This is an aerial view of facilities at Oaks Unlimited.
OAKS UNLIMITED Gaining Ground With Certification
By Gary Miller
Waynesville, N.C.—Located 3,000 feet above sea level in an area known for superior hardwoods, Oaks Unlimited Inc. processes these species of hardwood lumber at their concentration yard: Red and White Oak; Cherry and Tulipwood. The firm is owned and operated by Joe Pryor, whose family has been in the lumber business for more than 40 years.
Recently, the company became chain-of-custody certified and recognized by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Programme Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).
After attending an Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturer’s Assoc. (AHMI) seminar, president and fourth generation owner, Joe Pryor began the certification process for Oaks Unlimited Inc. “I was looking ahead. While the demand for certified lumber is not significant from our customers at this point, the time will come when it will be,” he said. “It’s one more service we can offer our customers, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the volume we’ve been able to ship since we started. With the demand for certified products growing, we wanted to be on the forefront.”
President and owner of Oaks Unlimited, Joe Pryor.
Exporting is handled through the ports of Charleston, S.C., and Wilmington, N.C. “We ship our lumber throughout the world, including Europe and Asia,” Pryor said. “Our customers are predominately distribution yards. Because of our packaging and consistent quality, distribution yards have always been a good market for us. The quality is consistent throughout. We take care in the detail of packaging and grading lumber strictly after kiln-drying.”
Oaks Unlimited is certified to carry all hardwood species, but their primary focus is selling Red and White Oak, Poplar and Cherry lumber in 4/4 through 8/4 thicknesses. According to Pryor, certified products do offer a premium price. “There is a reasonable premium for certified lumber. It’s another service, another market and there is an extra cost involved, having to freight it a farther distance so, there is a small premium,” he explained.
Pryor also commented that the expense was not just monetary because, “the larger expense is the time commitment. The company has to be committed from the top all the way down. You’re going to do training and make a paper trail documenting everything because you will be audited by a third party annually. This third party will review your processes and your books to assure that you are maintaining your chain-of-custody.”
A load of surfaced and ripped FAS & Better Red Oak is ready for delivery to a domestic customer.
The people at Oaks Unlimited examined the certification process and determined it was a beneficial expense. “We are excited and committed to following through and doing it properly. While there is not a fee to join FSC, there is an expense to have your processes in place. We set up our own certification filing system with layers of documentation that we’re committed to do accurately so we will be prepared when the auditor comes by my operation,” Pryor said.
As far as sourcing FSC certified lumber, Pryor mentioned his company has had to obtain the certified lumber from firms located further north, “simply because there seems to be more FSC timberland available in that area of the country,” he explained. “I’ve been pleased with the quality of the certified lumber and its availability and I believe it’s going to get more prevalent as time goes on.”
Oaks Unlimited is situated on 10 acres of land. The company has six dry kilns with 300,000 board foot capacity, three air-drying sheds and two enclosed warehouses. The firm keeps an inventory of approximately 2 million board feet at its facilities at all times. Pryor said, “About 60 percent of our lumber is exported and the other 40 is sold in the domestic market.” His operation also has a planer, straight-line ripsaw, a Weinig moulder and an end matcher. They recently completed construction of a new office building and a 13,500 square foot warehouse.
Henry Ledford grades lumber at Oaks Unlimited’s green inspection and stacking chain.
Pryor also mentioned that Oaks Unlimited doesn’t venture into the retail market. “We don’t compete with our distribution yard customers; we focus on supplying them,” he said.
Pryor’s workday seems to always be full. Taking the lead from his father, who ran a sawmill and a stave mill in Marshville, N.C. for 36 years, his goal is “to be a customer-focused company that supplies the highest quality wood products to partners worldwide.”
Key personnel at Oaks Unlimited include: Trent Thomas, vice president; and Mark Taylor, export sales manager. Both Pryor and Taylor travel overseas at separate times ensuring one of them is available at the company headquarters at all times.
“Trent Thomas is acting controller. He handles accounting and our computer systems, and he developed a lot of our software. Sabrina Browning and Tina Parker are office administration people that support him,” Pryor said.
A pack of White Oak passes in front of the company’s SII Dry Kilns, heading for the new warehouse.
Of the company’s 25 employees, the lumber salesmen include: Joe Pryor, Mark Taylor, Doyle Hyde, Monty Minton, John Oakes, David Dickson, Brett Dively and Ray Shepard. Shepard is also in charge of green lumber buying and Ricky Parton is the lumberyard manager.
Oaks Unlimited Inc. offers straight and mixed loads for the domestic markets, is experienced in the export preparation of lumber.