Jason Brunk and his father, Dennis, started Tri-State Landscape Supply LLC in 2005 as an adjunct business for their excavating company. Tri-State took topsoil from excavation sites, processed it and sold it to landscapers and retailers. Five years later, after Tri-State acquired a mulching operation, sales really took off—tripling in just a few years. Today, Tri-State sells around 100,000 cubic yards of mulch and 50,000 cubic yards of soil annually within about 40 miles of Middletown, reaching into Kentucky and Indiana. The company also sells aggregates, soil amendments and decorative stones.
Marketing, enhanced delivery, and the quality of the product all contributed to the threefold increase in sales, said Brunk, managing member of Tri-State Landscape. “One of the things our customers really like is the consistency of our grind,” he added. Tri-State uses two Morbark grinders to ensure that consistent grind.
As part of the mulch company acquisition, Brunk got a Morbark 1300 Tub Grinder. Although it was manufactured in 1997 and has nearly 12,000 hours on it, the 1300 continues to operate like a champ. Most days it’s in the yard, where it is used to make double-processed mulch. Debris is broken down and sent through a 6-inch land-clearing screen, then reground with a 2-inch screen. Tri-State also takes the tub grinder out to jobsites where it is used to grind stumps so crews don’t have to break them down.
“It works great and that’s why we still have it,” Brunk said. “Sure, we have some upkeep on a machine that’s almost 20 years old, but it’s normal wear-and-tear stuff.”
For most land-clearing projects, Tri-State uses a Morbark 3800XL Wood Hog Horizontal Grinder, which can handle whole trees and longer debris. The Morbark replaced a Vermeer 6000 that was never up to the job, Brunk said. “The Vermeer didn’t do what we needed it to do.” Worst of all, the Vermeer pulled in debris too quickly and it got jammed on the discharge belt, requiring workers to climb in and clean out debris.
“The difference between the Vermeer and the Morbark is like night and day,” Brunk said. “Debris moves through smoothly with no jams. It’s a bigger grinder with higher horsepower, and we get way more production.” With an initial grind, Tri-State can get up to 350 cubic yards an hour; regrinding with smaller screens results in production of 150 to 180 yards an hour.
Brunk recently upgraded his wheeled 3800XL for a tracked model, which he likes because “it moves by remote control, so you don’t have to hook it to a semi. We just track it across the jobsite.”
Tri-State has been a customer of Columbus Equipment Company for several years, and Brunk values the relationship he has with the company’s Environmental Division, including sales representative Jesse Garber, sales manager Tim Smith, and product support specialist Dean Hatem. “They understand our business. If it’s mulch-producing time and something goes down, they jump through hoops to help us,” Brunk said. For example, the 3800 went down about 6:30 one evening, and by noon the next day Smith had a replacement machine onsite. “Having that kind of a working relationship with a dealer is really helpful in our industry.”
In addition to the Morbark grinders, Tri-State uses a McCloskey 621 Trommel screen and 80-foot stacking conveyor from Columbus Equipment. The Trommel works very well whether used to screen topsoil or mulch, Brunk said. It has the added convenience and productivity of being portable, whereas the shaker-style screening machine he owns takes a whole day to move and set up.
Tripling sales in five years is quite a feat. Quality and consistency of product are driving those sales, and Tri-State’s investment in quality equipment is paying off.
DID YOU KNOW?
Jason Brunk was the only kid in his high school—and possibly in any high school—to own a backhoe. He was also probably the only classmate with a $30,000 debt hanging over his head. Brunk bought the 1989 rubber-tire John Deere 310C backhoe in 1992, convincing a family friend to put the first payment on a credit card. That debt didn’t worry him. “I didn’t have any credit so I didn’t have anything to lose,” he says. Convincing customers to hire a 16-year-old backhoe owner/operator was difficult, he admits. A family friend with a concrete company hired him to do concrete tear-outs, giving Jason his first paying job. He incorporated Brunk Excavating two years later and traded in the backhoe for a new one in 1995.