Frank B. Powell Lumber Co. – Licking

Tony Parks, owner of the Frank B. Powell Lumber Company and three related companies, didn’t have animal bedding on his mind when he was honorably discharged from the Army as a captain in the late 1970s.

He’d begun ROTC at Mississippi State University in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War and expected to be shipped out as a second lieutenant on graduation. He graduated in 1973, part of the first ROTC class in nearly a decade not to be automatically assigned to the battlefield. President Nixon had withdrawn nearly a half million troops — including virtually all combat troops — by the beginning of 1972.

“At the time, I was disappointed,” Parks says. “I mean, I had prepared for four years for Vietnam.” Now he realizes that was perhaps not such a bad thing; casualty rates for second lieutenants were astronomical.

Instead Parks was assigned to duty in Fort Belvoir, Va., and ended his career as company commander, 168th Engineer Group, Mississippi National Guard. He had earned a bachelor’s degree in forest management and began working for Anderson-Tully Worldwide, a now-global hardwood producer based in Vicksburg, Miss.

There he immersed himself in forest management, manufacturing, sales and administration for 32 years. And he put this experience to good use when he purchased the Frank B. Powell Lumber Company and its extensive timber holdings in 2004. This rolling acreage in the Missouri Ozarks is covered in southern yellow pine, a wood the American lumber industry had largely ignored.

hands holding wood shavingsBut Parks saw opportunity.

“We found there was very little manufacturing associated with southern yellow pine,” he says. “And the Ozarks has a large quantity of this high quality wood.”

Yellow pine, Parks knew, makes excellent animal bedding. It’s highly absorbent, odor neutralizing and, unlike many other woods, doesn’t produce a lot of dust. Parks and his team developed a method of sterilizing pine shavings to guarantee a salmonella-free product, a large concern in poultry and turkey production.

Suddenly, a new venture, Ozarks Shavings, LLC, was in the livestock bedding business. Parks also founded the Current River Timber Company as a timber resource and the Current River Pole Company to make utility poles and fence posts.

Ozarks Shavings was a moderate success and boasted a handful of larger customers. But Parks wanted more. He wanted to know if his pricing was right; where he could find additional markets for the product; and how he could target large customers, distributors and individuals.

So he contacted the Missouri State University (MSU) SBTDC in Springfield. Isabel Eisenhauer, business consultant, and a team from the MO SBTDC’s Business Growth Services, a nationally certified team of market research experts, plunged into extremely detailed research on opportunities to maximize revenue and explore new markets.

At the same time, Parks decided to seek additional assistance in the preparation of a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan for his various operations. Eisenhauer provided great service with this step, too, combing through a 630-page loan application, drilling down to such detail as reformatting headings and excluding outdated supporting documents.

“That application required almost no follow-up responses,” Parks recalls. “We avoided so many pitfalls and were approved without any additional information being required.” A local bank ultimately made the $4.6 million loan.

Eisenhauer and the team recommended buttressing the Ozark Shavings brand by creating a livelier website, deploying social media, creating more distinctive packaging, using word of mouth advertising and creating publicity through articles published in industry publications.

Parks’ three companies now employ 29 workers in a region of Missouri where steady jobs are scarce. The three firms combined boast $6.3 million in sales, a nearly half million-dollar improvement over last year.

Parks says Eisenhauer and the team are in part responsible for that improvement, and he says this year promises to be even better. He expects to process 15 million board feet and ship his products to 12 states.

Still, Parks says today’s business climate is the most challenging he’s ever faced.

“There is a great deal of capacity looking for markets,” he says. “In almost every area, you encounter competition you’d never expect, so you must continually look for a competitive advantage.

“In past years, a manufacturer had a longer period to enjoy the markets and customer base. Today, you must continue to search for a niche, customer base or innovative product. You must always consider who your customers are and meet their expectations.”

And his military experience? It helped him become a better businessman, he says.

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