Generational Shifts: The Future of Cole Hardwood Inc.

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By Chris Fehr

The beauty of the mill and its attribute to our success is still the size of our inventory, and Milt always believed in keeping a large inventory to where if someone needs it, you have it. And we still hold to that!” – Brian Gibson, Sales Manager, Cole Hardwood Inc.

Cole Hardwood Inc., based in Logansport, IN, is a leading Indiana Hardwood lumber processor and distributor. Producing about 15 million board feet annually, species available include North American Ash, Beech, Cherry, Hickory, Hard and Soft Maple, Red and White Oak, Poplar and Walnut (4/4 through 8/4 with thicker stocks available in certain species up to 16/4).

With a rich history spanning more than three decades, Cole Hardwood has earned a renowned reputation for quality and excellence in Hardwoods. According to Brian Gibson, the sales manager, this reputation originated with the founder, Milt Cole. “Milt understood that the key to success is having the right people in the right positions,” he remarked. Indeed, the success of any business often hinges upon the caliber of individuals comprising its organization, he explained.

Gibson shares, “We have a revitalized workforce coming into Cole Hardwood learning from our experienced employees who have been here for many years. It’s critical to get the right people set in place to continue the legacy and values of Cole Hardwood that Milt Cole instilled. Our core values are focused on ‘The People’, ‘The Product’ and ‘The Pride’. We take these key values and make them part of our daily work for how we interact with vendors, customers, employees and product delivery. This revitalized workforce includes some of Milt Cole’s family, which adds a generational family dynamic.”

Gibson adds, “We have also added to our sales team to help broaden our reach in the United States. It’s been an exciting period seeing these team members that not only fit the role but bring a great deal of experience to help take Cole Hardwood to the next level. The beauty of the mill and its attribute to our success is still the size of our inventory, and Milt always believed in keeping a large inventory to where if someone needs it, you have it. And we still hold to that!”

The company inventories about 9 million board feet. All of Cole Hardwood’s lumber is National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) inspected, end-trimmed and coated and kiln-dried to strict tolerances of 6 percent to 8 percent moisture content. Gibson said, “Cole Hardwood’s kiln capacity is about 1.3 million board feet. We have 20 different kilns, a Walnut steamer and two Hurst boilers. When Cole Hardwood was built back after the fire in the late nineties, it was designed for about 100,000 feet in and 100,000 feet out a day.”

With most of the lumber sourced from Indiana and surrounding areas of Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan, Gibson said the region is an important factor for Cole Hardwood. “We provide a Northern Appalachian product, and that’s important for us due to the consistency of the product we are putting out there and how we market. We are in a premium Hardwood region. If a truckload of lumber works for a customer now, it is going to work for them next time because the regions we are pulling out of are very similar in color and specifications. The consistency requirement of Hardwood lumber is way more specific today than it might have been 20 or 30 years ago, and having that same color and consistent quality of our product is of great value.”

When asked about the processes in place to assure a consistent, quality product, Gibson offered, “A big part of controlling quality is the thickness of the lumber. (Akins) Control Systems installed scanner bars into our green and our kiln dry lines so we are scanning the thickness of every board, across the board to where we can detect miscut. That is the first step. If there is anything that is not standard it’s detected before kiln drying. It is critical for us to control that quality.” The company is also able to offer surfacing and straight-line rip 1 edge services. “We have also integrated one of our inspectors into a quality control position, to where he is looking over lumber after being surfaced and making sure the lumber is up to the standard we believe our customers deserve.”

As for what sets them apart from others in the industry, Gibson offered, “At Cole Hardwood, our motivation is how quickly can we put a load of lumber together of a mixed variety of species and thicknesses and get it out the door so that the customer can fulfill that job and capitalize on that job by having the product there when they need it. So, we are making sure that we are positioning ourselves to pull lumber, get it milled as quickly as possible to meet those customers’ needs all while delivering a product of high quality. We are taking a much more customer-centered approach. We strive to find out what the customers’ needs are and how we can fulfill that need in ‘X’ amount of time, which is currently less than it ever has been.” They also have three company trucks for making local deliveries which play a critical role in ensuring customers get the material they need when they need it.

Cole Hardwood uses U-C Coatings for all their paint and end-sealer needs. As for how the lumber moves through the facility, he explained, “We are buying green lumber and we run it across a chain and the first grading process happens. From there it moves to the stacker and gets put into our air-dry yard where a time is allocated that it needs to adapt to a relative humidity level and then it moves into our kilns and gets graded again from that point. We also offer surfacing based on the customer’s request and then we put it on the truck for delivery.”

Cole Hardwood’s customer base is about 75 percent domestic and 25 percent international. “Our sales are generated into different areas and some of our product is going into China, Canada, Vietnam, the Middle East and into Mexico, but then, obviously, the majority of our valuable customers are here in the United States. Our message to our customers and our future customers is that we are here and we are growing, we want to grow with Hardwood consumers and supply them with a quality Hardwood lumber product.”

With 60 employees, key personnel include: President, Tom Oilar; Yard Manager, Brett Nichols; Administration, Tori Cole-Wagoner; Tyler Cole; Sarah Cole; Sales Manager, Brian Gibson; Salesmen, Joel Horling and Sam Ryan. Milt Cole founded Cole Hardwood in 1986 with a firm commitment to excellence. With excellence as their “standard”, Cole Hardwood is also active in their hometown community. Cole places priority on giving back by making donations to various organizations to help those in need and elevate those around them. Cole Hardwood is a member of the National Hardwood Lumber Association, Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association, Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers Inc., Hardwood Distributors Association, Kentucky Forest Industries Association, Lake States Lumber Association, and the American Hardwood Export Council. Cole Hardwood is also proud to support and contribute to the Real American Hardwood Coalition.

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