Wednesday 20 November 2019

Growth spurt: Laois Sawmills booming, with more to come

With greater margins and higher sales volumes, Laois Sawmills is booming - and there is more to come

Jim McNamara and Rory Roberts of Laois Sawmills
Jim McNamara and Rory Roberts of Laois Sawmills

IT'S been a pretty good year for Laois Sawmills since it won the Manufacturing category at the SFA National Small Business Awards in 2014. When the company files its accounts for year end April 2015, it expects to record a turnover of €16 million, up from €13 million last year.

Jim McNamara, who bought the company in 1988, says the significant growth has been on the back of greater exports to the UK and improved prices there. Half of the firm's business is to the UK and Northern Ireland.

"As a result our margins are much better and our sales have increased substantially," he says.

The firm has started exporting wood pellets to the UK, catering for a growing market there due to the Renewable Heat Incentive. A similar scheme has been mooted for Ireland for 2016.

When McNamara bought the sawmill in the 1980s it sat on three acres of land on the outskirts of Portlaoise on the Stradbally Road. Since then it has grown to 30 acres, with the firm investing in excess of €16 million over the period.

"You have to keep changing and be able to see what's coming down the line. The whole timber industry has changed and we've adapted our business accordingly," says McNamara.


The introduction of the firm's wood pellets arm, Greenwood Pellets, in 2009 is one example of how McNamara has adapted.

"Wood pellets have been a great add-on because we are using our residues from the mill to make them. We must continue to innovate," he says.

Four years ago, the firm opened Laois Garden World on site to cater for domestic consumers.

Plans are under way to make a further investment in the business. The existing plant produces 32,000 tonnes of pellets annually, but is capable of producing 50,000. McNamara says production output will increase as the market grows.

However, the plant was put in place 13 years ago, and McNamara wants to invest in a new plant that will allow the firm to cut in one shift what it is doing in two shifts at present. That doesn't mean any of the firm's 40 plus staff will be let go, he says.

"There is as much private timber planted in this country as Coillte's now. Our log intake is about 100 tonnes of timber per year. At one time that was all coming from Coillte, and now it's evenly split. The volume of timber we receive is going to double or treble over 10 to 15 years. We want to build a mill capable of cutting double what we're cutting now. We won't do that in one fell swoop, but as the production output grows we will need our staff."

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