About 15 years ago, Cindy Siewert and her husband Rick were faced with removing an ash tree from their Minneapolis yard.
The roots were growing into the foundation of the house.
“The tree had to be cut down,” Cindy Siewert said. “We were remodeling. And we had an idea to use the lumber in the floor.”
It didn’t happen.
However, the experience planted the seed of what has become a growing tree-reclamation business that’s approaching $1 million in annual revenue and much more for folks who care about making beautiful, functional goods from what otherwise might be discarded.
In 2008, Cindy Siewert started Wood From the Hood, which uses diseased and downed city trees. Logs that otherwise would be landfilled or chipped become tables, flooring, benches, customized cutting boards and other wood products.
Wood From the Hood will harvest the urban forest for up to 1,300 logs this year, generating about $1 million from a fast-growing business that has doubled in size over the last three years. It employs up to six people at peak times.
Cindy Siewert, 53, a conservationist who hates to see anything wasted, was the right woman to start this wood-salvaging business.
Rick Siewert, 55, is the owner of Siewert Cabinet & Fixture Manufacturing. The Minneapolis business, which employs 45 and $6 million in sales, was started by his father in 1965.
Wood From the Hood and Siewert Cabinet are located in a 90,000-square-foot building that Rick Siewert’s parents built in 1998 in an industrial park at 26th and Minnehaha Avenue S. Another tenant retails used building materials from its deconstruction business.
“There are a lot of tree-huggers around here,” quipped Cindy Siewert. And her fast-growing business, is going to need expansion space pretty soon.
“We take the trees from local tree services and save them from landfills or the city chipper,” Cindy Siewert said. “We take the main trunk and turn it into usable lumber. We get the logs and we mill the log in our lumberyard. We air dry the lumber and put it in our kiln, the only one in the city.
“We have a warehouse where we store the lumber. Siewert [Cabinet] does the manufacturing. That accounts for about 10 percent of their sales. We do custom woodworking. And we also sell wood to artisans and wood shops.”
The diseased-and-downed trees used by Wood From the Hood are sturdy, but funkier than the commercial-grade trees grown in forests and used by most builders. Residential trees often are dinged and banged, may have had spikes or nails or other things driven into them for hammocks or tree houses, and often have branches closer to the ground. Better for kids to climb.
Thus, each table for a beer hall or coffee shop, or flooring, picture frame or cutting board looks a little different from any other. Yet each, even if it goes to the mill a bit dented and scratched, is finished into beautiful, unique pieces of lumber for remodeling or furniture.
“We try to reclaim the character,” Cindy Siewert said. “These [urban] trees are grown for shade and pleasure that people have long enjoyed. We turn it into something beautiful and functional. We try to reclaim and preserve the character of a tree. Some people appreciate that.
“We are edge-to-edge. We want to salvage as much of the whole tree as possible. Most saw mills are just after the center.”
Everything gets used, right down to the sawdust. That’s donated to Mississippi Mushrooms, a commercial-grower in north Minneapolis.
“We get some mushrooms, and we’re trying to help them grow a small business,” Cindy Siewert said.
Most of Wood From the Hood’s lumber and other products are sold to builders and remodelers whose clients want used urban wood.
The rest is sold through 50 specialty retailers and on its website.
That includes elm or maple or oak growth charts for $55 to $66, cribbage boards, cutting boards, Minnesota ornaments, oak flight paddles to carry beers, bottle openers, wood holders for electronic tablets and iPads, and a lot more for $50 or less.
Several years ago, Minneapolis homeowners Bruce Chamberlain and Melissa Mrachek used Wood From the Hood to turn a diseased elm into a slab for a dining room table, porch benches and a boy’s play loft.
“The tree lives on,” Chamberlain said.
Wood From the Hood attracted a high government official for a visit last week.
Linda McMahon, administrator of the Small Business Administration, visited the company and several other small businesses on the same day last week when she addressed the annual conference of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) in Minneapolis.
Women start the majority of America’s small businesses.
That’s a far cry from 40 years ago when most banks wouldn’t make a loan to a woman without a husband nearby to sign the agreement.
Cindy Siewert doesn’t have an SBA-insured loan.
She did get business counseling in the early years from a retired businessman who volunteers with SCORE, the national SBA group that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.
“We’re going to talk to the SBA about loans,” she said.
Cindy Siewert has ambitious growth plans that include an independent office and an expanded Wood From the Hood showroom.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.