057 Building an Urban Lumber Company with Ponderosa Millworks

HOW THE BUSINESS STARTED

Today we’re talking with Michael Veneziano from Ponderosa Millworks! They are located in Oakland, right across the bay from San Francisco. At seventeen, Michael was busy landscaping when a tree service worker came up to him and asked for his help “wrangling” some trees. The worker turned out to be from Ponderosa Tree Service, and in 1991, Michael bought the company. After 35 years in the tree service, Michael retired last year.

PONDEROSA MILLWORKS

When he sold his tree service last year, he left a clause in the contract that he would continue to receive all of the logs. With an endless supply of slabs, Michael finds his niche in this area. Coming in faster than he can mill and sell, he mostly sells slabs in his showroom, showcasing hundreds of slabs all on display. Architects and designers bring in their client to peruse and purchase the wood.

PARK COMMISSIONER EXPERIENCE

For many years, Michael also worked a volunteer position as a park commissioner. In this position, he was able to involve himself in community projects like gardening, tree service, and mentoring youth.

As part of his work as the park commissioner, he was able to help create policies that changed the way that trees are maintained, not just clearing them in ways that lead to problems in the long-run.

FINDING THE CONNECTION BETWEEN TREE SERVICE AND MILLING

Michael sees tree service and sawmilling as industries that go hand in hand. Throughout most of his tree service years, he didn’t see much of a connection aside from saving money until the person that he was selling the logs to retired and asked him if he wanted to run his sawmill. After working the mill, Michael wished he had been doing it for much longer.

This is where and when he finally realized the connection. His tree service experience helped him to know exactly how he should cut and handle trees in a way that would preserve them and allow them to be milled.

CUSTOMERS

In the beginning, it was mostly weekend warriors coming in- people with varying levels of experience. Now though, it’s evolving into architects and designers bringing in their clients to select their own wood. With six full-time employees at the sawmill, they stay busy.

CHALLENGES

Going from the tree service to running a sawmill, Michael finds the ebb and flow of the business sometimes hard to grapple with. Keeping the right amount of employees on staff during the right season can be difficult.

Mostly though, he finds the questions from customers to be the most challenging! Maintaining his customer service positivity and not growing tired of explaining the cost of slabs and how they are measured can be a test!

ADVICE

If you’re looking to make the switch from Tree Service to Milling, it’s an amazing career transition. However, you need to have the ability to bridge the financial gap. There is a sizable investment to drying slabs, so it takes time and money to get started. Also, make sure that you do your homework and that there’s not another business in your area already taking up the oxygen.

Additionally, look inwardly. Is customer service something that you’re interested in?  Many sawyers love working with the wood but hate selling it. Make sure sales is something that you’re ready to be heavily involved in.

LINKS MENTIONED

Instagram: @ponderosamillworks

Website: ponderosamillworks.com

 

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