Kip Smith had made a good living cruising and buying timber as a consulting forester ever since he graduated from the University of Georgia in 2000. But he was always drawn to the logging end. Once he had enough timber bought he decided to start his own logging business. “I began with $90,000 worth of equipment,” Smith says.
Smith, 39, started his company, Kip Smith Forest Services (KSFS), in May 2013. Not long after, he hired Michael Allen who now serves as the harvest operations manager. “Within the first week I realized that he was awesome,” Smith says. “He just has that mechanical ability and can figure things out, whether it’s running equipment or fixing it. He and I patched up old equipment until we were able to move up to good equipment.”
Today, Smith runs two crews and has 12 employees. He has built his business into an impressive operation over the last three years and looks to continue his company’s momentum despite many mills having him on quotas as of mid-year.
Smith buys most of his timber and a lot of his business is generated through word-of-mouth. He is gaining a strong reputation in middle Georgia and has found a niche.
KSFS is thinning 70-80% of the time. Most clear-cutting is done during the winter and when it’s wet on the ground. They typically find themselves in hilly terrain where many ditches are encountered.
When Southern Loggin’ Times visited KSFS, one crew was working on a second thinning on a 600-acre tract. The two crews move about 100-120 loads of logs a week on average. KSFS is cutting pine the majority of the time. Smith buys a good bit of stumpage from F&W Forestry Services regional manager Nathan Fountain. Smith and Fountain graduated from UGA together. “We do the quality logging job that he’s looking for,” Smith says.
Smith likes to move a feller-buncher to a new tract first so that they go in and cut out a loading dock. When KSFS gets to a tract they make sure to find out if the landowner wants their slash piled up or distributed through the woods. “We know what they want when we get there,” Smith explains. “We like for whoever we’re working for to have their finger on the pulse of the job.”
He adds, “There are some consultants that come out there the day you start and then don’t come back until a couple after you’ve already left. Then they’ll have a gripe about something. I like it when people are proactive.”
The company generally works within an hour and a half of Smith’s home office in Haddock. They haul sawlogs to the Jordan Forest Products sawmill in Barnesville, Interfor sawmill in Eatonton, and Georgia-Pacific in Madison; pulpwood to Graphic Packaging in Macon, and fuel chips to Piedmont Green Energy in Barnesville and Pratt Recycling in Conyers. Smith says one crew generally services the Graphic Packaging pulpwood market and the other the Weyerhaeuser Flint River operations. KSFS has run into quotas at some of their bigger mill markets since February. They hope that the trend doesn’t continue into the second half of 2016.
When Smith first got into logging he was using older equipment but today the business has newer machines that keep operators happy and production up.
KSFS’s equipment lineup includes a 2015 Cat® 559C Loader with a CSI DL-4400 slasher saw, 2015 Cat 535D Skidder, and 2014 Cat 559C Loader, among machines from other manufacturers.
KSFS’s chipping operation produces about 600 tons of fuel chips per week. The company got into chipping in March 2015. The addition of the chipper has meant the difference between getting a job and not getting a job on several occasions. “We were handling so much of the tree that we weren’t using,” Smith says. “We wanted to take advantage of all the portions of the tree and the chipper has been a great procurement tool for us.”
Smith has great relationships with all of his equipment dealers. Brandon Justice at Yancey Bros. out of Macon makes sure all Cat equipment is running smoothly.
Smith estimates that he’s invested $2.3 million in his business.
Due to the quality of KSFS’s logging practices they’ve had to turn down some jobs, which is hard for Smith to do as a wood buyer. “We’ve gotten to a point where we’ve filled a niche and have plenty to do,” Smith explains. “I’m at the point where I’m at a crossroads on if I should grow.”
He adds, “I’ve got all the iron that I feel comfortable with managing properly. We’ll make our decisions in a very calculated way. Sometimes quality overrides quantity, but sometimes you can have them hand in hand. Any time you advance in this business there are major financial decisions to be made. Even if you’re just putting on a contract logger you have to be careful because you’re financing that operation.”
(This article was modified from an article appearing in the July Issue of Southern Loggin’ Times.)
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