Firewood Supply Business
Unpredictable fuel costs and the necessity of
keeping warm in the winter have resulted in "boom sales"
for manufacturers of wood-burning stoves. There has also been
a return to the use of the fireplace as a form of supplementary
heat and as a luxury that promotes the "cozy" atmosphere
sought after by both middle class and affluent families.
This renaissance in the popularity of wood
heat, and upward spiraling sales of associated equipment,
has created a demand for firewood that's almost impossible
A very important element: This demand has caused the price
of firewood to almost double over the past several years.
Whatever the "going price" for a cord of firewood
in your area, you can expect it to increase by 20 to 30 percent
each year for the next ten years or so.
Your potential market is a varied as the weather; it is
also somewhat dependent on the weather. You'll find buyers
among apartment dwellers as well as home owners. The rich
are buying firewood perhaps more than the poor; those concerned
with the purity of the environment and the so-called "voluntary-simplicity'
folk seeking a return to the "pioneering" life are
all part of your market.
And don't think for a minute that firewood sales are limited
to the colder northern states. People living in Sunny Southern
California and along the Gulf of Mexico buy and burn firewood
for the same reasons as people living in Minnesota or Montana.
One of the secrets of success in this business is understanding
why the people in your area burn firewood. Then it's a matter
of learning when and how often they need it, and positioning
yourself to fill those needs.
It doesn't take special education or training to become
a successful firewood supplier. Just for the record, the backgrounds
of people operating businesses of this kind range from farmers
to unemployed factory workers to doctors, lawyers, real estate
salesmen and even university professors.
The kind of equipment you'll need varies according to the
type of business you want to establish, and the kind of wood
you will be supplying.
The first prerequisite to the establishment of your business
is to decide what kind of business - wholesale to retail outlets,
or retail to the general public - you want to operate.
Next, you'll have to decide on the type of firewood you
will sell. There are three major categories: l) mill ends
or sawed up scrap lumber and kindling, 2) whole logs for the
buyer to cut according to his own specifications, 3) fireplace
and stove wood, cut and split according to the general requirements
of your market area.
Your next step is to line up a source of supply. Actually,
it's best to "lock in" a number of sources of supply.
Later on, as your business develops and grows, you may want
to offer several different kinds of firewood, that is, become
a full-service dealer offering firewood to meet everyone's
needs and fancies for your area. We'll discuss different categories
of wood in demand, so that you can explore sources of supply
MILL ENDS: Your best source of supply for this type of wood
is the sawmills in your area. If you live in a metropolitan
area, take a few weekend trips to the small towns in the wooded
areas of your state. With a little bit of initiative on our
part, you should be able to discover any number of small sawmill
operations within a 200-mile radius of most metropolitan areas
in this country. What you'll want to do is buy a truckload
of mill ends,
take them home and package them into sacks of firewood. Thus,
a load of mill ends that you might buy for $50 would be broken
down into perhaps 200 sackfuls that you sell for $5 per sack.
Multiply these 200 sacks of firewood times $5 each, and you
have a gross
income of $1,000 for a load of wood costing you only $50.
You wouldn't have to be very smart to realize that's pretty
good, providing your sources of supply can keep up with the
The beauty of mill ends is that they are clean, burn easily
and fast, put out a lot of heat, and when broken down into
sackfuls are ideal for apartment dwellers, as well as people
in warmer climates needing firewood for just a few cold spells
each winter. Until you have a large full-service firewood
supply operation, it's suggested that you leave the sale of
truckload supplies of mill ends to the larger, more established
fire wood suppliers. My advice here is that you should stay
within your capabilities of supplying the buying demands of
your market, and further concentrate on selling what brings
you the greatest
profit. However, as your operation grows, the supply of truck
loads of mill end firewood is definitely worth considering.
Other sources of supply for mill end lumber will be your
local lumber yards, wood working or furniture manufacturing
firms, and home building or remodeling contractors. In many
instances, you can offer to stop by these places about once
a week and clean up the worksite by hauling away the scrap
lumber, and they'll let you have it without cost. It is possible
to even get paid for doing this. The only drawback will be
that you'll have to sort this wood, and then saw it up into
the size s you want for your bundles or sacks. This is no
big deal, because you can handle a pickup or trailer load
with a power saw in just a couple of hours.
When you have the wood ready to package into sacks, you'll
save time and in crease your profits by hiring a couple of
high school students. Contact the counselors at one of the
local high schools, explain that you need a couple of students
for part time work sacking firewood, and you'll have all the
help you need.
As for how much to pay them, establish a pay rate for 100
full sacks. Of two high school students, one would hold open
a sack while the other uses a scoop shovel to pick up the
wood and dump it into the sack. Between them, they can gather
the top of the
sack and tie it with twine. The full sacks, of course, must
be stacked on a pallet or in an area ready for selling. Check
the time it takes two good students, working at a reasonably
fast clip, to load 100 sacks. Knowing the current minimum
hourly wage rate, you can then determine the labor value of
100 loaded sacks.
For a supply of burlap bags for use in sacking your wood,
check with a farmers' feed store. If you buy in quantity,
you can get them at a very reasonable price. You can purchase
twine for tying the sacks at the same place.
WHOLE LOGS: Many people have chain saws and fancy themselves
as "do-it-yourselfers," but they don't have the
time to go out into the woods and bring back firewood. If
you can supply these people with a location not too far from
home, where they can saw and split their own firewood, you'll
have a steady stream of customers. You'll need a large vacant
lot - about a half acre to a full acre - and preferably on
the outskirts of town. The first thing will be to put up a
6-foot cyclone fence around your lot,
and then a small garden shed type building to serve as your
Contact a sawmill or logging operation not too far from
where you want to open your business. Arrange with them to
deliver whole logs (lumber rejects) to your wood lot. Your
costs shouldn't run much more than $10 per log, even for premium
wood, but will depend upon the size and number delivered in
If you have the vehicle and the energy, you can also contact
the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management in your
area for a permit to Cut firewood in government preservation
areas. Then you go out into the woods, saw up downed tree
s into eight-
foot lengths, load them into your vehicle and haul them to
Still another source of supply is the farmers in your area.
Talk with them and offer to "thin out" areas of
standing timber, and the downed trees. Oftentimes, you can
get this wood at no cost other than offering the land owner
a share of the timber you take out. He may even consider your
"thinning" and hauling an even exchange for the
Don't forget about the road building construction companies,
and commercial and residential developers as sources of supply.
Actually, once you get into this business, you'll find sources
of supply virtually unlimited, and restricted only by your
own initiative in making contact with the property owners.
Once you have a supply of logs within your wood lot, there
are many things you can do to attract customers. Run an advertisement
in your local paper inviting "do-it-yourselfers"
to come out and Cut their own firewood. You charge them twice
as much per log as your cost, and they do the sawing, the
splitting, the loading and provide their own car or truck
to take them home. You are there only to supervise and receive
You could also rent chain saws, axes, and the use of your
power splitter. Allow the customer to select the log of his
choice, and then have the hired help - high school students,
perhaps - who would saw, split and load this wood into the
buyer's vehicle. The ultimate, of course, would be to include
delivery and stacking of this wood at the customer's residence.
Once the customer has selected his log - at twice your cost
and pays you $5 for sawing it into the lengths he wants, plus
$10 for splitting it for him and another $10 for loading it
onto his vehicle, you're talking about $150 to $200 per cord
of wood. The secret here is to have your helpers working in
teams, with the kind of efficiency that means $l00 per hour
FIREPLACE AND STOVE WOOD: In running a program of pre-cut
and split fire place and stove wood, you combine all the principles
we've discussed so far, into either a whole sale or retail
firewood supply sales outlet.
The easiest and most profitable operating procedure is to
set up a wood lot where whole logs are delivered to your location.
Part-time workers saw these logs into 16 to 24 inch lengths
for you. A couple of people with chain saws should be able
to cut two cords of wood per hour. A couple of people working
a power log splitter should be able to keep up with the people
on the chain saws. And a couple of other people stacking this
wood onto pallets as it's split, or for storage until sold,
would be all the help you need.
If you can set your business up along these lines, you'll
realize the greatest profits and not have to get involved
in the physical part of the business. The big thing to remember
is that - as the business owner and operator - your time should
be devoted to selling the end product.
If you decide to be a wholesale supplier, and sell to retailers,
advertise for and hire commission sales people to call on
the retail outlets in your area. You'll need help in covering
all the possible opportunities for retail sales of your firewood.
You should be selling sacks and pallet loads of firewood.
Remember: The more you can divide a basic cord of firewood
into sacks or pallet loads, the greater profit you're going
to make from each cord of wood you sell.
You'll find most people buying cords or truck-load quantities
of firewood before cold weather sets in, and after that, people
will buy in quantities only large enough to get by, or to
last out a sudden cold snap. If you should also sell bags
and pallets of wood to the general public, after setting up
retail sales outlets, be sure that your prices at least "average"
those being charged by the retail sellers. Never "under-cut"
the price your retail people are charging.
If you decide to do all the selling yourself - in other
words, act as your own retail outlet - you'll need to advertise.
Start out with a large three-column wide, by four-inch deep
display ad in your local paper. Unless you've had advertising
experience, at least contact the advertising instruction class
at your local community college for help in the layout and
writing of this ad. If you're not far from a large metropolitan
area, you can often contact the advertising agencies in that
area, and get free-lance help to assist in the makeup of your
Plan the appearance of this ad for a Saturday morning paper.
Make your opening a big event - much the same as a grand opening
or special anniversary sale - with free coffee, donuts and
balloons for the children. Ideally, the opening of this kind
of business should be staged on a weekend in late September
or early October, and designed to acquaint the people in your
area with your firewood business.
Get the name, address and phone number of everyone who shows
up. This can be handled very unobtrusively by giving away
free prizes requiring the attendees to your event to fill
out simple prize drawing forms. The prizes can be a free cord
of wood, dinner for two at a local restaurant, or even movie
The whole purpose of your grand opening show is to let people
know that you're open to serve their needs; to get them to
discover your location; and to implant in their minds the
memory that you can supply them with the means to keep warm
when the weather turns cold.
Quite naturally, many will find your services to be more
convenient, time-saving and less bother than whatever methods
they're currently using. As you talk with your customers,
listen to their "complaints" about their present
methods of fire wood procurement, and then alleviate those
problems with the services you provide.
After your grand opening, a small 2 by 4 inches display
ad in the yellow pages of your telephone directory plus the
posting of advertising circulars and business cards left with
woodstove and fireplace suppliers, insulation and remodeling
contractors and lumber yards in your area is about all the
advertising you'll need to do. However, it would be wise to
follow the lead of the "snow tire" people, and whenever
the weather forecast shows a cold front or winter storm moving
in, again invest some money in radio and newspaper advertising.
Statistics prove that 20 percent of your potential market
will prepare for cold weather by purchasing before the cold
weather sets in. Another 30 percent of the market will wait
until the first cold snap hits, then buy from the first supplier
that comes to mind. Finally, the remaining people will have
to be "sold" via suggestion of the benefits your
This is the period when you begin profiting from those names,
addresses and telephone numbers of people who turned out for
your big opening event. Simply set up a telephone selling
program utilizing the services of commission telephone salespeople,
follow up on those who had registered.
You can conceivably operate this business from your home
or backyard, and definitely on a part-time basis, but the
prospects of immediate success, with outstanding profits are
so great that it would be wise to plan on a big operation
from the start.
A receipt pad for taking orders, a "daily diary"
or ledger type of bookkeeping system, a calculator and a telephone
should suffice for office supplies and equipment. Until you're
over the hump on the profit side, you can keep your sales
receipts in a shoebox or daily staple together and store in
A couple of other points to remember: Hardwood burns the
longest and gives off the most heat; firewood that has been
cut in the spring and seasoned through the sum mer is the
kind most people will be willing to pay premium prices for;
and giving the customer a "little extra" for his
money will result in greater and longer-lasting success than
quick profit schemes.
Once you've got your basic firewood supply business on a
profitable basis and running smoothly, you'll find your facilities
and business expertise ideally suited to adding extra profit
producing lines such as the sale of firewood accessories,
woodstoves, built-in fireplaces, home insulation or weatherizing
services, recycling and perhaps even home remodeling.