At R.A. Miller Hardwood Co. Inc., located in North Tonawanda, New York, are Robert L. Miller, co-owner; Kevin Barnett, vice president; and Chris Miller, co-owner.
Not Even Catastrophic Fire Hinders R.A. Miller Hardwood Co. Inc.
By Terry Miller
North Tonawanda, New York—As smoke swirled from kiln No. 5 at R.A. Miller Hardwood Co. Inc. on Sept. 14, 2005, it threatened to destroy the family’s 117-year history as a leading producer of high-end hardwood lumber.
An electrical short circuit caused the fire that did, in fact, destroy the No. 5 kiln, as well as six other dry kilns, a boiler room, two wood waste boilers and a warehouse that held the company’s imported hardwood inventory. The fire’s damage totaled $2.5 million. However, the fire did not dampen the spirit of the family that generation after generation has pushed this company forward.
The Millers evaluated the situation and quickly decided to rebuild. Peers within the industry stepped up and provided the use of their equipment, such as custom dry kilns, so the Millers could continue to operate as a business while reconstruction occurred on the North Tonawanda site.
However, another setback was simultan
On Sept 14, 2005, R.A. Miller Hardwood sustained $2.5 million of damage after kiln No. 5 erupted in flames.
eously occurring as the Millers’ property burned. Far south of North Tonawanda, Hurricane Katrina swept though the Gulf Coast wreaking havoc, and subsequently, the various building contractors that the Millers planned to hire were quickly committed to reconstruction efforts along the coast.
Undaunted, the Millers pressed onward, and 11 months later began operating at full strength with new equipment that included six new SII Dry Kilns complete with the latest computer technology. Chris Miller, vice president and co-owner of Miller Hardwood, is pleased with the production of the new kilns.
“When we decided to rebuild after the fire, we decided to do so with equipment and technology that would allow us to satisfy customer requirements in regard to the ‘whiteness’ of our No. 1 and No. 2 White Hard Maple and Soft Maple. These dry kilns enable us to meet our goals,” he said.
The SII Dry Kilns are fueled by wood waste and backed up with a gas-fired boiler.
R.A. Miller Hardwood’s concentration yard is built on 8-acres of land.
Miller explained that, “We inspect all incoming green lumber before it goes on kiln sticks. Then we re-inspect the lumber as it is coming off kiln sticks after kiln drying. And finally, we inspect the lumber after it is surfaced, if surfacing is required. Additionally, we have three inspection lines and five inspectors. We take these extra measures to ensure the quality and consistency that our customers require.”
The Miller family entered the Hardwood lumber business in 1889 by Anthony Miller in Buffalo, New York. In 1969, Robert Miller, Anthony’s grandson and Chris’ father, decided to start a new distribution center in North Tonawanda, which became known as R.A. Miller Hardwood Co. Inc. Cousins Jim Murphy and Butch Maier were instrumental in the start-up of that business venture as well.
When Robert chose to retire in the late 1980s, Chris and brother Robert began managing R.A. Miller Hardwood through a well-orchestrated business succession plan. They’ve managed the company since that time as co-owners, along with their brother-in-law Kevin Barnett, company vice president, and have recently been joined at the company by Chris’ son, Clay, who represents the fifth generation of Millers involved in Hardwoods.
The concentration yard is built on an eight-acre plot of land. It includ
Clay Miller and Mike Lang handle sales for R.A. Miller Hardwood while Pat Dwyer serves the company as lumber buyer.
es a millwork operation with a Weinig and Watkin moulder, two gang ripsaws, two planers, plus the six new dry kilns capable of producing 375,000 board feet at 4/4 measure per charge.
Fifty employees—10 with 20-plus years with the company—provide the manpower necessary to produce the array of products shipped by the company. In addition to 4/4 through 16/4 White Hard Maple, the company also inventories Yellow Poplar, 4/4 through 12/4, No. 1 Common and Better; Northern Red Oak, 4/4 through 8/4, No. 2 Common and Better; Cherry, 4-16/4, No. 2 Common and Better, and Soft Maple, 4-12/4 No. 2 Common and Better. The company also inventories Basswood, 4/4 through 16/4.
Other products handled by the company include: White Ash, 4/4 through 8/4; Northern White Oak, 4/4 through 8/4; Steamed Walnut, 4/4 through 8/4; Yellow Birch, Unselected, Sap and Red.
Tropical Hardwoods marketed by the company are: Genuine Mahogany, 4/4 through 16/4; African Mahogany, 4/4 through 12/4; and Sapele, as well as Spanish Cedar.
Chris Miller noted that the company has been built on a firm understanding
Inspection Line No. 2 carefully evaluates incoming lumber. R.A. Miller Hardwood has three inspection lines and five inspectors.
that the source of green lumber is critical to success.
“We have been fortunate in that we have benefited over time from long-term relationships with our sawmills here in New York State, Ontario and Pennsylvania,” said Miller. “Some of these relationships go back as far as 40 years or more when my father did business with them.”
Miller added that such loyalty pays big dividends. “We are very proud of the fact that we work hard every day at supporting our green sawmill base,” he said, “and at the same time, we are working hard every day to provide our customers with their various proprietary grades, color, width and length requirements.”
Miller’s customer base is very diverse. “Through our distribution division, we have had success selling high-end Hardwood lumber to architectural millwork companies, moulding manufacturers, dimension companies and retail lumber yards that buy S4S lumber as well as hardwood mouldings,” said Chris. “We also have a wholesale division.”
Through its wholesale division, Miller Hardwood is capable of servicing various customers in North America and overseas who purchase straight and mixed containers of Northern Hardwoods.
Overseeing R.A. Miller’s yard are: Dave Kuna, yard manager; Keith Schuppenhauer, mill manager; Mike Williams, assistant yard manager; Ed Mlynarski, assistant yard manager; and Kevin Huff, inventory control.
The word ‘relationship’ is mentioned frequently when Chris Miller talks. That’s because “we promote relationships,” he added. “Whether it’s a relationship with our customers, employees, or lumber suppliers, our success is influenced by them. The long-standing relationships and repeat business that we have with our customers and suppliers, along with our team of employees, make us successful.”
R.A. Miller Hardwood Co. Inc. is a member of the National Hardwood Lumber Assoc., the Hardwood Distributor’s Assoc., the Penn-York Lumbermen’s Club and the Architectural Woodwork Institute.