Growing by Acquisition and Organically

Operating a second plant site “hasn’t been simple” says Elizabeth Marion.

Marion just celebrated 10 years of ownership of Princeton Wood Preservers Ltd. and one year of the second site, now called EMBC. PWP manufactures pressure treated roundwood products at the mill on Highway 3 about 18 kilometres east of Princeton. EMBC, formerly Princeton Post and Rail, is a production facility in the town of Princeton. Their customers include retailers, the government and some of the largest fruit farms in Western North America.

You would recognize her products if you’ve seen green wood posts in a vineyard, or the wildlife exclusion fencing along the TransCanada Highway in B.C. and Alberta.

Since the acquisition, “Things have changed tremendously,” said Marion. “It’s a lot busier, it’s a big learning curve splitting my attention in two directions, but trying to keep it one.”

PWP has always been dedicated to quality and Marion is proud to say no customer has ever called to report post failures.
That quality has kept some customers buying for more than a decade, many of which have orders that go forward to the end of 2016. It’s a good problem to have, Marion says, but production has always been the bottleneck.

Acquiring a second production facility was supposed to be an organic way to push more posts out; more machines and more wood, the math seemed simple. Sales are up nearly 15 per cent, but production has not been as straight forward.
Despite the two sites being about 15 minutes apart, Marion says finding time to be at both sites and communication between the mills has been a challenge. “It really is its own standalone place and I’ve had to learn to treat it like that,” she said. “It needs to have strong people there, its own strong team and be more self-sufficient.”

Marion said her leadership team is exploring online cloud services to try and solve the communication problem.
As for time? She says she’s working all of the daylight hours and more. “More middle of the night sessions,” Marion laughed. “I’m always busy. I am not spending my time in Penticton out – I’m doing more paperwork at home. The social aspect of my life has gone from small to nil.”

A third difficulty has been grappling with old, finicky equipment and more than $100,000 in safety upgrades to bring both mills up to WorkSafeBC standards. Worker safety is paramount, but the majority of those expenditures do nothing to increase production.

Marion’s proudest moments have been increasing the starting wage for new employees and actually seeing people take holidays. “It sounds strange, but this was the first year so many of them could afford it,” she said. I’ve never had so many people take regular holidays as I’ve had this year. I hope it’s because we’ve been able to raise wages.”

When not scribbling down notes or writing emails in the middle of the night, Marion is reading two books.
One is a novel called An Afternoon Walk by Dorothy Eden and a business book by Colin Sprake titled Entrepreneurial Success Recipe.

“Good business is built on good relationships,” she said. “I have to feel good about what I do and how I am with my employees and customers.”

As advice Marion said “make sure you surround yourself with the right people and don’t keep people if they’re not right.”

By Bill Everitt

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