By Christine Bates | firstname.lastname@example.org
Main Street spent a morning in the office of Ghent Wood Products and Meltz Lumber in Ghent, NY talking with Marie Meltz who manages the administrative and marketing part of the business.
How long have you been in business? How would you describe the business that Ghent Wood Products is in?
Emil Meltz started the Meltz Lumber business in 1946 with a small handset sawmill run off a car engine. Seventy plus years later I’m married to his grandson and our sons, Jeff Jr. and Jason, age 27 and 24, are the fourth generation in the business. They are both involved in all parts of the operation from looking at wood lots, running the mills, and doing wholesale and retail sales. We do everything from timbering off wood lots, producing lumber to making flooring and siding.
In 2003 we bought Tipple Logging & Lumber at this site, and started Ghent Wood Products as our retail operation. Nick Tipple’s son wasn’t interested in the business so he sold it to us. He’s now 82 and very pleased with how the two businesses have grown together. He’s part of the family and still helps out. [As if to emphasize that point Nick came into the office after cutting some grass in the yard].
We produce around four million board feet a year of lumber, which makes us a small sawmill. Lots of the small mills haven’t survived. The bigger mills are not selling retail, and that’s our niche.
Who do you sell to?
25% of our business is international, selling hardwood logs primarily to Chinese manufacturers of furniture. We even sold maple logs for veneer on Yamaha pianos. International lumber brokers are knocking on our door every day with orders. We get paid when the logs are shipped. This started being an important part of our business seven or eight years ago just as the economy here was tanking. We’re hoping that the Chinese won’t slap a 25% tariff on our wood.
Retail here at Ghent Wood Products is the biggest part of our business – selling direct to customers. The split between homeowners and contractors is roughly 50/50. People drive here from all over the Northeast.
How do you market wood products?
The internet has helped our business grow every year. Customers can find us. Because of our web presence we shipped a whole trailer of white oak to California. The customer knew what he wanted, did a Google search, and found us. We get calls from all over the country and sometimes the shipping can cost more than the product.
Participating in festivals and fairs like the Dutchess County Fair, the Stormville Flea Market, and The Hudson Valley Food & Wine Fest is another way to reach out to customers. We take big logs to the county fairs and showcase wood slabs to be used as table- and bar tops. It’s exhausting and we don’t sell any products on-site per se, but the cross-exposure and the customer feedback is invaluable. We also do regional radio, TV, and print advertising from Glens Falls to Long Island and from the Hudson Valley to the Capitol Region to make customers aware of us.
Saturday is our “Show and Tell” day at the store and we’re really busy. Customers are amazed by our large selection of lumber and wood products, and appreciate that our prices are clearly posted and that the prices are the same for everyone.
What are some of the fads in the wood world – are slabs still “in”? What’s the hot wood now?
Live edge slabs and glue ups are still very popular. Reclaimed mushroom wood and barnwood siding are still being shiplapped and used for accent walls. Eastern white pine shiplap, that can be painted, is also very popular. But white oak floors seem to be the hit right now.
What are some woods that are becoming more rare, and why?
I think ash will become harder to find due to the emerald ash beetle that is devastating the trees.
I notice the help wanted sign. Is it difficult to find employees?
We have 45 to 50 employees, or team members as we prefer to refer to them as, and finding reliable workers is always a challenge. This is an equipment intensive business – we have trucks, trailers, skidders, forwarders, log loaders, forklifts, etc. We need equipment operators, and we employ two mechanics just to keep everything running. Pay is not the issue in finding employees. I don’t know what the answer is but our country does need to focus on the substance abuse problem and on rebuilding our work ethic.
How do you manage business in a family business?
My husband Jeff is in charge of operations and I handle all the administrative tasks and marketing, but everyone takes the garbage out – we’re all in this together. My father-in-law still works here part-time, cleaning up lumber piles – he does manual labor every day. My husband bounces everything off his dad.
The pluses of a family business are that you get to spend time with your family, see the business grow, and your children thrive. But you can also spend too much time together and opinions always differ.
You and your husband built a house that’s essentially a huge showroom for your many products and what they can look like when finished, tell us about that.
Yes, the house is a true, living, breathing showroom for our products. We used over 15 different woods in the house, from the flooring, trim, and paneling all the way to the ceiling (yes, there’s beautiful wood on the ceilings, too), from the kitchen and bathroom cabinets to the treads and railings on the staircases, from the big living room beams to the fireplace mantles, we even had custom doors made for the entire house with our wood, and the entire outside of the house of course showcases wood siding including mushroom wood, decking, and we also used some of our stone products for the stone wall and our railing for the fence.
How seasonal is your business?
Surprisingly retail is slow in the summer when people are on vacation, and the weather can also keep customers away in winter months. But we cut trees all year long within a 100 miles radius of our base in Ghent and Mellenville, and we keep our lumber mills running.
Can I sell you trees from my yard? What about dead ash trees?
Dead trees cannot be used for lumber and we can’t mill yard trees – the trees growing in the vicinity of your house. The saw blades in our mill each cost $6,000, and can be destroyed by objects like old hinges, nails, gates. The best thing to do for yard trees is to find someone with a portable sawmill.
Meltz Lumber does do selective timber harvesting – taking the mature trees out and leaving the limbs and branches for wildlife. The only clear cutting we would do would be for a housing site. There’s no shortage of trees – there are more now than ten or 20 years ago and they just keep growing.
What are your plans for the future of the business?
We are adding products to our retail business. For example three years ago we did a horse trade with a client and swapped some of our pallets for his stones. Customers bought all of them so now we have added a stone yard.
There is a trend now for wider floorboards so we are adding those to our flooring line. Slabs for tabletops and bars have become really popular. And we also carry imported woods like Brazilian ipe, and eucalyptus, which don’t rot. We get old industrial beams from New York City, and we have added textured hemlock mushroom boards which we pressure wash.
Going forward, what is the next step for Ghent Wood Products?
To continue to provide our customers with high quality wood products. And to continue to grow our stone yard.
What accounts for the success of your businesses?
I think it’s leadership from the top, good team members, and having a retail store for our products. We’re also helped by the interest in wood and natural products and the combination of internet outreach and shopping locally.
To learn more about Ghent Wood Products and Meltz Lumber, you can visit them at 1262 NY-66 in Ghent, NY, call them at (518) 828-5684, or visit them online at www.ghentwoodproducts.com and www.meltzlumber.com.