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A J Forest Products Offers Boutique Style Western Red Cedar

Garibaldi Highlands, BC—AJ Forest Products (AJF), based here, is situated on 10 acres of paved property and is described by its sales manager Jason Mann as a “boutique sawmill, which requires a higher standard of Western Red Cedar log for its renowned timbers.” Mann said, “We are recognized globally as a benchmark of Cedar timbers; AJF’s brand represents excellence to attract the most distinguished customer.”

Mann attributes the company’s success to relationships with their distributors, customers and employees. “Our relationships are a testament to our business integrity,” he explained. “When our distributors see success, we see success. We don’t just represent our investors—the AJF team represents all of our employees and their families that they go home to everyday.”

A division of Probyn Group, AJ Forest Products operates one shift with approximately 35 employees. “We have found that sticking with one shift and putting a lot of focus into quality production, we get better results than running two shifts,” said Mann. “A key component to our operation is that we have highly trained and qualified people at each post operating our mill. These people are the success behind us in terms of making our Cedar the most popular brand in the U.S.”

Probyn Log Ltd., based in New Westminster, BC, serves as the logging division. Mann offered, “Probyn being one of the largest independent logging operations on the coast is a vital component of AJ Forest Products. We consider Probyn to be the engine behind AJ Forest Products, because we procure a highly specialized log that is suited better for AJ’s ‘boutique style’. All Cedar is not the same and all logs are definitely not the same. Probyn does multiple sorts to make sure that our logs are merchandized for premium timbers. Once they are received on our end, we do another sort, essentially dissecting every log before it goes into the mill. A log that may be best for 12x12 is not necessarily the most suited log for manufacturing 6x6. Since our log yard is paved and we don’t have to cut 200,000 board feet per day, we have the opportunity to inspect our logs and select the desired and required size that we want        on the back end.”

Currently the company is producing 70-80,000 board feet per day. “Ten or twelve years ago we started cutting 10 to 15,000 board feet per day,” Mann explained. “Since then we’ve expanded and installed a brand new carriage, developed a strategic distribution plan, twinned the back end of the mill and allowed space for a bigger log yard. Ninety-five percent of our inventory that is branded AJ Appearance is a maximum of five days old by the time it gets on a rail car. Once the product gets to a distributor they have time to yard it and inventory it, instead of them receiving a product that is already six months old before it ships.”

When asked about the things that truly set AJF apart, Mann said, “We actually sort all of our timber by hand. We’re not throwing them through transfer chains and up on decks. They are getting hand-piled in the yard and manufactured in a true Western Red Cedar mill. This process minimizes iron stain and damage from automated handling. Overall it allows the merchandising process to go much smoother.”

He continued, “One of the biggest compliments we get about our merchandising is about our packaging—it is some of the best in our industry. We package each unit like we’re gift-wrapping a present. It was my strongest feeling when I came to AJ Forest Products, that we have a fantastic product and we should wrap it with pride before it’s delivered to the customer. We want people to open the package and say ‘wow’. That is a key factor for us. A large benefit to hand packaging is that we’re shipping to places that might have much different weather elements. You’ll get rail cars that go through areas with extreme wind storms and rain, etc., when the rail cars get there our packages are still perfect. We apply additional staples and time to insure that when the package arrives at final destination it’s the same as when it left.”

AJF’s primary focus is in the U.S., although 15 to 18 percent of production is marketed through Probyn Export, located in New Westminster. “We don’t get involved in export markets because that would take away from our main focus, which is the premium timber. We can tell our customers that this is our main concentration. We’re not trying to do 100 different things and that allows us to offer the finest timber in the market

“A good portion of the secret of our success here at AJ Forest is our log yard. It gives us the ability to slow the process down and instead of throwing in mass volume of cubic meters in and see what comes out, we are intelligently sawing every single day. The ability to not have to run 150,000 board feet a day to break our overhead is a great benefit.”

Mann indicated the response from their customers as to how AJF operates has been incredible. “The feedback from our customers is that our set up is the future of sawmilling. Log supply is steady, but a lot of characteristics have changed in log sizes and we don’t necessarily need these massive sawmills that cut 200,000 or 300,000 board feet every morning. I believe we’ll see more mills like AJF popping up in Canada and the U.S., which will target more what the customer wants, giving options for a rustic look in Western Red Cedar, or a contemporary finish. You really can get that more from a boutique-style sawmill like us.”

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