TimberSIL in the news paper

The BizPress
Sunday, May 31, 2009

While fires recently consumed multimillion-dollar estates in the Santa Barbara foothills, Matt Forsythe was swamped with phone calls. His product, glass-infused lumber touted as impervious to fire, rot and insects, only seemed to get hotter with the scorching flames flickering on television screens throughout Southern California.

“I kind of feel bad, that these kinds of tragedies boost business,” Forsythe mused later. “But the word is getting out that this kind of thing doesn’t have to happen.”

Forsythe, 31, manages Virginia based-TimberSIL Products’ newest distribution center, and its first on the West Coast. While the warehouse and offices are located in nearby Orange County, Forsythe is eyeing the Inland Empire, with its many pockets of development abutting fire-prone wilderness areas, as a prime market.

“Our wood is exactly what is needed for the thousands of homes in the area threatened by fire,” Forsythe said. “And the ones that are going to be built.”

Forsythe is confident that TimberSIL, which achieves its durability through a patented technology that infuses sodium silicate, or liquid glass, into Southern Yellow Pine, will take off when fire-wary residents and builders learn they can virtually fire-proof structures.

He says builders can construct fire-proof structures and property owners can retrofit existing ones while maintaining wood’s aesthetically pleasing look. The business, one of more than a dozen distributors nationwide, opened shop in March. Since then, sales to homeowners looking to build outdoor decks, close fire-vulnerable eaves and build backyard structures have steadily risen. Earlier this month, a local amusement park made its first purchase of the product to rebuild decaying structures.

But one unknown is that TimberSIL hasn’t really settled on being a retailer or wholesaler in Southern California.

“At this point I can’t promise any retailer that we won’t sell to our customers directly,” Forsythe said.

That has been a sticking point in some negotiations, and Forsythe has continued to sell product out of his Placentia warehouse.

“We want to work with TimberSIL and think they have a tremendous product,” said Chris Freeman, a manager at Ganahl Lumber, a major area retailer with outlets in Riverside and Orange Counties. “But they have not worked well with dealers here locally so far, and they have less-than-stellar results in terms of getting their product into stores.”

Forsythe counters that TimberSIL’s benefits will continue to awe customers and later land on retailers’ shelves. TimberSIL’s zero-carbon-emitting technology, in which the glass infusion process traps carbon, earned the wood an Environmental Protection Agency seal of approval as a “nontoxic” barrier product. Synthetic wood products generally contain carcinogens. Freeman concurred with some of the lumber-maker’s claims and said he believes it has plenty of growth potential if it foregoes its own retail sales and becomes a wholesaler.

“It doesn’t burn and it is environmentally safe,” Freeman said. “And it has created a buzz in the market.”

At a recent Building and Safety Open House in Big Bear Lake, residents and city and fire officials alike marveled at the claims made by Forsythe and company President Gary Chopic.

“From what I’ve just seen, it looks like they could be onto something,” said James Miller, director of building and planning for the city of Big Bear Lake. “But the big question is what does it cost?”

Forsythe said that because the wood is at least 50 percent stronger than traditional woods and synthetics, fewer board feet are required for construction. To build a basic outdoor deck, he said, TimberSIL nets a customer cost savings because fewer planks are needed.

In a company price sheet comparing generic 450-square-foot decks, TimberSIL estimates a deck made of its material would cost about $7,700 including labor, compared with $15,000 for composites and about $9,600 for treated Douglas Fir.

Currently, the distribution center in Placentia is the lone outlet in the area for purchasing the wood. Forsythe maintains that one of his priorities is establishing relationships with lumber yards in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, many of whom are unfamiliar with the East Coast-based company, to carry the product.

“We have to be convenient for our customers,” he said.


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