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Entrepreneur builds on wood culture (7/03)

Being in business for one’s self has its advantages.

Being in business for one’s self has its advantages. Just ask Jim Cullen who operates Panache Wood Products, a new Sudbury-based startup company that manufactures and supplies log homes, saunas and cottages, log siding, timber framing and wood furniture.

In the course of studying small business management at Canadore College, he noted that part of the formula for successful business was the identification of upcoming trends.

“In small business, you have to see opportunities on the horizon,” Cullen says. “One thing that is common knowledge now is that the baby-boomer market is expanding; they’re looking for more privacy and more freedom and a healthier lifestyle. They’re looking for more back-to-basics (things).”

As traditional retirement and recreation communities such as Muskoka begin to fill up and housing prices rise, people are opting to live further North into Northern Ontario, especially along the North Shore and Manitoulin Island.

That customer base is demanding both a classy and rustic look, he says.

“Wood products are more of a fit with the natural environment,” says Cullen. “It doesn’t clash, but fits right in, especially along lakefront property. It’s something you see a lot of in the U.S. market.”

Cullen is affiliated with several companies, including North Country Log Homes, Thibeault Woodworking and Taylor Sawmill to sell a variety of products from timber framing to log homes, cottages and saunas as well as siding and log furniture. Although his primary focus is in the Sudbury-North Shore region including Manitoulin Island and down to French River, he is working on expanding marketing opportunities further into the United States and abroad.

Relying on wood supplied by Northern Ontario tree harvesters and wood milled in Chapleau, the log homes, saunas and cottages are put together in a tongue-and-groove “chuckless” system milled right into the logs. The siding can be applied to the outside of any home, giving it a log-cabin look.

Co-operation between small businesses like this provides a number of advantages including not being susceptible to the whims of corporate agendas and decisions made hundreds of miles away, he says.

“You hear that we have a disadvantage in the North because of transportation costs. But I’ve found that, being so close to the raw materials, we can produce more semi-finished and finished products that are ready for export,” he says.