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Maxwell passionate about logging business

Trey Maxwell was passionate about baseball for the first half of his life, until he fell more in love with logging.

Once a star pitcher for his high school in Plain Dealing in Bossier Parish and for collegiate teams at Northwestern State University and Louisiana Tech University, Maxwell could have continued down the path to the pros. Instead, the young athlete shifted his focus from baseball to business and has kept his eye on the ball ever since, quietly becoming a major player in logging in north Louisiana and southern Arkansas.

Headquartered in Webster Parish town of Sarepta a few miles shy of the Arkansas border, Trey Maxwell Logging is a multi-million-dollar operation with some impressive numbers. The 23-year-old company typically generates 275 loads per week, with five crews that include 25 woods hands, assisted by seven truck drivers, a full-time forester, a contract logger, and five part-time office workers. The operation has 27 pieces of harvesting equipment, eight company trucks and 15 contract trucks. (His trucking business operates under the name of Hickory Creek Timber Co.)

Maxwell Logging is the largest customer of Stribling Equipment, a John Deere dealership in Texarkana, Arkansas.

“I’ve always bought brand new equipment,” said Maxwell, “so my machines are always under warranty.”

Maintenance is chiefly handled by Stribling service personnel, which minimizes down time for both equipment and employees. Though Maxwell says he spends about a million dollars a year on equipment purchases, “all my machines are for sale at all times. I’ll put 3,000 hours on a machine, then either sell or trade it.”

“I’d rather pay big notes than have worn-out equipment. I think that has really helped me a lot.”

Confirms Stribling-Texarkana’s sales manager Brad Aikens, who sold Maxwell his first piece of logging equipment years ago, “Trey doesn’t like down time. He’s built his business by being honest and serving his customers in both Louisiana and Arkansas. He is well thought of — a really good guy.”

That reputation for integrity also was noted by consulting forester Tim Holland of Shreveport.

“Trey has cut several tracts for me,” Holland said. “He has very good equipment and takes good care of the land. He’s very professional and on top of things. If he’s the one cutting the tract, you know everything will be done right.”

But Maxwell’s turn long ago from baseball to logging was almost short-stopped by his own mother, Judy, who tried to talk a banker out of giving her then-23-year-old son a truck loan to start his business.

“My mom had two brothers in logging,” explained Maxwell, now 47. “I started working for them while I was in high school. But she didn’t want me to do it (make logging a career).”

The determined young Maxwell got his loan despite his mom’s misgivings and began trucking for loggers around his childhood hometown of Cotton Valley. He gradually enlarged the size and scope of his business, added harvesting operations and learned the art of buying timber to harvest and sell. Always thinking ahead, he continued to add to a retirement plan he set up in his 20s. Maxwell asserts that he’s always had what he describes as “tunnel vision” about the logging business.

“I micro-manage; I’m very hands-on. I want to get as dirty as the next guy,” said Maxwell.

He remembers friends and competitors chiding him about making “crazy” moves that seemed risky, but ultimately proved to be smart decisions as he grew his business.

“I’ve never been scared to take big chances, but they have been educated gambles,” he said.

Maxwell is careful to learn everything possible about a prospective timber purchase before readying a bid or entering a negotiation. He said he employs a full-time forester, Roger Slack, who “is looking for timber every day.”

Maxwell’s crews work mostly in north central Louisiana, mainly Claiborne Parish, and southern Arkansas, with harvests hauled to the Martco mill in Chopin, WestRock paper mill in Hodge and Conifex in El Dorado, Arkansas. The company also logs tracts for Harmon Wood Co. in Homer. He said his crews do everything from thinning to final harvest, keeping production volume up as high as possible.

“I’ve learned over the years that if you’re not diversified, it’s not a good thing,” he said. “And if you’re not moving volume, I don’t think you can make money. Volume is our No. 1 goal.”

To keep that production steady, Maxwell has a workforce with many longtime employees, including several members of his own family.

“I would say about 80 percent of my guys have been here for many years, with about 20 percent that come and go,” he said.

Oilfield jobs are the chief competitor for jobs in the area, he said. The challenge of attracting and keeping employees was one of the reasons he downsized his operation a few years ago, when he had seven crews and two contract loggers.

Maxwell and four other employees have attained Master Logger status with the Louisiana Logging Council, and all the crews stay current on safety training and other regulatory requirements.

His wife, Melinda, his mother, Judy, and daughter Maci handle a variety of administrative duties for the company, along with Holly Mahaffey and Sheila Putnam. Other family in the business includes a cousin who is a truck driver, and son-in-law Brock Ayers who works on one of his harvesting crews.

The Maxwells’ 18-year-old son Gunner just completed high school and is lobbying to work for his dad starting in the fall. Maxwell’s brother Trent, who was also a baseball standout in his youth and graduated with a forestry degree from Louisiana Tech, operates a local reforestation business now. Their love for machinery and working outdoors is perhaps an echo of their late dad, Sidney. He had been a tanker truck driver, operated a service station and store, and later drove trucks and operated a skidder for Trey.

Trey and Melinda make their home in Sarepta, where their 70 acres accommodate cows, horses and a roping arena. The family also frequently heads to their lake house in Arkansas to enjoy fishing, camping and boating.

While he admits he prefers to “fly under the radar,” remaining a “small-time, grounded person,” Maxwell’s success has not gone unnoticed. The company received regional recognition two years ago when it was the subject of a cover feature article in Timber Harvesting magazine, based in Montgomery, Alabama.

“I’m not bullet-proof, but so far I’ve been pretty blessed because things have gone my way,” said Maxwell.

Like other logging operations in Louisiana, the Maxwell company is buffeted by such challenges as high insurance rates, labor costs and availability and fluctuating fuel prices that have led to declining profit margins. A government mandate that all machinery must use diesel exhaust fluids, an anti-pollution additive, has added “thousands of dollars a month” to company expenses, said Maxwell.

In addition, unusually rainy weather the past two years have caused longer periods of muddy conditions that hamper timber harvests, Maxwell pointed out, and he’s had to add tires to his equipment to stand up to wet ground. “I’ve never had to do that for this long.”

Despite the ups and downs inherent in the timber business, Maxwell says he’s happy with the choice to make his living in the woods.

“I’ve cussed this business from time to time, but I love it,” he said.

(Melanie Torbett is a contributing writer and forest landowner.)

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