Evergreen Forest Products Inc. – Transportation done right

August 4, 2021

Evergreen Forest Products Inc.

Transportation done right

 

Business View Magazine interviews representatives of Evergreen Forest Products Inc. for our focus on the Wood Products Industry in the U.S.

Evergreen Forest Products Inc. is a well-known trucking company specializing in forest product transportation in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. The company has 182 trucks and operates several terminals in Ackerman, Mississippi, as well as Albertville, Chapman, and Prattville, Alabama. The company’s mission is to provide safe and excellent service to customers in all phases of forest product transportation.

As a family-owned company, Evergreen prides itself on having a tight-knit, family-oriented culture, which is a significant factor in why most employees are lifers. This culture combined with a solid foundation of repeat customers has helped the company grow from a small trucking company with around 20 trucks to where it is today.

Steering the company to these heights took deft leadership from owner Lanier Edwards, who has led the company since its inception in the early nineties. “In 1992, I purchased a company called Rocky Creek Trucking with a partner and renamed it Evergreen Forest Products,” says Edwards. “It was a trucking and logging company located in Greenville, Alabama, and we ran it jointly for about 10 to 15 years.”

In 2005, Edwards bought out the partner, becoming sole owner. The company worked with Union Camp as its exclusive chip hauler besides running additional contracts from other companies in the area. In 2000, Edwards’ brother, Kenneth, joined the company as General Manager in charge of its Chapman terminal.

“Kenneth and I started expanding the business, and we opened a terminal in Alex City and another in Albertville,” recounts Edwards. “Between 2005 and 2015, we grew our truck fleet from around 20 trucks to over 70 trucks. Last year (2020), we opened another terminal in Ackerman, Mississippi, which added a further 20 trucks to our fleet.”

Evergreen deals exclusively in transporting wood byproducts like sawdust, bark, shavings, and chips – a factor that has helped the company streamline its operations and cut its operating costs through resulting efficiencies. “The main reason we do not haul logs is the cost of insurance,” says Edwards. “Focusing on byproducts helped us avoid this cost and enabled us to focus on becoming the best at transporting wood byproducts.”

The company’s customer base mainly comprises lumber mills that contract it to transport its wood byproducts to third-party customers, including other mills, chicken farms, or facilities that use boilers. Evergreen also contracts with value-addition companies like the paper mill and manufacturer Clearwater Paper, hauling their byproducts to other customers in the wood supply chain.

Evergreen’s headquarters are in Chapman, Alabama, with several terminals spread across the state and adjacent states of Georgia and Mississippi. Close to 90 percent of its trucks are company owned and driven by full-time employees. The remaining 10 percent of the fleet is filled by contract truckers who own the trucks and come in to provide extra capacity when the firm is handling larger loads or during high season.

Employee retention at the company is higher than the trucking industry average, and there is a good reason why. As Edwards explains, “We don’t have a lot of employee turnover because our drivers usually have families and the type of work that we offer allows them to go home and spend the night with their family. Since most of our drivers are career drivers coming from long-haul jobs, they are tired of being on the road, sleeping in the truck, and not getting to see their families. They come to work for us because we offer a different life plus a particularly good pay scale, which they tend to like, and that makes them stick around.”

Besides the type of work and pay, Daniel Hall, President and General Manager at Evergreen, believes the company’s corporate culture also helps. “We have a lot of long-term employees, especially our terminal managers and management and administrative team,” he says. “We have minimal turnover in these departments, although we do have some truck drivers come and go like any company would.” He adds that the company has a solid core group of employees despite the turnover, including those with management, administrative, and truck driving duties. “It does feel a lot like a family business,” Hall says, “even down to the driver level, everyone knows everyone else with most of us on a first-name basis.”

Evergreen runs a unique operation that does not rely on traditional dispatchers like most trucking companies. Instead, the company has terminal managers with a wide range of skills, including dispatching, maintenance scheduling, and recruitment and management of truck drivers. “By combining multiple roles, we can pay our terminal managers enough to keep them happy in their jobs, besides providing them with diverse work to do,” explains Edwards.

Hall echoes Edwards’ sentiments, pointing to the fact that everyone’s work routine is relatively standardized, which removes the need for dedicated dispatchers. “Our workers have the same daily schedule,” he says, “which means our drivers get into a good routine that does not require constant dispatching.”

Evergreen’s truck fleet is maintained internally by a team of mechanics housed at its various terminals. Although it maintains its own fleet, it only does so within the warranty period provided by the manufacturer. “We purchase new trucks through our Kenworth dealer, Truckworx, and our Freightliner dealer, Four Star. All the new trucks that we purchase have five-year, 500,000-mile warranties,” says Edwards. “Since we put about 100,000 miles on each truck annually, we usually trade them in towards the fourth to the fifth year before the warranty expires. Truckworx and Four Star are both great to work with.”

Evergreen does most of its business with long-term customers. Despite the company investing in various marketing and sales efforts, Hall admits that most of its business comes from repeat customers and word of mouth. He notes, “We have established customers that we’ve worked with for a long time who will reach out to us on occasion because they may have a different outlet that they need us to service. Most of our new business is word of mouth, while our current business comes from established contracts.”

Aside from long-time customers, the company also relies on long-term partners and suppliers to support its business. “International Paper Company is one of the premier contract companies that we serve as part of their supplier network, and we’re proud to be a part of that,” says Edwards. “We also work with various other partners throughout the Southeast.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the timber and trucking industry like every other industry, but its effects came with an exciting realization for Evergreen. “Before the pandemic, we never really thought about what we do as a company,” shares Edwards. “We considered ourselves just a trucking company. However, when the governor of Alabama deemed our business an essential service, it cast our business in a different light which made us all really proud. One moment we were just truckers, and the next we were considered a vital component in the state’s economic network that ensures wood products like tissue and paper remain available.”

In addition to this welcomed company classification, Evergreen also experienced a surge in business in 2020, as the industry rebounded from the previous year’s slow down.

Further growth and expansion are in the cards as Evergreen strategizes for the future. Part of this growth includes Edwards handing over the reins to Hall, who is taking over the company leadership and has grand plans for the company.

“A lot is changing in our industry, especially around technologies like electric vehicles, autonomous trucks, and artificial intelligence,” says Hall. “Although most of that tech must be vetted first, they do represent exciting prospects for our business and the entire industry. Our classification as an essential business is not going away any time soon, as the number of paper products needed increases. We have a good business model, and we will continue looking for ways to be more cost-effective and more environmentally friendly, so we can keep getting the essential products to where they are needed through a hauling process done right.”

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AT A GLANCE

Evergreen Forest Products Inc.

What: A growing trucking company specializing in forest product transportation

Where: Headquarters in Greenville, Alabama

Website: www.evergreenforestproductsinc.com

PREFERRED VENDORS

Truckworx, Inc. – www.TRUCKWORX.com

Truckworx is Alabama, Mississippi, and the Florida Panhandle’s premier commercial truck, trailer, and school bus dealer featuring nationally acclaimed parts and service teams and award-winning product lines. Our family-owned business was founded as Kenworth of Birmingham in 1978 and remains Alabama’s exclusive Kenworth dealer today. Additionally, Truckworx also represents Hino (made by Toyota) and Isuzu commercial trucks and six heavy-duty trailer manufacturers; and we now offer full-service leasing and short-term rentals for vocational and over-the-road trucks through PacLease.  We are also Alabama’s exclusive Blue Bird bus dealer and an authorized dealer of Yeti products, M.B. Ranch King deer blinds, and Pitmaker Grills.

In addition to our high-quality products, our level of service is unmatched! In fact, Truckworx was recently named North America’s Parts & Service Dealer of the Year and Fleet Services Dealer of the Year by Kenworth Truck Company!

Truckworx currently employs approximately 435 people over thirteen locations. Full-service dealerships are located in Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, Thomasville, Tuscaloosa, and Dothan, AL., and in Jackson, MS. Truckworx also operates a commercial body shop in Birmingham, AL and three TRP Parts locations in Alabaster and Opelika, AL, and Altha, FL. For more information on Truckworx or for career opportunities, visit www.TRUCKWORX.com.

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