Note: This is Part 2 of a newsletter we published way back in 2012. Part 1 is available here.
In the last NFA Newsletter, we met Dave, a firewood producer who uses nothing more than business cards and word-of-mouth to advertise his business. He’s content with his current level of production, which keeps him busy six days a week.
This is his third year of not advertising, and eighth year of steady growth. He says his secret is simple, but wasn’t immediately apparent. “There’s a high level of distrust and dishonesty in this business,” Dave says. Everybody and their brother has a pickup truck and a chainsaw. But very few of them take it seriously. You get punky or moldy wood, or maybe it doesn’t get delivered at all. You call to complain and no one answers.”
For Dave, the problem was convincing customers that his products and service were top-quality. His first move was to raise his prices. When a customer would ask why his firewood cost so much more, it gave him the opportunity to educate them. “If I sell you a cord for $100 today, I’m not going to be in business the next time you call me.”
His sales pitch covers the logs and how they are harvested, the species, the cleanliness, the moisture content — all the way to supporting the local economy in a sustainably responsible manner. “Your firewood supplier should be every bit as reliable and consistent as the company who delivers your lp gas or fuel oil.” With our 30-below winter nights, heating fuel is a serious concern.
Dave initially built his customer base as many do, through newspaper ads, grocery store bulletin boards, hand-made signs. He had to deal with quite a number of people before he found a customer base who appreciated the value in his product and his service. “Some guys buy on price alone, and will make two weeks worth of phone calls finding a cheaper deal every time they need wood. Other people have better things to do and appreciate consistent quality and reliable service.”
As with his suppliers, he treats his customers as he’d want to be treated. “That’s the key,” he says. “We’ll go out of our way to tell people when we receive excellent service. But in reality, excellent service is just someone doing their job the way it ought to be done.”
His trucks aren’t new, but they’re clean and fairly shiny. He doesn’t show up in a tuxedo, but he doesn’t look like he just came from the coal mine, either. He arrives with a smile and is ready for a short conversation. Everyone who delivers for him knows the ins and outs of burning wood and are ready with answers and advice.
He enjoys his customers, and his customers enjoy him. And they gladly pay about twice what you’d call the “going rate” on Craigslist. Dave’s formula is no guarantee of high-margin success in the firewood business. What is guaranteed is that success will not come without a professional attitude like Dave’s in every aspect of your business.