Nashville firm proves music city is also mulch city

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In the realm of wood waste processors, at first glance there could barely be a less likely candidate to make a contribution to the industry than Tony Emmanuel. Prior to his coming to the U.S. some 20 years ago, the South Africa native had neither seen nor heard of mulch. A fortunate turn of events, however, steered him toward co-ownership of what was, at the time, the by-products division of one of Tennessee's largest lumber companies. Today his firm, aptly named 'The Mulch Company,' has used a combination of good business practices, solid technology and a broad product offering to rise to the forefront of Nashville-area mulch processors.

Heading in New Directions
Operating on five separate sites throughout Tennessee, The Mulch Company takes in material from customers throughout that state as well as many from Kentucky and Alabama. According to Emmanuel, the company has changed dramatically since their early days.

'We started in 1985 when my partner and I purchased the company from Woodson Lumber. At that time - and for about the next five years - we focused our efforts on the bagging facet of the business. However, in about 1990, we sold that part of the business, choosing instead to concentrate on creating and selling new mulch products. We've grown steadily to where we are today: with sales roughly six times what they were at the outset, a steady clientele - mostly landscape professionals - and a broad product offering that includes five different grinds of mulch as well as soils and compost products.'

Reliable and Mobile
While many of Emmanuel's counterparts in the mulch industry rely heavily upon some of the largest grinding equipment for downsizing material and creating product, The Mulch Company instead prefers the power and mobility offered by a pair of comparatively mid-sized grinders - a Morbark Model 1000 tub and a Model 3600 Horizontal grinder.

'Before we purchased our first Morbark, we relied upon fixed grinders to which we would bring our material,' he says. 'In addition to just being completely dissatisfied with the performance of those units, we also felt that we could dramatically shorten our production cycle times if we took the grinder to different areas of the sites. The Morbark 1000 tub grinder is an extremely productive machine yet we are able to move it about the yard fairly easily. In fact, it has really been the backbone of our grinding operation.'

The Model 1000 to which Emmanuel refers, weighs in at only 25,500 lbs. yet, by means of a 10' 6' tub and a 350 Hp power plant, offers the level of production he demands for that facet of the operation. To grind bark for mulch production, Emmanuel says they use the Model 3600 horizontal grinder which, again, is deceivingly powerful and productive, due in part to its chain-fed 11' X 63' live floor feeding a 25 1/4' diameter rotor.

'The 3600 is also the unit we have configured to handle the colorization of the product,' he says. 'We currently offer red and black as color choices but we're very close to adding a chocolate brown to use in the event we run out of hardwood mulch.'

Exploring New Territory
The irony of Emmanuel becoming something of a 'mulch mogul' stems from the fact that in his native South Africa, mulch is not a rarity, it is literally unheard of.'

'When I bought my first house shortly after arriving in this country,' he says, 'I saw a neighbor's garden and mentioned to him that it had the best soil I had ever seen. He knew immediately that I wasn't from the area and filled me in that the soil was, in fact, mulch. Because we don't have a forest industry in South Africa and, as a result, have no wood by-products, I was intrigued by what I saw.'

That neighbor took Emmanuel to the primary mulch dealer in the area, the Woodson Lumber-owned Mulch Company, where he met general manager Ernie Hansel. In a strange twist of fate, the two met again several years later when each was coaching his son's soccer team.

'Ernie remembered me and mentioned that Woodson was looking to sell the business. He thought that the two of us might make good partners in such a venture, given his experience and my combination of accounting skills and obvious enthusiasm for the product. Ernie's feelings were apparently on the mark; we've really enjoyed growing the business and have done quite well for ourselves in that regard.'

Recipe for Success
The Mulch Company currently operates two processing sites: an 11-acre location in Nashville and a 15-acre site in Knoxville, as well as three yards which serve the retail side of the business alone. They run five tractor trailers picking up material from customers throughout the three-state geographic area they serve.

'We've upped our volumes every year and this year expect to easily top 300,000 yards of product from about 400,000 yards taken in,' says Emmanuel. 'We've been able to achieve that impressive growth curve through a combination of good business practices; excellent, committed employees; and equipment that can be relied up on a day-to-day business. There's definitely a reason we've stayed with Morbark almost from the beginning. After our initial grinding 'lesson' with the fixed units, we learned the value of product performance - and support - and have stayed with Morbark ever since. They're a good part of the reason for our success.'

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