The drive to Zena Forest Products is an adventure in itself.
Located more than a mile off a paved road in the Eola Hills, Zena Forest Products is a family-owned operation that melds sustainable business practices with the natural beauty of Oregon trees to create truly phenomenal pieces of wood. Visitors follow red-painted sawblades along the winding dirt road, eventually encountering the sawmill—and likely, co-owner and operator Ben Deumling.
Deumling established Zena Forest Products in 2008 as a way to utilize and find markets for wood sourced from the native species found on his family’s forestland. Since 1987, Deumling’s mother, Sarah, has meticulously managed the forest, responsibly harvesting and planting as needed. The FSC-certified forestland is protected by a conservation easement, ensuring it remains a working forest for generations to come. When the family gained ownership of the land in 2008, Deumling spotted an opportunity.
“We have to manage a complex and robust forest to ecologically withstand whatever comes at it,” Deumling explained.
This means nurturing a mix of species native to the valley, including Oregon White Oak, Western Bigleaf Maple and Oregon Ash, in addition to cedars, pines, and the Douglas Fir so commonly planted for its market value. In order to successfully manage the forest long term, however, Deumling had to find a way to generate a profit. He needed an outlet through which to sell and showcase the valuable properties of these woods—so he created one.
Deumling and his brother personally crafted the Zena Forest Products sawmill, which is equipped with machinery that Deumling altered himself. The Zena team plants in the winter and logs in the summer, although Deumling noted that the mill is busy and running almost year-round. In addition to harvesting trees grown in their own forest, the Deumlings also purchase local wood from within a 60-mile radius of the mill. The wood then dries onsite for nearly a year before being sold as flooring, furniture and cabinet stock, or some other custom product.
“I like to say that we are a low volume, high value operation,” Deumling said.
While Zena Forest Products may not be the largest wood products producer, they are certainly well respected. The family takes pride in its locally sourced wood, which can be seen in the meticulous care and quality found in its products. And while the Zena team primarily sells retail to homeowners, many homebuilders and installers have taken note of their work, too.
“We’ve become part of some of their portfolios,” Deumling said. “They will bring [clients] out here so that the consumer becomes involved in the process, too.”
Undoubtedly, the intimacy of such a personal buying process has helped bring Zena Forest Products success. As the company has grown, Deumling and his team have been able to delve into new projects. Recently, they acquired a well-established heat register business from a couple in Corvallis and expanded their workshop to accommodate the production needs of this new product.
“They were stepping out of the business and wanted to make sure that their customers were in good hands, that their needs were still met,” Deumling explained. “We still make the same high quality heat registers.”
While crafting heat registers is perhaps a natural extension of their hardwood floor production, this new project has laid the foundation for future, more complicated products. The new workshop allows for the potential of additional finished products, as well as unique, on-demand creations upon request.
Such commercial growth has enabled the Deumlings to spread their land ethic vision beyond their own property boundaries. According to the Oregon Fish & Wildlife Conservation Strategy, less than five percent of the Willamette Valley’s original White Oak population remains. Oak woodlands have given way to farmland, vineyards and Douglas Firs planted for profitable logging. Through the platform provided by Zena Forest Products, the Deumlings are trying to popularize the notion that sustainability and economic prosperity are far from mutually exclusive.
When purchasing from other hardwoods sellers, Deumling said he pays a 30 percent premium to those who are actively working to restore oak to their properties. Zena Forest Products also partners with local, environmentally responsible companies and craftsmen, like the Build Local Alliance, Restoration Creek and The Joinery.
Working with his mother, siblings and their spouses—whom he calls “an amazing brain trust”—Deumling strives to create a sustainable, successful business model that can foster both a forest and family for generations. The Zena team recently planted hundreds of oak trees, a project that will take decades to generate a return. Deumling himself won’t reap the benefits, but his children and grandchildren will.
“What we’re doing here doesn’t have much value unless there’s a legacy,” Deumling said.
If you own a family business and, like Ben Deumling, hope to provide a solid foundation for ensuing generations, contact your local BC+S office today. Our knowledgeable team will match with you the best CPA to fit your particular business needs, from succession planning to financial statement services.
For more information about Zena Forest Products, visit their website or contact Ben Deumling via phone at (503) 687-2626 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The mill is open to visitors by appointment only.