Waste Not, Want Not
An interview with Zac Guy, founder and owner of Appalachian Antique Hardwoods
When you pass near Waynesville and Canton in the Western North Carolina mountains, you’ll smell the unmistakable odor of the paper mill, but go further and the bouquet of fresh-cut wood will greet you. That’s because the area is home to the largest reclaimed wood products company in the world.
Appalachian Antique Hardwoods owner Zac Guy, an Appalachian country boy, started his company as a fluke, but turned it into a multi-million business that employs anywhere from 30 to 35 full-time employees at a time and supports a slew of ancillary businesses. From the truckers who haul his products around the country to the shippers who carry it overseas to the architects and builders who rely on Guy for their materials, many reap the benefits of his diligence and love of history and the land.
History Came Alive
Guy grew up on a farm in Waynesville and at 16, his grandfather gave him an antique Civil War rifle. He wanted to give the family heirloom a place of honor, in a case built out American chestnut, but he discovered that the tree was the only extinct hardwood in the country. He eventually tore down his baseball coach’s rundown chestnut sawmill for the wood in exchange for cleaning up the lot.
That’s when his life changed. On his way back with the wood planks, Guy stopped at a gas station to fill up his truck. A local builder saw the wood and offered Guy $1,300 for the lot. With the money, he bought another chestnut barn and never ran out of sources willing to pay for the reclaimed wood. (He eventually built the gun case out of scraps.)
A Business Is Born
Guy continued to recycle wood, even as he went off to college at NC State. He knew he’d met his perfect mate when she agreed to spend their first date pulling nails from old boards. Every weekend, Guy traveled back and forth between Raleigh and his Appalachian home to run his side business.
“I was selling raw barn wood out of my college dorm,” Guy says.
He graduated in 2001 and went to work as an engineer, continuing to find and resell wood on the side. In 2004, he left a successful career with a pharmaceutical company to start Appalachian Antique Hardwoods.
In Touch with the Trends
As the trend for made-in-America products continues to grow, consumers have become more and more interested in environmentally friendly products, recycling efforts and reclaimed wood products. Guy’s business continues to flourish. Today, he prepares the raw wood to make it ready to use and can manufacture any piece of a home in his Waynesville plant, from bannisters and fireplace mantles to doors, floors and beams.
“We are always looking for new ways of doing old things,” Guy says. “Our products are not just for multi-million dollar homes anymore. We take 300-year-old wood and give it a new twist to use it in new ways, making our products more affordable for any homeowner.”
And Business Is Growing
Guy relies on a team of vendors around the country these days to find and tear down old barns for the wood. Trucks pull in almost daily with new batches of old wood. His team is continually coming up with innovative ideas and new products. One rule of the company is to find a use for every piece of wood, no matter its size or configuration.
Guy has stepped back from the production end of the company, leaving management to a newly assembled team of high-level managers. He loves the sales end of the business and continues to meet with clients. A side custom home-building company, called Legacy Quest Builders, gives him an outlet to be involved in a handful of new housing projects each year.
Own a Piece of History
Through the company website at www.aahardwoods.com, you can see the line of products made by the company. Builders and architects comprise a large segment of his market, but furniture and accessory sales are growing too. While Guy will create a custom piece when asked, most of his furniture is made and shipped in large orders to major retailers like Pottery Barn and Orvis.
Guy is proud of the jobs he brings to Haywood and Buncombe counties, where all his employees reside. AA Hardwoods is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and Guy requires all his woodworkers to earn certifications. The wood used in their products is kiln dried, even though it’s already more stable than new wood after surviving for generations in its first incarnation.
Zac Guy loves his heritage and believes that if you follow your passion, success will follow. Just as timber from a tree can provide years of shelter as one structure, it can be saved and restored to begin a new life, with a new purpose, every bit as beautiful and useful as the first. The cycles of life are never so apparent as in the halls of Appalachian Antique Hardwoods.