…From Felling to Selling; A Visit to Carronbridge…
There has been a sawmill at Thornhill in Dumfries and Galloway since 1910, but it was only when locally born timber harvester Brian Wylie took over the business in 1995 that things began to develop in a dramatic way.
Brian, an ex-woodcutter, had turned his hand to forestry and was already running a successful business in this area when he saw the opportunity to take over the mill by going into partnership with its then owners, the Buccleuch Estate that formed part of wealthy landowner The Duke Of Buccleuch’s properties.
“We already did a lot of felling work for the estate,” Brian said, while working on the eight acre site, ” the sawmills had been a sort of ‘on/off’ affair for the estate and local people sometimes found it open and sometimes shut.”
However Brian was quick to identify the mill’s potential. He knew he was in a good area: Dumfries and Galloway has bountiful standing timber supplies and is well positioned for nationwide distribution of fencing material. So a partnership deal was struck between the Buccleuch Estate and Brian and wife, Veronica, with the estate retaining 25% of the business and the Wylies owning 75%.
It was one of those pairings that was an instant success. With the help of the Estate, Carronbridge Sawmills underwent an overhaul and began opening regular hours as the Wylies took control, with Brian handling the day to running of the milling operation and Veronica taking over the office.
To start with the company targeted the local fencing and rail market but things quickly moved on, and in year 200o a new mill was built to undertake the production of pallet wood.
Brian again: “It’s all just been natural progression to us really. We evolved into what we are today because of the way our market developed. Our local fencing customer base grew but after a while the price of pallets dropped and we started to cut more and more fencing material with the emphasis on slats and Feather Edge.”
Again it was a prudent decision taken at just the right time. There was a need at the time for a dedicated fencing component mill that specialised in producing everything you could require for producing fencing panels or installing fencing.
Now the operation is geared up to service this market but things have changed: Carronbridge no longer just supplies local fencing contractors and farmers but has a nationwide distribution network for their fencing products with an annual turnover of £2million.
As the pallet side of the business gave way more and more to fencing products, Brian and Veronica opened a separate yard at nearby Closeburn where they could manufacture pallets separately and still supply the component material from the main mill.
Two years ago they finished completely with the harvesting side of the business and today buy in local from all over Scotland. “We are an out and out local and Scottish business,” says Veronica, “We employ local people and use home grown material for our production and we support other local businesses as well as sponsoring local sporting ventures. We now have 22 staff on site and our General Manager, Bill Frew, has been with us for ten years.”
Carronbridge produce 300m3 a week of fencing material and distribute all over Scotland and England. Their range includes fence panels for the local market slats, featheredge, fencing battens, capping and some pallet wood. They also keep a range of wire and round posts on site for the local agricultural market. Most of the nationwide work is contracted out to local haulier Bluapple but the mill runs two seven and half tonners of their own for supplying the local trade.
“Funnily enough our biggest concentration of bulk customers is in the Manchester area,” Brian says, “but we are happy to take stock anywhere. Our product is good and a lot of people like to support a local independent mill because they know the quality will be consistently monitored by the owners who are usually very hands on as we are. I think it would be fair to say that we have achieved our ambition of operating a one stop shop for fencing manufacturers.”
Brian and Veronica have achieved much in thirteen years and you can only see things going from strength to strength as they steer the business towards the next stage of its development.