WHAT started out as a good old-fashioned bartering and exchange system around seven years ago has gone on to become one of Cheshire’s flourishing businesses. A matter of converting firewood into beer at their local hostelry, from the rural confines of their family farm, brothers Will and Sam Starkey have seen Delamere Logs prosper. Located deep in the heart of Cheshire’s Delamere Forest, the brothers’ distinctly liveried Toyota Dyna pickups are now a familiar sight around the Cheshire highways and byways where this now thriving business enjoys an ever-expanding list of customers.

And from a simple exchange system converting logs into liquid refreshment, Delamere Logs’ ultra-modern online system means customers can order and pay online, their consignment of natural fuel delivered no later than the following day, Will and Sam young and savvy enough to have embraced JIT (just in time). And with enough hard and soft wood logs held in stock to keep all their customers fully supplied with naturally dried wood, there’s none of that kiln-dried, fast-burning timber to be found here.

From mutual trading with the local pub, family and friends were soon asking if they could be supplied with logs; something the brothers were more than delighted to do.

“Both Sam and myself went to Harper Adams agricultural college where we were constantly told that unless they owned large farms, smaller farms and farming needed to diversify to survive,” said Will. “And since Town Farm is only 180 acres divided between the various family members there’s not what you might call a lot to go at. But one feature was the wooded areas that Sam and I kept looking at and wondering as to what we might be able to do with them, and logs were the answer.”

Forestry Journal: The Botex log handler is fitted to the yard’s JCB.The Botex log handler is fitted to the yard’s JCB.

The interest Will and Sam generated with their small-scale logging enterprise astonished even them, which prompted them to launch a website allowing existing and potential customers to order and pay online. Word of mouth, the website and, of course, social media also generated a whole new wave of customers, from private households to local shops and businesses, with petrol stations especially keen to stock their netted logs and kindling on their forecourts. This also meant that Will and Sam had their weekends more or less spoken for, their part-time undertaking quickly starting to become their main line of work.

“From there being just the two of us, we now employ four other people on a seasonal basis,” explained Sam. “We also had to start looking to source raw timber from elsewhere, demand outstripping our own supply. Many times we buy it in the round from the roadside since the one thing we don’t do is harvest ourselves, unlike when we started. It used to be just Will and me with a chainsaw, felling the trees then cutting them to size and preparing the logs, but not any more. Equally, felling and hauling timber in the round isn’t what we set out to do; there are people out there far better qualified and more able to do that than we are. What we do try and ensure is that, living and working in the Delamere Forest, the majority of our timber is locally sourced. Not all of it comes from around here but since we’ve become well known, many estates let us know when they’re felling trees.”

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With a healthy supply of yard space and old potato boxes, from the moment it arrives, be it hard or soft wood, the timber starts its natural drying process. Sam and Will insist that the natural process results in a far better seasoned product, something their local customers have come to not only rely on, but insist on. And while it takes between 12 and 18 months to arrive at a typical Delamere Logs product, the time this natural process takes has more than proven its worth.

Will explained, “We provide our customers with the level of service and professionalism they’ve come to expect, be it the local car dealership, supermarket or high street shop. Professionalism is what they expect and professionalism is exactly what we offer. All our logs are guaranteed Woodsure ‘Ready To Burn’ accredited and are sourced from environmentally friendly plantations, with all of the woodlands being replanted and carefully managed. Other similar companies to us buy their timber from countries such as Latvia and Russia where vast tracts are clear-felled and not replaced – kiln dry it and sell it in a space of 10 days – but that’s not for us. Sam and I are more than conscious that most of our customers are environmentally aware and take a keen interest in the products they buy and that they like to support a small, local family concern.”

Forestry Journal: The single Posch SpaltFix S-375 Turbo cuts the logs to the precise size.The single Posch SpaltFix S-375 Turbo cuts the logs to the precise size.

The soft timbers the brothers supply are, in the main, Norwegian spruce and European larch, the hardwoods being oak, sycamore, ash and beech. These in turn are supplied from within Cheshire itself, nearby Lancashire and North Wales. The other reason for sourcing locally felled timber is that it cuts down considerably on transportation costs, which in turn cuts down on the size of the carbon footprint the haulage generates.

But for all of Delamere Logs’ expanding business and clientele, the actual production process has been kept to a minimum. Wood is brought in 25 tonnes at a time and moved into position with one of a pair of JCB telehandlers, one a 530 the other a 531 fitted with a Botex log grab. Powered by a Ford 8210 tractor, a Posch SpaltFix S-375 Turbo log splitter cleans and cuts the round timber into precise eight-inch lengths, reason being that most modern, efficient, emission-controlled log-burners only accept and burn logs of a specific length that are correctly dried. The Posch is also fitted with a sawdust extractor fan, the dust and shreds used by local farmers for part of their cattle bedding.

The logs then feed directly into the wooden storage containers that are then placed into storage. Anything that’s larger than the specified 14-inch-diameter timber is initially split using a Cat 312 excavator, all forestry equipment supplied by Jas P. Wilson of Scotland, a company that Will and Sam can’t speak highly enough of. The logs then continue their drying process, periodically rotated to ensure an even procedure, before being netted or cut down into bags of kindling that are extremely popular with local garden centres, farm shops and other smaller retail premises.

Forestry Journal: All cut logs feed directly into the wooden storage boxes, ready for additional drying and delivery.All cut logs feed directly into the wooden storage boxes, ready for additional drying and delivery.

The benefits of supplying both soft and hard wood logs are twofold, most customers taking a 50-50 mixture of  both. Besides growing quicker, which means it takes less time to replace itself, once customers have become used to starting off their log-burning stoves with the softer wood that ignites and burns faster, a suitable supply mixture of the slower-burning hardwood logs means they’re soon able to learn how to burn and use their stoves to the best effect.

The slower-to-grow and slower-to-burn hard timber providing heat over a longer period, a modern take on the old coal fire principle of using different grades of coal for a longer-burning fire.

The one aspect of modern life and social media Sam and Will are more than aware of is the impact and influence most notably of Facebook. Now one of the world’s most powerful advertising mediums, Delamere Logs makes great use of what is ultimately a free tool to great effect.

“The reason we ensure everything about Delamere Logs – its products, online facilities and supply chain – is as good as it is can be attributed to Facebook,” explained Sam. “It only takes one customer to post something negative and the end result can be disastrous. But, as a positive tool, last year we did a ‘like and share’ Facebook competition that not only interacted with our 1,400 direct followers, but also reached over 36,000 people; it produced staggering results and it was completely free. We post at least once a week about any offers we might be running and to promote our fishing ponds, which to get to brings you straight past the Delamere Logs door. Facebook also allows people to keep in touch with us, whether they’re ordering logs or not. It also keeps Delamere Logs in their minds.”

The combination of their social media, website and online ordering and payment system also means that Will and Sam rarely if ever suffer from late payments since it’s all done when ordering. It also means that the business has been able to ascertain exactly when their orders peak.

Forestry Journal: Old potato crates store the cut and dried logs for just over twelve months.Old potato crates store the cut and dried logs for just over twelve months.

“As soon as Thursday evening comes around the domestic orders start coming in, rising as a rule on a Friday. Once they’ve settled down for the evening and they start looking at their social media feeds, a Delamere Logs post prompts many of our customers into ordering their logs for the weekend, many times asking if we can deliver the following day,” laughed Sam. “And since it’s me or Will that make most of the deliveries, we both know exactly what we’ll be doing in the run-up to the weekend or on Saturday. The great thing is it means we meet many of our customers face to face and get to keep in touch with them.”

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As for the future of Delamere Logs, while it will always remain a local, friendly, family business, expansion is never far away from the brothers’ thoughts, as Will explained.

“Last year we won a European-funded grant which allowed us to build the new drying sheds and concrete quite a large area of the yard. As part of that grant we also have to show that we’ve taken on additional staff even though it tends to be seasonal. During the summer months we tend not to need everyone. As you can appreciate, demand for the logs increases during the colder periods. This means that our staff work full-time for us seven months of the year; the other five months they work on the local farms.

“But even though we’ve grown massively over the past seven years we’re still not supplying the whole of Cheshire. There’s a lot more business to be had and a lot more growth. Year on year we’re expanding. This year alone we’ve stocked up with an additional 700 tonnes of raw timber on top of the 2,000 tonnes we already hold, our ethos being once one of the wooden storage boxes is emptied, it’s immediately refilled. We’re eagerly looking for more retail customers in addition to expanding our social media presence. We’d also like to hear from more local estates that have timber they have to sell or are planning to fell. We’d be delighted to talk with them and provide a local outlet for their timber.”

But it isn’t all online or Facebook; in fact, face to face still serves Will and Sam well. Any of their customers that want to call in to the farm offices are more than welcome to buy that bag of kindling they forgot to order or sort out their supply for the winter. The cold weather might still be a long way off but Delamere Logs is always close by.

For more information on Delamere Logs, visit www.delamerelogs.co.uk

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