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Articles & Stories

US family business grows with 3 WM4000 sawmills

Thursday, April 21, 2016

US family business grows with 3 WM4000 sawmills

Manufacturing pallets for nearly 40 years, the Indiana-based Coomer & Sons Sawmill has grown from a small garage start-up into a commercial-sized operation producing thousands of pallets daily.

The family-owned company has worked with a variety of manufacturing equipment over the years, but operates today with three Wood-Mizer WM4000 industrial thin-kerf headrigs and two multi-head horizontal resaws for the primary and secondary breakdown of logs into pallet components.

Throughout their history, Coomer & Sons has remained successful through economic hardships and unfortunate tragedy by developing a solid business model, taking care of their employees, and providing excellent service.



History and Growth
Established by Charles Coomer in 1978, Coomer & Sons Sawmill is a family-owned and operated business that began in a Frankfort, Indiana garage with four employees producing approximately 75 pallets by hand each day. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Coomer & Sons grew rapidly, moving into larger buildings and installing automated manufacturing equipment to keep up with the demand for their products.

During this period of growth, the company developed a close working relationship with nearby Wood-Mizer headquartered in Indianapolis just 45 miles south of Frankfort. The Coomer family has been Wood-Mizer owners for decades since running one of the company’s first multi-head resaws in the early 1990s. Coomer & Sons has also become a valued partner in testing the Indiana sawmill manufacturer’s prototype equipment and blades.

In 2007, the family business changed hands when founder Charles Coomer passed away. Charles’ son, Jeff, purchased the company and became President just before the economic hardships hit in the late 2000s. During these unfavorable business times, Coomer & Sons remained profitable by offering used pallets to businesses that were trying to save money wherever they could.



“When the economy was bad, we started doing used pallets and within a year we were a full blown used pallet operation selling a million and a half [pallets] a year,” said President Jeff Coomer. “It grew so fast because everybody, during those times, wanted used instead of new pallets to save the dollars.” By diversifying their business, Coomer & Sons had developed a successful model by supplying new and used pallets to a variety of global clients shipping automotive filters, plastics, recyclables, tires, and more. When combined, the market cycles of each client’s industry provide a steady demand to avoid large gaps in production.

In addition to new and used pallets, today Coomer & Sons also provides specialty heat-treated pallets for shipping internationally and supplements their pallet operation by offering byproducts from manufacturing such as mulch and firewood from log end drops.

The success of the family business continued until June of 2014, when Coomer & Sons experienced a tragic fire that burned their building and production equipment clear to the ground. Although no one was injured, the business experienced major losses. At the time of the fire, the company used a circular sawmill and two older model Wood-Mizer industrial headrigs for manufacturing pallet boards. This set-up was efficient at producing pallets at a rate of 1,500 units per day, but Jeff knew there was room for improvement.

Fortunately, Jeff had purchased a building six months earlier and decided to begin rebuilding the family business at the new location. Throughout the remainder of the year, Coomer & Sons installed three Wood-Mizer WM4000 industrial headrigs, green chain, conveyor, and HR1000 Industrial Headrig to get back into production. “We decided to replace the circular mill, which I think was a very wise choice because now that we’ve had these three [WM4000] mills in for a year we’re seeing the results of less waste, less sawdust, and more profit on the bottom line,” said Jeff.



Today, Coomer & Sons is sawing up to 18,000 board feet of oak, ash, hickory, maple, sycamore, hackberry, and cottonwood each day in order to produce more than 3,000 pallets daily – double the amount of pallets they produced with the previous circle mill and headrig set up. The company is continuing to grow its operation with the scheduled addition of a Wood-Mizer WM1000 industrial headrig later this year. The WM1000 will allow Coomer & Sons to break down large logs up to 67” in diameter.

Pallet Manufacturing
First, logs are debarked then transported to the main building for processing. Once logs are staged, they are run through one of three WM4000 industrial headrigs for primary breakdown and fed into one conveyor leading to the green chain. Next, the cants are edged and cut to length on cut-off saws. Cants are then run through one of two multi-head resaws to break down into deck boards and runners before final assembly into pallets with an automated nailing machine. Finished pallets are either shipped out the same day or stored inside their 88,000-square-foot facility. 



Primary sawyer, Troy Shimmel, has worked with Coomer & Sons for the past 15 years and says the WM4000 is simply “fun to run”. Compared to the older model Wood-Mizer headrigs, Troy says the WM4000 saws logs much faster and comments on the improved log handling functions. “I can cut bigger logs and the log turner has a dual turner on it,” said Troy. “The three backstops come up instead of two which helps keep the logs on the saw bed.”

Jeff says the WM4000s are an integral part of the pallet operation and points out the computer setworks provide accuracy and efficiency during log breakdown. “The WM4000’s are a great piece of machinery,” said Jeff. “I think Wood-Mizer’s proven that you can take less material and make it a better saw, heavy doesn’t always mean better. It’s the simplicity of Wood-Mizer’s equipment that is just really nice.” 



Coomer & Sons fits their sawmill equipment with Wood-Mizer blades and have their own blade sharpening and tooth setting equipment. Jeff says that by having their own blade maintenance equipment in house, they are saving money on shipping and are able to sharpen blades up to four times before needing a new blade. “When I get a blade from Wood-Mizer I can saw a lot of material with it, even after it’s been resharpened two or three times,” said Troy.  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
The Family Business
In addition to Jeff operating as President for the past decade, multiple members of the Coomer family occupy key roles within the company including Jeff’s wife Kathleen and son Jeffrey. There’s a lot of hats you have to wear,” said Jeff. “You have to be the grandfather, the dad, the employer and it’s really tough sometimes, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Jeff’s brothers, Chris and Dennis, along with nephews Seth and Andrew also hold positions in the operation. “In business you need to have key personnel,” said Jeff. “My lifelong friend Jeff Stewart oversees all the operations, Ed Cox manages the used pallet facility, and Richard Miller is the maintenance supervisor over all facilities. Without these people, business wouldn’t be so smooth.”

When it comes to business advice, Jeff says it’s the little things that employees remember and appreciate. Every year, the company hosts a Christmas in July and provides turkeys and ham to their employees for Thanksgiving dinner. They have purchased hundreds of bicycles, tools, televisions, and more as employee giveaways throughout the years. “Take care of your employees first and they’ll take care of you,” said Jeff. “Give them a pat on the back and tell them good job. I think that makes more of a difference than anything else.”



For the future, Jeff sees the company remaining steady at least in the next few years. “Sometimes when you get bigger you get more headaches and less profit in the end,” said Jeff. “If you can stay a little bit smaller and find a nice medium niche, you’ll continue to flourish.” 

With a proven ability to adapt with the times, Coomer & Sons is positioned for continued success, wherever the road leads. “In the pallet business, anybody can sell and build pallets, I think you’re selling service,” said Jeff. “As long as you’re on time and you do a great job in the service aspect of it, you’re going to keep customers. Our service is outstanding and you can’t replace that.”

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