You might never have heard of Cox Industries, a manufacturer and distributor of pressure-treated wood products based in Orangeburg, but you know their products.
Their pilings hold up the Folly Beach Fishing Pier, their lumber girds the Shem Creek boardwalk and many of the utility poles in the Lowcountry are theirs, according to company president and CEO Mikee Johnson.
Treated lumber, poles and piling are commodities, manufactured and processed more or less the same way by every manufacturer in the business. Companies use copper-based slurry that is pressurized into wood to act as a powerful fungicide and termiticide, critical considerations in South Carolina’s hot, wet climate. “Mother Nature makes it; we just dress it up a bit,” Johnson said.
Where Cox differentiates itself is in its distribution and life cycle services. The company’s 14 plants in 10 states, including one each in Orangeburg and Eutawville, benefit from proximity to Southern yellow pine farms, saw mills and rail beds. Their locations facilitate economical and timely distribution to customers across the country.
In addition, Cox manages the entire life cycle of the wood it sells. The company offers a limited lifetime warranty on its wood products, and then provides recycling services for a number of its products after the wood has completed its useful life. “Utility poles are not complicated except when you’re done with them,” Johnson explained.
What does a power or phone company do with a 70-year-old, 90-foot utility pole it has replaced? Regulations have made landfills cost prohibitive. Cox will retrieve the pole and apply one of a multitude of solutions, from repurposing as fence posts, to grinding and incinerating into fuel, to recycling as biodiesel. Because these products are treated with organic materials and oil-based products to begin with, they make effective fuel.
The company has built the business strategy for its treated lumber division around not servicing big box home improvement retailers. Instead, Cox caters to pro dealers and independent retail building supply stores that require a much wider variety of products.
“When a builder for a custom home in Kiawah needs specialty products to make it beautiful – lattice, or laminated product, something fire retardant, that kind of thing – he will ask his local building supplier,” Johnson said. “If they don’t have it in stock, they will turn to us, and we don’t just make it, we stock it. We’ll have the material on a truck next day.”
The lumber Cox treats might very well frame your deck, side your house or hold you up in your deer stand. It is used anywhere the wood might come in contact with moisture. Treating the lumber adds a very nominal price per square foot to the cost but significantly increases its value. “Treated lumber will last on the deck longer than anyone living in the house,” Johnson said. “Untreated won’t last three years.”
Consumers all benefit from treated wood products, but utilities, municipalities and building supply companies comprise Cox’s main customers. As Johnson noted, “If the homeowner never knows who we are, we’re probably doing a good job.”