- Written by: Jeanee Dudley
- Produced by: Ian Nichols
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
Since 1999, Centennial Woods has been providing sustainable materials to architects, designers, retailers, contractors and consumers throughout the United States. The innovative company got its start when its founders discovered the strength and aesthetic value of Wyoming snow fence. At 14 to 16 feet tall, these fences help to keep snow from drifting and creating unsafe road conditions. With hundreds of miles of board used every year for this purpose and previously discarded, the company has taken advantage of this abundant resource. Through a unique seven- to 10-year aging process, this repurposed lumber offers a unique, aged appearance and can be used in a range of decorative applications.
Ed Spal, CEO of Centennial Woods, has been with the company since 2012. He says that while sustainable wood products comprise the more obvious aspects of the business, the company also provides important services to the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT).
“We’re basically two companies,” explains Spal. “We provide a service to the state government to take care of prolific amounts of snow fence. These structures are 14 to 16 feet tall, made of wood, and strategically aligned along the highways of Wyoming. Because of the winds, our snow comes in horizontally and we have problems with drifting snow. The snow fences slow it down and drop it behind the fence rather than accumulated along the highway. It saves the WYDOT money in terms of salting and plowing.”
High-quality repurposed product
Centennial Woods holds contracts throughout the state to repair, maintain and replace the wood slats. “In total, there is over 700 miles of snow fence in this state,” Spal elaborates. “WYDOT used to do the replacement – years ago, they would stack up all the used wood and burn it. The founder of our company, John Pope and extended family, decided there was something better that could be done than burn the wood or dump it in a landfill.”
During repair and maintenance projects, Centennial Woods’ snow fence team removes slats of old wood and brings them back to the shop. There, components are sorted for straightness, thickness and color. The company cuts out the bad parts, trims to specifications and repurposes this wood into flooring, wall coverings, ceilings, outdoor siding and other products.
“Then we go through the process of being certified FSC 100 percent recycled,” says Spal. “It starts out as raw wood from local saw mills in Wyoming. Then it is put up, aged on the fence, dried by Mother Nature, and requires no kiln drying, thereby eliminating CO2 emissions. It ages with gray, brown and cinnamons colors throughout the wood, which adds a unique rustic aesthetic.”
Centennial Woods is the only producer on the market providing reclaimed fence wood products on a global scale, which means in terms of distribution, there is little competition. When it comes to obtaining products however, things get a little more complicated.
“The state has been divided into three regions, and there are three districts with three-year contracts,” Spal explains. The state likes what we do, and the work we provide. It’s a worry that we might not win, but we do our best with each bid.”
Centennial Woods products are used in commercial applications throughout the U.S. and the firm’s international market includes Japan, Singapore, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Moscow and other far-reaching areas. Spal and his colleagues have been working recently to push for greater market presence in Southeast Asia and the company has just opened its first office in Singapore.
“It takes time in any of those situations, but we have to have a presence now with an office in Singapore and a recent visit to Hong Kong to meet with the Starbucks group for the Asia-Pacific market,” explains Spal. “We are already an approved vendor so we will be moving forward with Starbucks in Asia. Our contacts with distributors have started to come together. We have already shipped an order there, but we needed a partner to warehouse and distribute. Because our products have to travel for four weeks on a boat to get there, we are working to reduce lead times.”
The company’s sustainable focus has provided a strong avenue for international growth as well. Centennial Woods is a yearly attendant to the United States Greenbuild Conference and has infiltrated the Green Show in Beijing and is attending the European Greenbuild Conference in Italy this year. These shows allow the company to build significant access to new markets by placing its product in front of a captive audience.
“As they walk by our booth, people see our product line and that’s the type of customer we’re looking for,” Spal notes. “It puts us in a position that we’re seeing the people looking for our type of reclaimed wood just as the other companies and clientele are looking for products to meet their needs. Last year at Greenbuild in New Orleans, we had the Green Police stop by and they did a piece on our products. We create great exposure through these events.”
Over the coming years, Spal and his colleagues are working on a range of new products and initiatives that will support sustained, strategic growth for Centennial Woods. The business recently completed prototypes for furniture that features reclaimed fence wood and presented the concept at the Los Angeles Furniture show in January 2015.
To support existing products and those just emerging, the company is building connections with strategic partners for supply, marketing and distribution. Centennial Woods is also in the midst of building a new facility in Wyoming that will hopefully be completed in fall 2016. The new location will provide greater warehousing and production space, accommodating a wide range of undertakings and allowing the business to grow as needed.
Through organization, integrity and commitment to quality, Centennial Woods continues to serve as a leader in the green materials market.
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