Small producers in southern Appalachia typically have some acreage in wood lots. With the right management techniques and the right equipment these wood lots can produce timber at a sustainable rate. Adding value at the point of production rather than selling timber on the stump to commercial sawmills or exporters would give these small producers another economically viable crop. The current marketing system, however, does not have a place for these small producers. There are 10 million craftspeople in the U.S. currently, but making the connection between these professional and hobbyist woodworkers and small value-added timber producers is a challenge.
The goal of Michael Best’s Producer Grant project was to investigate the marketing system that is currently in place and determine if there are alternatives to this system. He wanted to see if these alternatives might be beneficial to smaller producers who add value to timber before it leaves the farm. Some of the marketing avenues he explored were internet marketing (directly to end users, including building contractors and cabinet makers), cooperative marketing, auction marketing, and marketing sustainable timber products. Through surveying and personal interviews he developed information on wood product consumers’ needs and their product characteristic preferences, purchasing habits, sources of product information and the best methods to reach them regarding new products.
The results of the survey indicate that small sawmill/kiln operations may have a competitive advantage for providing and promoting the following:
• Certified wood, specialty and hard to find species like osage orange, sassafras, sycamore, elm and beech. Also other products and services such as thin stock, turning squares, certified wood (Forest Stewardship Council), etc.
• The small owner operated sawmill benefits because most survey respondents preferred to deal with an owner/operator rather than a wholesaler.
• Novelty and branded products.
In addition, the results suggest that small sawmill/kiln operators also consider the following:
• First-time buyers should be targeted. Because word of mouth is so important, also make sure that first experience is positive.
• Wood workers within 50 miles should be the most heavily targeted and no one more than 100 miles from the operation should be targeted for on-site sales.