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Thread: Mike Gogo Sawmill and Christmas Tree Farm

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    Apr 2008
    A crow's nest in a Nanaimo Douglas fir tree

    Default Mike Gogo Sawmill and Christmas Tree Farm

    For anyone who is interested, here is an interesting article about Mike Gogo's sawmill and tree farm.


    Meet Mike Gogo
    by Joe Perraton:

    The 639-acre Gogo family farm has been in operation for over 100 years, and today Mike Gogo has diversified the farm to include a woodlot, sawmill and tree farm. As I drove up to the Gogo farm, a designated century farm heritage site on South Forks Road in Nanaimo, I thought would find Mike at the office; but like most people who work in the forest industry, Mike was down at the mill working. When I got to the mill site Mike was busy running the log loader carefully sorting and stacking cedar logs for each of the three Wood-Mizer bandmills set up in the yard. After making sure there were enough logs stacked at each mill to keep them going for a while, Mike stepped off his machine and we sat down for a chat.

    As we pulled up a seat in one of the shacks at the mill site, Mike carefully began to tell me about his recent changes to his sawmill operation. Mike went from running an old 56" circular sawmill with a 6" edger to three Wood-Mizer band mills. Although he keeps threatening to retire he is never far from the mill. "My purpose is actually to make money. Now, I am by nature, one of the laziest people you ll ever meet in your life, but my greed supercedes my laziness," he said with grin. He went on to explain, "I m quarterback at the mill. Whatever order we are cutting I try to have the right size log at the right mill at the right time. Profiling is so important."

    Mike has one LT40 Wood-Mizer sawmill of his own and contracts another two additional LT40s on an hourly rate. When I asked him why he pays by the hour instead of by the board foot he explained, "Every sawmiller is different and there are two reasons why I don t pay by the board foot. One, I don t have to time to calculate every board that comes out, and two is safety. Men shouldn t have to run at 100 miles-anhour to make a living. It s safety first." When it came to talking about his sawyers Mike stated it is imperative to understand their strengths and weakness and try hard to match specific orders and specific logs to crews that have the skill to cut them. Some sawyers are better suited to big logs that require a lot of thought and planning to maximize the value from each cut. Others are good at running high-volume small wood but just don t have the patience to make all the key cuts required for larger logs. Again Mike explained, "It s about finding out who s good at what and getting the logs in front of them."

    Gogo has nothing but praise for the Wood-Mizer bandmills. At first he didn t believe he would be able to maintain production levels with bandmills like he did with the old circular mill, but "seeing is believing" and now he has sidelined the old circular mill. Mike recently won the Wood-Mizer "Business Best" category in the Wood-Mizer s annual North American mill contest for ownersof their sawmills. Gogo s key customer is long-time buyer Pat Power Forest Products in Vancouver. Last year about 75% of his product was going through Power to the United States and this year it s about 30% due to the US countervailing duties. Although Power could sell more of Gogo s lumber into the US if he were to drop his prices, Mike refuses. His explanation to Power is very simple, "No one is dropping the price of logs or fuel, and although I could drop the price $150 per thousand and still make a bit of money, I won t do it; I just won t line the pockets of the Americans." When I asked him about his local markets Mike said, "The economy around here is so good and local outfits like Slegg Lumber and other construction companies are keeping me so busy, it s really been great." Today, Gogo is selling mostly timbers and beams in the BC construction market, but fencing and siding are also staples of his operation.

    Once all the mills were stacked up with wood we headed up to the office to take a look at the Christmas tree farm and talk about the family history in the forest industry. Mike s family has been on the farm and logging in the area since 1897. Mike s Grandfather John Harold Gogo immigrated to the United States from Russia, and then moved to Vancouver Island when he heard about the developing coal mines in the region. John was no logger, but soon learned the value of the timber on the land he purchased and struck a deal to log the land and sell the logs to the Puget Sound Timber Company.

    As the mining boom slowed down many people started looking for work elsewhere, and John Harold s son, John Harold Jr., very naturally became a logger. In the 1930s young John ran a crew of 25 and sold their timber on the open market in Vancouver. In 1965 John Junior s seventh son Mike took over the operation, and in 1980 expanded the business to include a sawmill. Mike was able to pick up a 59" circular sawmill and a Prince forklift (both of which are still in operation today) for $28,000 and began his new life as a logger and sawmiller. Mike Gogo Cedar Products cuts mostly cedar and Douglas fir, and along with selling his products to distributors like Pat Power, he sells "wholesale to the public -- direct from logger to consumer" as he so proudly states. Getting his products into the local building market has been a key business driver for Gogo; cutting fencing, beams and siding for the local market keeps his mills going 11 months of the year. It has also helped to take the edge off the American lumber duties, which have had an absolutely crippling affect on many similar businesses.

    The drive to the office took us through the heart of the Gogo Christmas tree farm, which is now a thriving part of the Gogo operation. In 1929 Mike s dad, John Harold Jr., started cutting and wholesaling natural Christmas trees from the property. After many years of learning how to manage and sell the trees wholesale, Mike opened a "choose & cut" retail business in 1985, where people come to the farm to choose and cut their own trees. The first year he sold only 125 trees; today Gogo sells over 2,500 trees to people who come to the farm pick their own tree and about another 2,500 to stores and wholesalers.

    Part of the success of the "choose & cut" is how Mike treats people when they come to the farm to buy their tree. As you pull in the drive you are greeted with a warm "Merry Christmas" and the sound of Christmas music playing through loudspeakers. You are given a saw for cutting your tree and sent on your way. Families are able to freely walk the farm and find a tree that s "just right." When you get to the office to pay you can help yourself to a bag of free holly. On most days in the holiday season you ll find Mike at the main gate handing out saws and chocolate candies for the kids. The experience Mike has created with the "choose & cut" has helped to make a visit to the Gogo Farm a tradition for thousands of people in the local area.

    As we sat down for lunch with his crew we talked about old logging stories and the people that make up the industry. It became even more evident that the forest industry is the lifeblood of the Gogo family. Mike s larger than life personality blood is what has helped to make his family s woodlot, his sawmill and his tree farm more than just a business for the Gogo family. It is what has allowed him to continue the family legacy in the forest industry well into the new millennium.

    For most small woodlot/private land owners working the land is not simply just about logging it s about figuring out how to make the land "bear fruit" for this generation and generations to come. Getting there means more than just selective harvesting and replanting, it means figuring out alternatives between harvesting and investigating more options for the land. Small niche market products like Christmas trees and wreaths, minor forest products and even a small mill operation can all help but you need the vision and drive to make it happen. The Gogo farm has proven the viability of the working woodlot and, as in most cases the key is hard work and vision.
    Last edited by TH2008; 10-02-2008 at 03:11 PM.

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