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Your next business may be hiding in plain sight

Steve Baker //September 16, 2011//

Your next business may be hiding in plain sight

Steve Baker //September 16, 2011//

I’m a huge fan of Bev Doolittle. She is often called a “camouflage artist” because her distinctive use of context, design and pattern help viewers discover images and meanings which seem hidden only until they become obvious and then, bam, they’re right in front of you.

Often, new business opportunities are hidden in plain sight, right in front of us until, like Doolittle’s art, we view them differently.

Anyone who has ever driven across Wyoming has noticed the miles and miles of snow fences. As I drove across those lonely highways I looked at the snow fences flying by and, like most of you, just thought, “Boy, that’s a lot of wood.”

But some entrepreneurs look deeper and see beyond what’s in front of them.

I recently met with an interesting business group in Laramie, Wyo. The founders of this company drove by those fences everyday and wondered what happened to all that old wood when the fences needed repaired. Their investigation found that it was burned or tossed in landfills.

One person’s trash is another one’s treasure.

So in 1999 the founders created Centennial Woods and cut a deal with WYDOT to reclaim the wood from snow fences across Wyoming and replace it at no cost to the state. John Pope, the company’s CEO explained, “We created the perfect win – win business relationship. The state gets miles of snow fences repaired for free and Centennial gets raw materials for our business.”

The company trims and sizes the sustainable harvested wood and sells the boards for both interior and exterior applications across the United States and Europe.

Snow fence boards harvested by Centennial Woods can range in age from 7 to 25 years old, giving it a distinguished look that’s a true product of Wyoming’s wild and windy weather: snowy winters, arid winds, clear skies, and abundant sunshine. The wood is a mixture of grays and browns in unique grain patterns that are rather symbolic of the windblown state of Wyoming.

But instead of being broken down by the weather, the wood is naturally weathered and strengthened by it, or as Pope calls it, “perfectly cured.”

Since snow fence boards don’t touch the ground, the wood isn’t affected by bugs or ground moisture making it extra resilient. And, unlike other reclaimed woods, Centennial’s have never been painted or chemically treated, and are completely free of lead and other hazardous treatments common in older barns and other structures. That’s important in the green building industry and Centennial was LEEDS certified.

What for years was overlooked and discarded is now an excellent lumber choice for interior and exterior building/remodeling projects of the rustic variety. The company has repurposed more than 7 million feet of reclaimed wood from snow fence, saving Wyoming more than $10 million and avoiding more than 9,000 tons of CO2 emissions.

So, Centennial Woods is the newest winner of the Steve Baker “Duh, Why Didn’t I See That?” award.

Because these entrepreneurs focused on something with a curious eye, they peered deeper and discovered something that the rest of us missed. Centennial Woods exploited a business opportunity and created a thriving international business that has grown to become one of the largest providers of reclaimed wood in the world.

If you know of other creative companies that have made something big out of something else, please leave me a comment or shoot me an email. I’d love to know them.
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Steve Baker is a founder of successful businesses and a business advisor with a passion for every phase of business cycle from startup to exit. He’s also a public speaker and author of “Pushing Water Uphill With a Rake,” as well as an avid poor golfer. He welcomes your e-mails at [email protected] and invites you to visit his website