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B.C. Reman Plant Supplies Quality Cut Stock to Calif. Manufacturers
D. S. Timber Manufactures High Quality SPF Cut Stock
By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 8/1/2003
SURREY, British Columbia -- Arjinder Brar had worked in the pallet cut stock business only three years when he started his own company. His business, D. S. Timber, is known to Western Canadian and U.S. pallet manufacturing companies as a producer of consistently high quality SPF cut stock. Located close to Vancouver, D. S. Timber is situated on 3.6 acres in an industrial area that includes several other forest products businesses.
Arjinder started working in 1988 at his brother Brian’s plant, Moga Timber Mill, which was located nearby. Brian had begun Moga in the early 1980s and was the first Canadian of Punjabi descent to start a pallet stock remanufacturing plant locally. He got the idea to start a cut stock business after working as a truck driver and delivering into other plants, such as Spruceland, which also cut pallet lumber.
Arjinder left Moga in 1991 to launch his own business. Brian was not happy, but as Arjinder explained, it was a very competitive family by nature. "He was unhappy, but we had a very competitive family. We were always competing with each other about everything."
Brian died in 2001 after a bout with cancer. "My one regret is that I could not tell my brother that what I have in business is because of him," Arjinder said. "We were always competing, but yet we were always together."
While Brian was the first Punjabi Canadian to enter the local cut stock business, Arjinder believes he himself was the third. Now, most of the local pallet cut stock remanufacturers are of Punjabi descent. While the passion to compete is not the same without his brother, the competition is more intense than ever.
D. S. Timber is owned by Arjinder and his wife, Sukhpreet, who is in charge of accounting, banking and other financial management duties. They own the land where the plant is located and see themselves staying there for the long term.
The company runs mostly SPF and produces exclusively cut stock for pallets and wood packaging. Arjinder typically buys 2-inch material in widths ranging from 4 inches to 12 inches, purchasing from a variety of wholesalers and mills. "We buy only from quality mills," he said. "The low grade is not worth it. The lumber is a little cheaper, but with more waste the end result is the same."
Chain conveyors feed the 2-inch stock into custom multi-saw lines to be cut to length and then it is center split on a Producto resaw. A rip saw line remanufactures 12-inch wides into three 4-inch pieces for stringers that are subsequently cut to length and notched. Stringers are notched on a modified Bob Hanna machine. The company makes pallet cut stock in lengths from 24 inches to 96 inches and also provides custom notching.
D. S. Timber has an in-house millwright who maintains equipment and builds new equipment; he is currently constructing a new multi-saw. Saw blade maintenance used to be handled in-house, but blades are now sent to Carbide Tool Works, also located in Surrey.
In investing in machinery, Arjinder has bought a mixture of new and used equipment over the years but has relied heavily on pre-owned machinery. Tom Thayer of United Wholesale Lumber, a pallet manufacturer and long time customer of D. S. Timber, has been impressed how Arjinder has been able to buy used machinery and "…really make it sing." Said Tom, "We admire their in-house mechanical expertise, the way they have beefed up under-performing equipment and get first class performance from it."
Take-away conveyors move lifts of packaged stock outside the 16,000 foot plant, and it is stacked on a newly paved yard by one of D.S. Timber’s Toyota forklifts. The paved surface prevents any dirt or rocks from getting into the pallet stock and ending up at customer locations.
While Arjinder typically purchases used mill equipment, he favors buying new forklift trucks and highway equipment. His company has seven Toyota forklifts, with the oldest being a 1999 model. Three are 5,000-pound rated propane units, two are 6,000-pound diesel, and two are 15,000-pound diesel.
D. S. Timber sells most of its pallet lumber to pallet manufacturers in California, and most of the components end up in pallets for agricultural applications.
D. S. Timber is known as one of the top -- if not the premier -- producers of quality cut stock, according to Tom. "Arjinder is just as honest as the day is long," he said. "Over the years we have developed a terrific friendship as well as a strong business relationship." When Tom was injured in an automobile accident last year and initially was hospitalized in Seattle for six days, Arjinder and his father drove there twice to visit him.
The business relationship and friendship that Arjinder enjoys with Tom reflects the approach he generally takes to business. "We always honor our commitments," Arjinder said. "We provide high quality service at a competitive price."
One challenge for D. S. Timber, as well as the industry in general, is the availability of trucks. In order to ensure that trucks are available for key shipments, Arjinder runs four of his own trucks into California. The trucks are operated as a separate company, A.M.R. Trucking, delivering D. S. Timber products into pallet plants in California and hauling produce loads back to Vancouver for retail grocery chains.
Another challenge more recently has been the exchange rate: the U.S. dollar has sagged compared to the Canadian collar. "The increasing value of the Canadian dollar has hurt," Arjinder explained. "Lumber is sold in U.S. dollars, which increasingly are worth less in Canadian funds. When you sell lumber at an exchange rate of 1.45 and by the time you receive payment the exchange rate has dropped to 1.35, it is easy to lose thousands of dollars."
One aspect of D. S. Timber that is a little surprising is that the business owns two parcels of land that are leased to competitors. "To me it makes no difference if I rent to a competitor," Arjinder explained. "If you have made up your mind to enter the pallet business, if you don’t rent property from me, you will rent it from someone else. If you want to be in the business you will find the land, so this way I make some money from it."
D. S. Timber has 13 employees. Arjinder acknowledged that it is difficult to retain new workers. If they stay for six months, though, then there is a good chance they will become long-term employees.
D. S. Timber is committed to safety in its operations. "We have had only one lost time claim in the last three years," said Arjinder. The keys to safe operations, he said, are to make sure that guards on moving parts are always replaced, lock-out procedures are followed, and good housekeeping is maintained. Common sense is essential.
The couple’s son and daughter also help in the business. Their son, Amar, plans to work in the business full-time when he completes high school next year.
For Arjinder, the softwood quota is not an issue as long as components are shipped in the right counts to conform to pallet kits. "You have to make sure the count of each component is right," he said.
Heat treatment is another hurdle that D. S. has quickly overcome. "In the beginning we did not like it, but that is human nature not to like change," Arjinder pointed out. "Now it is just normal. You have to make sure you buy the heat treated product and use it for the heat treated product you ship out. Each piece of heat treated lumber must be stamped."
The demand for heat treated pallet stock goes up and down, he indicated. "Sometimes everybody asks for heat treated, but sometimes no one asks for it. None the less, you have to have it as part of your product mix."
D. S. Timber is required to keep records showing where it bought heat treated lumber and what orders for heat treated lumber were shipped out. Inspectors visit the company monthly to review the records.
Arjinder has not been aware of any problems with his trucks crossing the border into the U.S. in the wake of September 11, 2001 and increased security measures by the U.S. Delays or other problems would affect all Canadian shippers, he noted. "Any delays are a level playing field," he said. "They affect everybody or they affect nobody."
D. S. Timber produces about 800 to 1,000 van loads per year, and Arjinder is looking to increase business based on his reputation for quality and competitive pricing.