TimberSIL in Trouble
In bringing its treated wood product, TimberSIL™, to market, Timber Treatment Technologies, Inc. (TTT) of Virginia has faced obstacles both from the conventional chemical treatment industry and from the government agencies that regulate treated wood (see EBN, ). TTT has shrugged off those hurdles as nothing more than sour grapes about TimberSIL’s innovative, nontoxic process using sodium silicate, but new problems—from the company’s own business partners and even from within the company—may be harder for the company to survive.
Northern Crossarm Company, Inc., of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, which has been under contract with TTT as the major manufacturer of TimberSIL, has filed two lawsuits against TTT alleging problems with the treatment process and breach of contract in TTT’s failure to pay for treated wood. And according to TTT President Troy Caver, Huttig Building Products, Inc., which had been the exclusive distributor of TimberSIL, has ended its contract with TTT. (Caver’s own presence at the company since August 2006 is a result of an internal shakeup involving a previous officer’s alleged wrongdoing that may have weakened the company financially.)
A lawsuit filed in September 2006 in Chippewa County Court by Northern Crossarm seeks reimbursement from TTT and Karen Slimak, TimberSIL’s inventor and TTT’s founder, for Northern Crossarm’s investment in producing TimberSIL, which it claims cost more than $2,000,000. As reported by the Chippewa Falls News Bureau, the lawsuit alleges that “major, significant problems have been encountered” in the treatment process and that “the representations made by Slimak . . . concerning the research and testing she had done to establish the TimberSIL process were not true.”
While Caver said that TTT had not seen the lawsuits, he and Slimak claimed that Northern Crossarm has failed for months to meet quality standards in its TimberSIL production. As Slimak told EBN, “an environmental product that essentially changes the habitat and removes a food source, but does not rely on toxins and poisons, has to be manufactured precisely.” Treaters relying on poisons are not accustomed to those standards, she said. A second lawsuit filed by Northern Crossarm alleges that it was not paid for nearly $900,000 worth of treated lumber supplied to TTT, but Caver indicated that the lawsuit amounted to Northern Crossarm seeking TTT to cover production losses it was responsible for due to “insufficient polymerization” of the sodium silicate treatment. Discounting any claim that there are flaws in the treatment process, Slimak said that TTT’s South Carolina plant, “manned by people who are more used to the precision that an environmental product and production requires, has been achieving infusion and polymerization at the highest level.” Slimak, citing TTT’s success with bringing production under its own control, said that as Northern Crossarm was moving to sue TTT, TTT was moving to end its relationship with Northern Crossarm.
Pat Bischel, president of Northern Crossarm, while unwilling to comment directly on the lawsuits, told EBN that his central concerns were TTT’s unpaid bills and production problems, including a process that turned out to be slower than TTT had led him to believe. But, “we believe we have answers to most of the production questions that we had,” Bischel said, explaining that the primary reason Northern Crossarm isn’t currently in production is that “we have an accounts receivable that needs to be taken care of.” Bischel added, “we still believe in the product, and we expect we will produce it again,” portraying the entire situation as “a bump in the road.”
The bump may be a big one: as a result of the problems with Northern Crossarm, “Huttig has released us from that contract with them as the exclusive distributor of the wood,” Caver told EBN. Caver said TTT is now seeking distributors for the usable portion of the wood treated by Northern Crossarm along with the wood from growing production at its South Carolina plant. Caver acknowledged, “we’re going to have a difficult time. We just have to get through three or four months of cash-flow limitations before we can see if we continue.”
While TTT and Northern Crossarm agree that TimberSIL offers a bright future as a product, their conflict leaves the customer in the lurch, at least for now. A New Hampshire retailer told EBN that it was taking orders for TimberSIL with a delivery time of six weeks or longer, while buyers in the Midwest, where TimberSIL has been easier to find, may find a similarly unreliable supply.
– Tristan Roberts
For more information:
Northern Crossarm Company, Inc.Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
Timber Treatment Technologies