Unlike many, James Tompkins can see the forest for the trees- and what he saw led him to a business opportunity that is more than just about making money.
While running a processor at his job in Beaverdell, he noticed that the treetops were just being burned. Seeing an opportunity, Tompkins began taking the tops to process himself, using them to make posts. Because the trees usually top off at three to four inches he can process and peel them to get good pine to make two to three inch, and three to four inch posts and railings, fencing, etc, some up to 16 feet long.
When his employer felt he was taking too much of his time/energy for his side business, Tompkins made the move to Houston, British Columbia and started processing and peeling while still working in the bush. He talked to forestry service and local logging companies about using the pine tops, and he borrowed a processor to use.
Tompkins admits he met some resistance from forestry service and local companies that weren’t too keen on giving anything away, but James preserved. He says people are coming around, especially in Houston area, and others are helpful and on-board with making the most of resources, something Tompkins is proud he does. “It really helps the environment”, he says. “I almost cry when I go by a logging site and see the waste – wasted lumber and wasted money”.
Tompkins approached Community Futures to borrow money for his own peeler, and the staff in the Houston office helped him work out his business plan.
“It was a real learning experience”, says Tompkins, who learned the risks and rewards of his own business.
He has since borrowed money for a truck and a processor, and he still talks to Community Futures staff regularly about the business.
Tompkins Post and Rail is in its fifth year of operation and Tompkins says he is currently building an inventory of posts so that when he gets calls for his product – and he has, from companies wanting it immediately – he can provide it. He’s taking baby steps, with one full time day shift that employs 5 full time workers. Tompkins knows it takes time and money to build up inventory, and in the next couple of years he would like to be working a second shift employing, possibly three or four more people.
Although he is currently leasing land and a shop, his goal is to purchase his own, and one day he would like to get a pellet plant to make use of the sawdust that he currently takes to a plant in Houston and perhaps even get a contractor on board to expand the operation.
The most important think for Tompkins is that he loves his work, “It’s a lot less stressful than logging”, he laughs.