Timber Processing Article
When Mark Tuck entered the sawmill business he had a lot of ideas for the future— but he didn’t lose sight of the past. The Radford graduate and self-proclaimed conservative spender knew he wanted to take the mill to the next level, but wouldn’t do so at the expense of Gates Custom Milling’s core principles. So he took it slow, and watched the mill grow from a remill facility to a full sawmill with a capacity of 8MMBF per year.
Tuck says what has inspired the growth mode the last 15 years is the idea that in business you can’t stand still. “You’re either going in one direction or the other,” he says. “Our niche business is constantly changing. How can we do it faster, better and more of it?”
Gates Custom Milling first started in 1979 by Brian Martin, Tuck’s father-inlaw. Gates did very little of its own production on-site at first. Instead, Martin would go to larger operations and see if they had large customers that wanted smaller things that he could handle, while also producing Atlantic white cedar products.
In the beginning, Gates was basically just a planer mill and some dry kilns. But then in 1982 the mill burned down and Martin was forced to rebuild the planer and vintage block dry kilns. After the fire Tuck came on full time.
Gates Custom Milling officially diversified out of just Atlantic white cedar in 1987 with an addition of a sawmill and soon began re-milling other species. Southern cypress and poplar were selected to run through the new mill, thanks to the ease of procurement.
It wasn’t the addition of the sawmill that was the biggest change for the company, Tuck says. Instead, he cites 1992 and the arrival of his wife, Nancy Martin Tuck, to the office staff that really propelled the company forward. He says that she brought a level of expertise in the office they desperately needed, coming from a strong background in banking. She does all the selling as well as procurement. He says simply, “She’s running the business.”
The husband and wife team run the mill with complementing skill sets: Nancy handles the business; Tuck handles daily mill operations, with his eye always on capital projects.
Tuck says that in the early 1990s, when they were still finding their rhythm under the new operation’s structure, with more species and new management, the mill struggled. An inconsistent supply of Atlantic white cedar really set the mill back at times. Tuck remembers reporting really good months, gaining momentum and then finding it very hard to get raw material the next few months.
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