Wholesale Firewood Supplies was established by Doug and Marilyn MacKenzie in 1983, originally trading under the name “Wholesale Manuka Supplies”. It was set up as a one-man operation in the bush, with Marilyn’s background in computers and office skills complementing Doug’s hands-on approach.
The business was based in Tuturumuri, south of Martinborough. Only Manuka firewood was produced at the early stage of the business. Doug cut the Manuka down on the hills and left it to leaf-dry. Once seasoned, he pulled the lengths down the hill to a site where he could cut the Manuka up into suitable sizes for log burners. It was then loaded by hand onto the delivery truck and delivered direct to customers throughout the Wellington region. Doug built up a good rapport with customers and it wasn’t uncommon for customers to have a cup of tea and scones waiting for him. The business is now located in Martinborough, where it’s been since 1987.
Manuka was the firewood of choice from those early days, but Doug and Marilyn started to expand into other species such as Gum, Macrocarpa, Wattle, Douglas-Fir and Pine. Every year the database grew and the pressure to meet the growing market became more intense. Log burners were being put into homes at an incredible rate. Producing firewood was very labour intensive and Doug and Marilyn couldn’t produce enough to keep up with demand, despite having over 10 men cutting and producing firewood.
The business took a major step in 2008 when they imported their first Multitek firewood-processing machine from North America. The machines are from Wisconsin and can process whole logs, cutting and splitting them into lengths of firewood before loading directly onto a delivery truck. With this technology, Doug and Marilyn’s company began producing quantities at a much quicker rate with a lot less labour.
With their first log processing machine now sold, Doug and Marilyn imported another one of Multitek’s latest firewood processor early 2014, which is capable of producing 25 cubic metres of firewood per hour.
The source of firewood has also changed over the years. Firewood logs are now purchased from forests throughout the lower North Island. These logs used to be the reject timber logs from the forestry skidder sites, which were once pushed over the banks and left to rot. But forest managers and logging contractors heard Wholesale Firewood Supplies was in the market for firewood logs, and a close relationship ensued. Doug and Marilyn say it was a win-win situation, the forest site was left clean and they had firewood logs suitable to go through their processor.
Manuka is no longer a big seller. The cost of extracting Manuka from the bush and the high value of Manuka honey, means it is no longer cost effective to burn in log burners but there are still customers who like to burn Manuka so Doug tries to keep a little in stock.
From their very early days, they encouraged their customers to buy firewood during the summer and put it away so they could enjoy burning fully seasoned wood the next winter. Regular customers didn’t take too much convincing that this was the correct thing to do and this gave them a 12-month income right from the start.
These days they have three 8m3 trucks and one 12m3 truck. Each truck travels twice a day to Wellington, Monday to Friday.
One by one, Doug and Marilyn’s children and their spouses have joined the business. It has meant Doug and Marilyn can now take a step back and enjoy an easier lifestyle, but still have an active hand in the business. Their son Shane is the face that most of the Wellington customers relate to. He joined the business in 1995 and drives the large 12m3 delivery truck. His skills at maneuvering his truck into driveways is nothing short of outstanding.
At the firewood yard, Shane operates all machinery and helps with the processing and loading of trucks. Daughter Kelly runs the office answering phones, emails, marketing and scheduling the deliveries.
Daniel, Kelly’s husband, has a background in the sales industry. He works in the firewood yard processing firewood, unloading logging trucks and relief driving. He liaises with forest managers and logging contractors to secure the large quantities of logs required to keep the firewood processor operating.
All the firewood is seasoned in log form and stored outside in the open air. They say that wood that is periodically wetted down on the surface will season more quickly than wood stored in a dry environment, as the surface water keeps cellular pathways open for moisture to move to the surface and evaporate. This process will continue until the wood moisture content is in equilibrium with the humidity of the surrounding air.
Their recommendation when burning firewood is to select a combination of wood. Use a soft wood to start the fire and get a good hot base, then a hard wood to slow down the burning time and have maximum heat output. Their most popular option is a combination of gum and split pine.
The Mackenzie’s say that firewood should be recognized as a practical, readily available source of “green” energy. Burning firewood releases no more harmful greenhouse gases than would be produced were the wood to simply rot on the forest floor.