By Vincent Pugliese / EBJ
While Daniel Wertz left the family farming business in the 1880s to start his own lumber company, the industry he entered still owes a lot to agriculture.
Today, Maley & Wertz Lumber Co. and its 45 employees continue to focus on providing Southern Indiana hardware to furniture makers and other wood-product manufacturers, but the scope of the company’s business has evolved to include a global perspective.
“We’ve started thinking globally about how we conduct our business,” said general manager Michael Powers. “We know it’s an area we need to be focused on: how can we be more competitive?”
In addition to shipping lumber across the country, Maley & Wertz also supplies wood products to manufacturers in Greece, Italy, Mexico, and China.
“It’s a crop,” said J. Wertz, grandson of the company’s founder. “It really is a part of agriculture.”
The company’s property on Columbia Street serves as a concentration yard and a dry-kiln facility. Freshly cut lumber is stacked up outside to dry, while other supplies are placed inside kilns powered by sawdust and wood scrap materials.
A 500,000-square-foot warehouse stores the wood until it’s ready to be shipped by rail or via Maley & Wertz’s own fleet of trucks.
The goal is to draw out moisture from the wood in order to produce a usable good, Powers said. Ideally, the lumber will dry out to a moisture content of 6 percent to 8 percent.
A recently installed software system allows workers to monitor the company’s kilns from a computer workstation, but a lot of work still depends on manual inspections.
“I can monitor all the kilns from my house,” Powers said. “But, we still like to scratch and sniff. We don’t take out the old methods.”
The kilns use a gasification process that turns the company’s scrap wood into a gas that powers the system. The results are lower energy costs and a cleaner-burning fuel. With higher natural gas costs, the decision to move to the new process is paying off.
“We’d be out of business without it,” Powers said.
In some respects there have been few changes since Daniel Wertz founded the company in 1885. Six years later, Wertz’s uncle, Henry Maley, joined Wertz, and the two formalized their partnership in 1901.
The company expanded and became the owner of saw mills across the region, reaching down into Mississippi at one point. But as a result of the Great Depression, the company was forced to close all its mills except for the Evansville location, which houses the company today.
The company was purchased in 1968 by Richard Klipsch. His son, Art, is now the owner.
“Really, we are agriculture,” Art Klipsch said. “It’s like dealing with farmers. It’s a very rewarding type of industry.”
J. Wertz, who has worked at the company since the 1950s, says Indiana’s hardwood industry remains a vital part of the state’s economy.
“Indiana has maintained its presence in the hardwood industry as well as any place in the country,” Wertz said. “It’s more sophisticated today, but it’s still a craft.”
Part of that craft is knowing what kinds of wood work well for certain products, Wertz said. Knowing the qualities of species such as hickory, red oak, poplar, walnut and sycamore is an added benefit for customers. “You just can’t cross-match and substitute one for another,” Wertz said.
The attention put on delivering quality products to customers drives Maley & Wertz’s success, Powers said. “In a way, we care more about their success than our own,” Powers said. “There’s no automated voice mail. We care too much about our customers.”
Developing strong relationships with customers is vital, Powers said. Because drying lumber can take several weeks, the company must be able to anticipate a client’s needs well ahead of time to deliver the product when needed.
Wertz compared the lumber industry to the wine industry in that there’s a lag time between when a grape is picked and when it becomes the final product. The same holds true for when a tree is harvested and when it’s ready for production.
“Nature needs to take its process,” Powers said. “We try to develop relationships for the long-term. It’s not a just-in-time product.”
Published December, 2006 in Evansville Business Journal, published by the Evansville Courier Co.