Growing up on a sheep and beef farm in the Wairarapa, Allen Logging’s Juliette Allen didn’t ever imagine she’d end up with a logging business. But when husband Mike had the opportunity to start a crew, it was too good to pass up.
Meeting through a mutual friend at a BBQ over 10 years ago, the pair hit it off instantly.
“We met through a mutual friend who I had studied with at uni while we were at a BBQ in Cambridge,” says Juliette, who holds an Agricultural Finance Degree from Massey University.
Mike was working for Skyline Harvesting in Whakatane at the time, with a few years of forestry experience under his belt.
But, neither Juliette or Mike come from a logging background.
“Mike started out as a motorbike mechanic, then went into building forestry roads. Then his mate Will Marshall told him to come over to Whakatane to work in forestry, so that’s what he did.”
Meanwhile, Juliette was working in Rural Banking since graduating, giving her a good foundation for understanding finance.
When the couple got married and started thinking about having kids of their own, they relocated back to the Wairarapa to be closer to extended family.
“We looked at options to expand the family farm, but missed out on the neighbouring property,” says Juliette.
“Mike started working for Guy Farman from Farman Turkington Forestry in a small wood lot crew. Then we started to think more about going out on our own, if the right opportunity came along.”
“Guy was a really helpful mentor, showing us how things worked. When a gap opened up for them to have another crew, we approached them to do it.”
Their first machine was a Sumitomo.
“I was pretty nervous, given the Sumi’s value is basically the same as a house.”
They then acquired an old bulldozer, which Mike fixed up himself, adding a winch to it.
Juliette says their backgrounds outside of logging have been valuable within the business.
“Mike’s mechanic background has been really useful in terms of our R&M, while when it came to seeking finance, I had been banking for 12 years so I knew how to put together a proposal to get our finance over the line,” she says.
“In my last four years in the bank I looked after high-risk customers, which really helped with managing risk.”
Juliette also gives credit to their accountants at Blackburne Group – Mark Blackburne and Craig Munro.
“Mark Blackburne didn’t know me from a bar of soap, but he gave me heaps of information over the phone and email. That support was pretty invaluable,” she says.
“For the past couple of years Craig has looked after us, and he’s been awesome too.”
Allen Logging currently has 4 staff including Mike, and they’re working to become more mechanized, allowing them to adapt to different terrains and block sizes.
Juliette says having a small, agile team where everyone knows how to operate everything has been good for continuity.
“All of our guys know how to do all jobs on our sites. That way, there’s not too much of a difference if one man is out,” she says.
As well as doing the books for Allen Logging, Juliette juggles her job at Farm Focus (previously Cash Manager Rural) with raising their two young boys Jimmy (aged 3) and Patrick (aged 2). She also does the books for the family farm.
Not one to sit around, when she was on maternity leave, she also found the time to get out to the bush.
“I was on maternity leave and worked as a QC a couple of days a week,” she says.
“It was a really useful experience. I got to walk the blocks with Mike to understand the harvesting plan, and got to know the guys better too.”
Juliette is loving logging and sees the opportunities it provides.
“It’s a really good industry that is so underrated in terms of how people can build a business from it,” she says.
“It can be a good cashflow industry if you have timing on your side and don’t over invest. We’re working hard and making the most of the opportunity, to build the lifestyle we want.”
“We don’t see ourselves in the industry forever, but it’s helping us to achieve our goals and learn along the way.”
Attending the recent Women in Forestry Conference solidified this thinking for Juliette.
“I feel like we’re pretty small time with our little wood lot crew, but the model we have it works for us,” she says.
“Hearing some of the stories and challenges at the conference confirmed to me that I am happy with staying small. We want to make hay while the sun is shining but also adapt when we need to.”