Bark Clad Walls – Great Green Building Product!
Bark Clad Walls – Growing the Business of Bark in Asheville Area, Courtesy of Dale Neal, firstname.lastname@example.org
Danny Heatherly knows the secrets of trees after a lifetime cutting timber in the woods.
Take the tulip poplar, one of the most common species in the Blue Ridge mountains, which makes a steady supply for furniture and plywood makers. “There are two months out of the year when you can take the clothes right off that tree,” Heatherly said. “Try to peel a poplar the rest of the year, and you get nothing. There’s not a tool you can use to separate the bark from the wood.”
The Haywood County native has found a fancy use for that bark, once thrown away as waste product or at best ground into mulch. He launched BarkClad in 1999.
Now his company employs up to 20 people in season, typically June and July, peeling, cutting and kiln-drying up to 140,000 square feet of tulip poplar bark. Sold year round, those natural shingles are dressing up exclusive homes in all 50 states, at a premium of up to $7.25 per square feet.
Heatherly is particular about buying bark from the many timbermen who pull into his mill yard in Bethel each summer. He checks to make sure all the wood coming through BarkClad carries certification from the Forest Stewardship Council.
“I don’t buy bark from anyone I don’t know. Some of these guys are stealing the wood from the government or their grandmother. It only makes sense if we are sustainably harvesting the forests,” Heatherly said.
The bark is carefully peeled by hand and carried out from the logging site, rather than dragged to protect the fragile product. His workers stack the bark for drying up to seven days in massive kiln rooms at his mill. The process removes the excess moisture along with any insects, larvae and fungi.
Once dried, cut and properly installed on a house, shingles will last 30 years at least with minimal upkeep. There’s no need to spray or treat the wood with any chemicals. And Heatherly says the shingles will hold up well in the worst storm. “You’d have to take two claw hammers to remove it.”
Many homeowners like the unique colors and textures of each shingle, even those cut from the same tree. The south side of a poplar will show more silver colors, while around on the north and shady side, the bark grows darker with more moss and lichens.
Bark saved his business back in the Great Recession when housing markets and construction business collapsed nationwide.
While he had a hard time selling timber, the demand for the bark shingles remained strong during the downturn. “I wouldn’t have believed it,” he said.
But Heatherly isn’t content to rest on just old business. He might just be the only business owner in all of rural Bethel with his own patent.
While the natural bark shingle appeals to high-end homeowners and builders, he wanted to put a product in the hands of do-it-yourselfers, who may want easier installation.
He first knocked at the door of Western Carolina University’s Center for Rapid Product Realization around five years ago.
Using new scanning equipment, Monty Graham and his graduate students were able to reverse-engineer what a tulip poplar tree takes seasons to grow into massive digital files Heatherly could use in creating a mold.
The center regularly gets requests from area businesses, said Graham, who fields a call or so a week from a company or innovator needing help with a prototype.
“We’re here to provide engineering support to industry and entrepreneurs like Danny.”
Last year, BarkClad launched the SmartBark shingle with a patented interlocking system on the back.
Using the technology, Heatherly can also replicate the look of bark from other trees such as cherry and American chestnut, which can’t be sustainably harvested from the wild.
The synthetic shingle is made in Gastonia, making BarkClad among a select number of North Carolina companies with all locally grown and manufactured products.
“Everything happens in North Carolina and that’s rare. I’m very proud of that,” said Brian Summers.
Summers joined the company about a year and half ago as chief operating officer.
With a background in product development, including an air purifier for Asheville Allergy Partners, Summers saw a winner in Heatherly’s bark business, both the natural and the synthetic shingles.
“It’s such a cool product with a story. We could count on cash flow from the first day. We use the profits from the natural back to fund the SmartBark.”
“I needed somebody smart to run the day to day for me,” Heatherly said. “Brian is taking the company to the next level, while I make sure he has plenty of shingles to sell.”
The company has tripled its revenues in the past year and Summers could see doubling sales in the coming year.
Their products are already winning national attention. Moss Creek, one of the world’s leading timber frame architects based in Knoxville, just signed BarkClad as a vendor last week.
Bethel will become a bigger player, providing bark shingles to high-end homes nationwide.
“This Old House,” the national remodeling TV series and website, recently named BarkClad’s SmartBark as one of the top 100 products of 2014. “We‘re getting a lot of great response,” Summers said.
Summers and Heatherly would like to grow the bark business into a $5 million to $10 million company in the next few years.
“We want to see how far we can take it,” Summers said.
To read more about BarkClad’s products, partners and process, visit barkclad.com.
Courtesy of Dale Neal, email@example.com