Start a Firewood Business - Part 2
By Martin L. Klein
The Firewood Business
Part Two – Winning Customers
In Part One, we covered the basic equipment needed to get started in the business of selling firewood. However, it only stands to reason that, even if you were fully equipped, winter winds were beginning to blow in your region, and you had an ample supply of the finest seasoned hardwood to sell, you would still need to accomplish the task of reaching potential customers and persuading them to buy YOUR wood, rather than someone else's.
A newspaper ad in your largest local newspaper is still the best way to begin. When I started out in 1992, a very basic entry in the firewood section of the classifieds brought in a lot of phone calls. Now note that I said calls, not sales. Once I picked up the phone, I was asked some very basic questions, the most common of which were as follows: What kind of wood do you have? Is it well seasoned? How long is the wood? What do you charge for delivery? Will you stack it for me? How much wood is in a face cord? A lot of questions coming from a potential customer with the classified section in their hand and there are several other firewood ads there besides yours. I can tell you I lost plenty of sales right off the bat by not being prepared to handle a customer’s inquiries properly.
So let me address for you some of the most common questions asked and, in doing so, give you an overview of how I run my business as far as winning customers is concerned.
What kind of wood do I have? I usually answer that with a question. Will this be for a fireplace or a woodstove? If the customer has a fireplace I don’t want to sell them wood that may burn very well, but also throws a lot of sparks, such as Black Locust, Mulberry and some other fine woods will tend to do. I tell them instead about my fine Sugar Maple or native Elms, maybe White Ash or Sycamore and Hackberry. If they are buying for a woodstove, I ask them what type of wood they are used to burning. I do my best to keep a supply of as many different types hardwood on hand as possible, so I may have what they already prefer on hand.
Is it well seasoned? That tends to be a frustrating question that begs me to answer, “No, it’s green and very wet. How much do you want?” But after the laughter wore off, I wouldn’t be making any money at it. Seriously, people do want wood that will burn. And in more cases than you might think, they already have a load of wood outside that they paid money for, and it is not seasoned. So even though they got burnt, their wood didn’t, and they need some that will. I am very particular in making sure my wood is ready to burn before it goes to a customer. I never give guarantees, however, as there are some people who are not favorably endowed with the ability to light a fire, or perhaps their wood-burning appliance is not properly installed. But it has to be seasoned or I don’t sell it. Yes, it is well seasoned. This is one key factor in winning repeat customers.
How long is the wood? I happen to heat with a Jotul (yodel) 602N which is a lovely little Norwegian-made woodstove. But, it can’t handle your average 24 inch long piece of wood. Have you ever seen the painting of young Abe Lincoln leaning back in a chair reading a book by the light of a fireplace that appears to easily handle whole tree limbs? Not many of those anymore. I have found that most people are relieved to have shorter cut pieces that are easy to handle, and fit well within the confines of whatever they are burning it in. Mine are cut in the 14 to 18 inch range. I also add additional kindling sized pieces with every load. People like that.
What do I charge for delivery? First let me answer the bigger question. How much do I charge for my wood? Remember, there is a limit to what people will pay for firewood, especially if they are using it to save money in heating costs. I price my wood higher than what most other sellers in my area are asking, but not so high that it eliminates the cost saving factor over gas or electric heat. That’s a fine line to walk, but let me tell you why I do this. When a customer scans the list of firewood sellers for price, he immediately sees a notable difference in my ad. Others fall in the 50 to 75 dollar range and I come in notably higher, say, 100 dollars and twenty five for delivery. This arouses their curiosity sufficiently that they call me first to see what I am selling that the others maybe are not. And this is where it all comes together. I do not know what the others are selling, but I do know that my wood is seasoned, it is clean, it is dry, and it is neither too long nor too bulky in dimension. And yes, I will gladly stack it (as long as it is not a 100 yard hike from the vehicle). I also convey to the customer the fact that there are others who don’t know or care what they sell. And that very often is the case. These important factors along with very courteous phone manners will usually win the sale. But if you want to sell the wood, you have to strive to sell the best, and that takes a little more labor and attention than you normally give to your own firewood.
The final question I am asked frequently is about the amount of wood. I price and deliver by the “face cord”. That is, a single stack of wood approximately four feet high by eight feet long. If I was selling bricks it would be less approximate, but who’s ever stacked the same amount of wood twice and come up with the same dimensions? There are many other considerations that might bear discussion on starting a firewood selling venture, but short of doing a Part Three, I will give you some sage advice, and start on next week’s article.
Know your wood. Keep it clean. Season it well. We all want to get what we pay for. Give the customer exactly that. Be friendly and courteous. And, don’t make deliveries in no ugly truck!
Happy Wood Burning!
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