WHITE CITY — In a plant where the region's timber once was sawed into building materials, TerraMai is reviving castoff wood and giving it as much or more sales value than its first life.
A half-dozen sanding, planing and sawing operations turn materials otherwise destined for landfills into paneling and floors for corporate offices, symbolic of Southern Oregon's ability to transform itself from a timber-based economy to one that embraces recycling and renewable energy.
"It's a messy business for people who want to get into ratty, old wood and find the beauty in lousy looking material," owner Ken Westrick says. "You've got to really love it, it's not something that lends itself to big commercialization."
Westrick's moment of inspiration came in 2002, when he was traveling in Montana.
"I saw these old barns falling down," Westrick says. "I thought, 'Boy that's some gorgeous wood, I bet there's a business in old barn wood.'"
He discovered it was a mom-and-pop industry with a lot of small-time operators.
"I thought if I could bring some of what I learned in Silicon Valley to this industry, I think we've got a shot at being the leading brand in the reclaimed industry."
In 2003, he acquired a small operation in McCloud, Calif., eventually giving it the TerraMai moniker — "Terra," Latin for earth, and "Mai," Thai for wood. After a lengthy transition period, in which he continued to work as a CEO for a tech start-up in the Bay Area, he took control of daily operations.
"I quickly realized I needed to move either north or south," he says. "The weather was challenging, the workforce was challenging, and the facilities were challenging. We were either going to move to the Bay Area or to Oregon."
He soon determined Oregon was a more advantageous option.
The Eugene F. Burrill Lumber Co. mill on Agate Road in White City, 107 miles to the north, possessed all the attributes Westrick had in mind. In 2012, TerraMai acquired the 18-acre site, with 70,000 square feet of covered operational space, across the street from S.B. James Construction.
"We showed them many properties several years ago and that one fit the bill for them," says Colleen Padilla, executive director for Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. "There was not going to be another mill at that site, so we were looking for another ideal and sustainable replacement for that property."
The firm has about 70 employees and a national sales force and opened its first showroom and retail outlet in Portland earlier this year. In a sense, TerraMai emulated a hermit crab, discarding a shell that's grown too small for a larger one.
"It's a company that fits our personality in Southern Oregon by remanufacturing and repurposing materials," Padilla says. "There's a lot of bent toward that in Oregon in general, where people are dedicated to keeping our area green and livable."
Recession still gripped the area, but as the national economy improved, TerraMai took off.
Foreign material is shipped by container to ports and then trucked to Oregon. TerraMai brought in five to 10 containers annually a decade ago. Now there are about 50 imported loads, or about one a week, delivered to White City.
"By looking internationally, we're able to find all sorts of treasures," Westrick says. "There is nothing like reclaimed teak to really add some luxury and gorgeous aesthetics to a space."
The bread and butter sourcing for much of the paneling is redwood from California's Lost Coast, a stretch in Humboldt and Mendocino counties where highways 1 and 101 veer away from the Pacific.
"The natural weathering from the fencing makes for some pretty amazing paneling," he says.
A rare Panamanian wood became available in recent months, when trees were recovered from a submerged forest, Business Manager Rob Cain says.
TerraMai has acquired dragonwood, whose zebra striping is revealed when the surface is planed, from the bottom of Panama’s Bayano hydroelectric dam. The dam was built in 1979 and a hardwood forest was submerged when the reservoir filled. The slabs are around 3 inches thick and 10 to 35 inches wide.
"It's certainly a unique product and we're not going to have any more once we sell them," Cain says.
The company works with designers and architects, because it often leads to repeat orders.
"We send them a sample box with 20 standard products," Cain says. "If they are interested, we send more than the 20. If they are interested in a particular finish, then we'll send three to five samples of that product."
Longtime vendors understand TerraMai desires the same types of material year after year.
"Most of them are collecting specifically for us," Cain says. "Salvage is where the value is. It would take too much time to reclaim material following disasters."
Fortune 500 companies looking for something different have found TerraMai's slab tables add a distinctive touch. You are apt to find TerraMai reclaimed wood in a Pizza Hut, Southern California McDonald's and other chains. The recently opened RAM Restaurant and Brewery and MOD Pizza in Medford's Northgate MarketPlace are adorned with TerraMai components.
A container filled with teak from Malaysia can produce between 15,000 and 25,000 square feet of flooring or paneling.
In general, redwood is reclaimed from California, Douglas fir from the Northwest, acacia and teak from Thailand and Indonesia and other varieties from Brazil, Guatemala and Panama.
Developing a national sales force with people in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Seattle was critical to growing the company, Westrick says. So was adjusting price points.
"We tended to be more in the $12 to $18 level and we still have material in that range," he says. "But $8 to $12 is much more appealing."
Earlier this year, the company reached a milestone when it opened its first metropolitan showroom — TerraMai PDX, a retail outlet, featuring an extensive selection of flooring, paneling, siding and decking in a variety of finishes and looks made from reclaimed teak, oak, redwood, Douglas fir, walnut and acacia.
The 4,000-square-foot showroom in Portland’s Eastside Industrial District also stocks an exclusive line of sleek reclaimed wood furniture and raw slabs.
— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.