils operation - which included supplying wholesale and retail operations with soil mixes, triple mixes, compost, manure, and so on - he was also establishing relationships and looking into additional opportunities to grow the business.'

That ongoing effort to cultivate new business leads, eventually led to a deal with local sawmill operator Townsend Lumber and the purchase of its first grinder a Model 4600XL Horizontal Grinder from Morbark, Inc. (Winn, MI).

Stressful in Springtime
The deal mentioned above involves taking waste wood material - trimmings, overruns, rejects, etc. - from Townsend's sawmill and flooring operation, grinding it and turning it into a usable product. The mill had already been steady customer for Couse, providing sawdust for use as a soil additive. Until that time, however, it had simply been stockpiling its scraps and waste material. Couse's acquisition of the Morbark Model 4600XL, served to benefit all parties involved.

'This was an excellent chance for Couse Corp. to get its grinding business off the ground and a perfect opportunity for Townsend to rid itself of a steadily-growing headache in stockpiled wood debris. As it would turn out, working with Justice on the grinder acquisition was Couse's final contribution before his retirement from the business. It was, however, a significant one and Justice, as with all his business efforts, quickly built on it.'

Since mulch is the sole by-product of the grinding operation, Van Wynsberghe says that spring is generally the Couse's busiest season, with the demand for that product at its peak. During March, April, and often into May, it is not uncommon for their people to put in 80 hour work weeks.

'It's a challenge, but you have to strike, as they say, while the iron is hot,' he says. 'In seeking out a grinder, Pete and Justice did their research and, as a result, chose a unit that can stand up to that kind of steady, heavy use. The Morbark is a solid reliable performer for us.'

They Can, With IQAN
The Model 4600XL grinder in place at Couse's Tillsonburg site, one of the most aggressive units in Morbark's mid-size line, features a 117 cm X 152 cm infeed opening with a 10.24 cubic meter infeed hopper for excellent production rates. Powered by a 760 HP CAT engine, Van Wynsberghe says the unit has been impressive in its first year of service with the company.

'For normal mulch production, we have 1 1/2-inch screens installed and are still able to get up to 1,800 yards through the machine on a busy 12-hour day. There are a number of nice features built in to the grinder including an excellent discharge system and a hearty hammermill. But we really like the IQAN System which monitors our feed rates and pressures and adjusts the yoke speed, chain speed, etc., to give us the best possible level of efficiency, even as we change material sizes.

Location, Location, Location
While the grinder's contribution to the effort is invaluable, Couse's operation also benefits greatly from its location, directly across the road from Townsend's mill. It's truly a cooperative effort - Townsend owns the property on which the processing is done and, as mentioned, Couse is providing a service which relieves the mill of its waste.

'For years we were taking in sawdust from Townsend and using it in the soils operation; now we've broadened that approach and targeted more of their material for another end-use. On any given day we will take in eight to ten 120-yard walking floor trailers full of material, stockpile it and grind it into a high quality mulch product. Once processed it is sent to a separate location again - only 15 minutes from here - where it is colorized, bagged and sold to some of the area's biggest-name home improvement and chain retail stores.'

Their close proximity to both the sawmill and their mulch customers allows Couse to keep transportation costs down, thereby improving overall efficiency.

'We are not in a heavily-populated area of Ontario so we really have to maximize our efforts, and the way we have the operation set up right now allows us to do that.

Looking in New Directions
While the majority of work Couse does is within that key 15-20 minute radius around their site, the company has begun to tackle other projects to bolster its bottom line.

'We recently did a couple of land clearing jobs within a couple hours of here in which the power - and value - of our grinder became evident,' says Van Wynsberghe. One was on the north shore of Lake Erie and one was for a chemical company in Sarnia. It was our first real opportunity to see what the grinder could do in that type of setting and we were very impressed - we were able to throw a whole tree top into the hopper and it didn't even hesitate. Mind you, these weren't massive jobs but they were a nice chance to take the operation in a different direction and to see what the equipment could do. In a couple days, we processed about 2,000 yards at the Lake Erie job and it's tough to say what we did for volume at the Sarnia job. We were only in there for a day, and as fast as we could grind it they were hauling it off.'

Van Wynsberghe says they are also looking at the possibility of taking on municipal grinding opportunities: situations in which a city or village will need someone to come in and do a yearly grinding of their stockpiled wood and green waste. Having the right equipment in place to tackle those types of jobs has undoubtedly opened new doors for the fledgeling company.

'In fact, I am going to meet with a nearby pallet manufacturer who is looking to get rid of three trailer loads of scrap pallet wood every day. As luck would have it, we have a number of customers in that area already, so this would allow us to have back hauls, again, maximizing our transportation dollars. It's ironic that I've been driving past this pallet company for four years now and almost every time I've thought: 'I should call on them; they probably have a bit of waste wood to get rid of.' Turns out they have more than a bit and we're excited for what might lie ahead.'

The bottom line, he adds, is that with the grinder, Couse now has a capability they never had in the past and it is one that is as aggressive as they are.

'A couple weeks ago we got a call from a customer asking for 1,000 yards 'yesterday.' We stepped up to the plate and had it for them by the end of business that day. It's nice to have the equipment like the Morbark 4600XL to provide that level of service.'

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