Jim Logan grew up in Southern Idaho where his father encouraged him to go to college so that he wouldn’t spend his life working as a laborer at the local sawmill. During his years at WSU, he worked at the Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory where he designed a number of electronic devices for testing and measuring wood properties. Getting into business, he said, was more accident than by design. He was asked to do a presentation to industry representatives. “These folks asked me to come look at a problem they had, and this resulted in me spending a summer on a consulting job for them,” he said. His industry contacts soon were helping him with his fledgling business ideas. The company started in Pullman in 1972, specializing in equipment for non-destructive testing and grading lumber. It is now a world leader in the design and manufacture of machine stress rating equipment for structural lumber and for sorting veneer for structural laminated veneer lumber (LVL) applications.
Logan started the company in his garage. “It was a low investment level, shall we say.” He borrowed money only once to meet payroll, and that was for three weeks. From his garage, the company moved briefly to the engineering labs on campus and then to a building in downtown Pullman. Within three months, the company was making a profit. Eventually, they bought four buildings on Latah Street. They recently moved to a bigger facility. After 32 years in business, they remain small, with 28 full-time employees.
Understanding the market
“It’s a matter of picking a customer first (before trying to sell a product),” said Logan. “I spent a lot of time thinking about who my customer would be.” Logan remembers that at one point, he received support from the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. But, he found that the program didn’t work for him. Instead of working to satisfy the customer, the business shifted in direction to satisfying contract requirements for the SBIR. “We need to work for the customer,” he said. “Our success is based on getting the product into the hands of the customer who needs it.”
A good many of the large mills in the country use his products. “When the market becomes saturated your choice then becomes set up business on another planet or develop new products,” he said. “One of the best ways to select a new product is to have a customer with a need. That way at least half of the market research has been done for you.”
What’s the right size for a business?
“Small is good, if it’s profitable,” said Logan. “We serve a world-wide market with 28 people.”
On hard work and luck
“You have to be in the right place at the right time, but after that it’s hard work. When you’re starting, forget about 40 hours. That is fictional.” Logan averaged about 3,000 hours per year for his first twenty years but has been able to back off a little over the last few years.
Jim Logan and student, Ben Ford