Established in 1966 by as a general construction firm by Larrie and Donald Palmer, Lardon made a name for itself in the Blasdell, NY area - just south of Buffalo and on the shores of Lake Erie - building structures of every sort, but, according to company president Jon Palmer, finding a real niche market.
'In those first years, my father Larrie and Don, my uncle, really made their mark building churches throughout the area,' he says. 'That specialty allowed them to grow the business steadily until Don's retirement in the 1980s. By this time, my brothers Mark and Andy and I were already involved in the business, so it just seemed natural for the three of us to take over from Dad, which we did in the early '90s.'
The trio broadened the focus of the business to general construction and property maintenance but, over time, became increasingly challenged by the debris recovered from clearing and site prep jobs. That challenge eventually reshaped the company's future.
New Direction, New Division
In the course of daily business, a site clearing firm can generate thousands of cubic yards of debris, material which, in the past, was simply landfilled. However changing environmental regulations and rising tipping fees at landfills forced companies like Lardon to rethink their disposal strategies. For them the logical choice was establishing a wood products division, grinding the debris and finding markets for the newly-created material.
'Getting to where we are today happened in two separate steps,' says Palmer. 'At the time we first established the new division, we were actually delivering bark mulch to another local company who would grind it for us to create the product. However, in the late 1990s, we purchased a small Farmhand grinder to tackle that part of the business ourselves. The thought process was right, the equipment wasn't.'
Palmer says the grinder was hardly designed for the type of punishment they put it through and, as a result, broke down almost daily. To avoid overfeeding the unit, they used an excavator and literally sprinkled material into the hopper. While that alleviated some of the maintenance-related downtime, it also made for some truly depressing throughputs.
'I used to think it was an amazing day if we shipped 200 yards of material,' he says. 'We quickly came to realize that we needed to upgrade the grinding equipment. We knew of Morbark's name and reputation, called them and they put us in touch with Dale Webster at L.C. Whitford Equipment - he's been our salesman ever since.'
A Perfect Fit
Lardon's first purchase was a Morbark Model 1000 tub grinder followed shortly afterward by a Morbark Model 2060 colorizing unit. According to Palmer, the grinder, while the smallest in Morbark's tub grinder line, was an immediate success and a perfect fit for the company's operation.
'We immediately saw our volumes almost triple which was perfect for a company trying to grow that part of the business,' he says. 'However, there were so many other positives about making the move to the Model 1000 than simply an increase in volumes. For one thing, our mulch product was of a much better quality that we had ever gotten before. And we no longer had to worry about downtime as we did with the first machine so we were a much more efficient operation.'
The improvement was so dramatic, adds Palmer, that in 2002 Lardon decided to focus solely on the wood processing side of the business. In two years it had made a transition from general contractor to one of the area's preeminent suppliers of woodchips, mulch and biofuel products.
Keeping it Small
In the five years since that transition, Lardon has added several key processing components including a stationary grinder for its larger stumps and logs, a pair of Morbark Chipsorters which allow them to separate their wood waste and create three separate products, and an additional Model 1000 tub grinder.
'As business continued to grow, we were faced with a need to add more grinding capacity and we looked long and hard at all the options available to us including moving up to a larger size tub. We are different from many other companies in that we often have to grind bark mulch and colored material at the same time. So we felt that we might be better served by having a pair of easily-movable 1000s and doing both types of products at once rather than go back and forth between the two products with a single, larger grinder.'
Palmer adds that the fuel efficiency on the Morbark 1000 is excellent and the wear part replacement is cost-effective, both of which fit well with Lardon's operating budget. 'Our decision to go with two smaller grinders might not be the best answer for everyone but it definitely works well for us. With the stationary unit and our pair of Model 1000s, we are now processing between 150,000 and 160,000 yards of wood product per year - a far cry from our early days.'
Grinding for Good
Today not only has Lardon established itself through the range of products it offers to area nurseries, and landscapers, it has also taken its expertise on the road, so to speak. At the sites of two of the biggest natural disasters in recent memory - on both a local and national scale- Lardon's crews could be found providing much-needed assistance.
'We've been blessed with our success over the years, so when something unfortunate happens to others and we can use our resources to help, we're more than happy to do what we can. When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, we mobilized a crew and headed down to help in the recovery effort. Closer to home, we helped this region recover from a freak storm that dumped two feet of snow on the area last October.'
The local storm to which Palmer refers was impressive, even to a city which takes multi-foot snow accumulations in stride. Because it fell on fully-leafed trees, the weight of the snow proved devastating. By storm's end, it was estimated that nearly 90% of the trees in many areas were toppled or seriously damaged. Palmer and his men immediately set to clearing streets and rights-of way so that emergency crews could get through and restoration of power could begin.
'The area looked like a hurricane had hit and better than 100,000 people were without power for a week,' he says. 'The mobility and productivity of the Morbark 1000s really came into play allowing us to make an immediate contribution to the cleanup effort. By the time things wound down, we had removed more than 51,000 cubic yards of debris from area townships. We got a lot of exposure throughout the area as a result of that cleanup and that certainly didn't hurt our business. More importantly, however, we were able to contribute, and having the equipment to tackle jobs like that helps make it possible.'