The Wood Cycle of Wisconsin, Inc.

TheWoodCycle hayloft color high res

An interview with Paul Morrison, owner of

The Wood Cycle of Wisconsin, Inc.

Tell us about your business.

The Wood Cycle of Wisconsin Inc. is a family owned and operated business that creates unique cabinetry, furniture and other woodworking products. We are equipped to work from tree to finished product and love the opportunity to use a customer’s own tree to furnish their home. Located outside Madison, Wisconsin, most of our lumber comes from the local landscape. We prefer craftsmanship and artistry over mass production and like to see cabinetry, trim, furnishings and other woodwork within a home create a harmonious blend. Wisconsin’s hardwoods accent each other beautifully, and we often incorporate multiple species in a single finished product.

What inspired you to start working with urban wood?

As a 7th generation Wisconsin farm boy, I grew up seeing photos of our yard spanning nearly a century. Every tree in our yard was either planted by family members or grew up with our family. As these trees died, we’d go to the local sawmill and have them milled into lumber that was either used on the farm or in our basement hobby woodworking shop. After going off to school for engineering, I became aware of a business start-up in Indiana, making portable band saw mills. My dad and I explored this as an alternative to the old circular mills that were becoming fewer harder to find.  I settled into a desk job, with woodworking continuing as a hobby.  In 1994 an opportunity came up to purchase a used Woodmizer mill.  I quickly learned that turning a log to a pile of lumber was just as enjoyable as turning a pile of lumber into furniture. From the first log I sawed, it became obvious I was not the only one with a personal connection to the trees around me.  Immediately logs started flowing from the urban environment and each one came with its own story. Little Tommy’s tree fort tree became Tom’s kitchen and Jeff’s tornado encounter became woodwork throughout his new home.

How did your business grow?

Within a few short years, the occasional log became a near obsession and a business plan was launched.  I soon formed a business based entirely on the concept of working with local client’s trees to make projects for those clients or others nearby.  We didn’t yet call it urban wood, but by 1999 I had formed the business plan and I was working a part-time business on this principal.  By 2003 I was full time with an employee, working from tree to table.  One rapid realization I had was that the era of cheap factory imports was beginning to wear thin on a broad segment of the population.  The population saw the antiques being passed through generations and also saw that nothing they were buying new would be items their children or grandchildren would cherish someday. The issue was that not everyone could afford true custom furniture, many wanted at least some “future family heirlooms” or simply wanted to know where their products came from.  The era of “know your maker” was emerging almost simultaneously. The result is that our clients are by no means rich and famous, they are simply a mix of wood-lovers with a multitude of reasons for wanting the products we produce.

What do you feel you have to do to attract your ideal customers?

Customers wanting such products want to trust their professional.  What wood is the best choice?  What are the design criteria?  How should it be built?  These are every-day questions for the maker and decisions that most clients are not prepared to answer, if they even know to ask.  One regular client of mine summed this up best.  “Paul, this is its purpose and location. It cannot be bigger than this.  You know what I like.”  Obviously, this was not our first project or discussion, but it gives a great sense of what a good client relationship looks like.  We aren’t looking for one-time clients, we are looking for repeat clients and their referrals. More than 80% of our clients are repeat clients, with the list continuing to grow, primarily by referrals.  And, now with the added and growing bonus of brand recognition of terms such as “Urban Wood”, “Urban Wood Network” and “Wisconsin Urban Wood”.

How did your business grow?

With emergence of Emerald Ash Borer, there became a whole new interest in the trees around us.  It became a launching point for coordination between individuals such as myself with others involved in the various aspects of working urban woods.  As with most small businesses, networking within what was becoming an urban wood industry expanded the opportunities that any one business could achieve on their own.  Who has what wood available?  Who has what tools at their disposal?  How do I do this difficult step?  If I got this job, could you give me a hand?  Or simply I’m thinking about X, what is your experience? While my business was always a local wood business and heavily in what we now call urban wood, without question the networking aspects have both grown my business and moved it to an almost exclusive urban focus. It would be entirely urban, but for a couple private small woodlot owner relationships from our history and our own ownership of one such small woodlot.  At this point, our seven-person business has branched to two primary divisions; log to lumber and custom woodworking.  More than half of the log to lumber division’s production is divided between direct retail sales and to what is essentially an at-cost wholesale relationship with Madison area Habitat for Humanity ReStore locations. The balance of the lumber supports an estimated 95% of our custom woodworking shop’s solid lumber needs.  We will produce almost any product upon request, but live-edge furniture is currently our most sought product.

Why choose Urban Wood?

Urban wood is a very rapidly expanding marketplace, with a growing and respected recognition as a great media story, a great environmental story and often a great family or business story. I look forward to ways in which we can continue telling these stories, while also welcoming other producers into this network and helping them grow into well respected businesses in their various communities and local networks.

Join the Movement

Our mission is to inform, collaborate, and connect to build business and consumer confidence in the urban wood industry. Whether you are looking to expand your existing model or want to start a new business dedicated to urban wood, click here to see how we can help you be successful.

The Urban Wood Network is made up of individual and organizational efforts in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin, working in cooperation to connect and enhance the full circle of sustainable urban forestry. This website was created as part of the grant project, Bringing Urban Forestry Full Circle: Localized Approaches for Capturing Value and Enhancing Public Benefits from Urban Forests, funded by the U.S. Forest Service. The Urban Wood Network provides equal employment opportunities (EEO) to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetics.