Slow sales hit firewood dealers hard

Posted Nov. 23, 2009, at 8:55 p.m.

SEARSMONT, Maine — It’s not the weather that is causing some area firewood dealers to feel chilly — it’s a slowdown in sales and an increase in competition that seem to bode badly for their businesses.

“The firewood market’s been pretty slow this year,” Fred Lemon, of Four Seasons Firewood in Searsmont, said last week. “It’s something I still don’t understand. I was expecting a lot of people to stay with wood.”

Wood sales jumped last year after the price of No. 2 heating oil crested in July 2008 at $4.71 per gallon, according to the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security.

But this season, several local dealers are reporting that their sales are significantly off, and they attribute that only partially to the lower price for No. 2 heating oil.

“I think about this every day,” said Dan Wagner of Bio-Logging in Belfast. “I think there are a lot of reasons. There’s more people in it, because the economy is slow. And number two, people don’t have the money to buy wood. They wait till the last minute. A lot of the lower-income families are worse off right now than they have been in a long time.”

He also has noticed that there are more people cutting and selling wood than usual. In Maine, there is no licensing requirement for firewood dealers, according to an official from the Maine Department of Weights and Measures.

“Anyone who doesn’t have a job — that’s taken a lot of the market up,” Wagner said.

He has even noticed that desperate dealers are resorting to a price war, with a cord of cut, split and delivered wood selling for less than $189 in the Bangor area.

“They’re trying to get customers by dropping the price,” Wagner said. “But those customers don’t have $150 any more than they have $200.”

That situation can be problematic, said Steve Giguere, the deputy state sealer for the Maine Department of Weights and Measures.

“Anytime there’s a price war going on, as a consumer, you want to watch out and make sure that you get what you pay for,” he said. “Anybody who thinks they’ve been shorted are welcome to call.”

The state will measure for free the amount of wood that has been delivered to a customer. While a cord of stacked wood must measure 128 cubic feet, the standards are different for loose firewood.

A cord of loose-stacked 12- and 16-inch pieces of firewood must measure 180 cubic feet, and a cord of loose-stacked 24-inch wood must measure 195 cubic feet.

Giguere said that he usually gets between 25 and 30 complaints a year from people who feel they’ve been shorted. He hasn’t noticed an increase.

Dan Ford of Ford’s Lawn Care in Hope started cutting and selling firewood to supplement his landscaping business and to have something to do in the winter other than plowing.

He said that he had a good summer for selling firewood — but that the last month “has really gone downhill.”

He said that he expected to start getting orders through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and that would help boost business for a while.

“Usually I can get through the end of the year cutting wood,” Ford said. “I’m not really sure what’s going to happen in January and February. It’s probably going to get worse than it’s ever done.”

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