What if you could take the coolest part of an industry and make it come to life for others? This is exactly what Ray Tharpe and Vadim Kovalev have accomplished to showcase the amazing technology and opportunities that exist in the wood industry. Ray is president at RTM Industrial Maintenance and is a leader in supporting the lumber industry with the most complex modernization projects. Vadim is a digital marketer that has a passion for the wood industry and set out on a mission to evangelize to show others the excitement that exists. They connected through a video where Vadim strapped cameras to a log and sent it through a saw at a mill. Talk about an attention getter! It was from this video that an amazing partnership formed and they have jointly created content that showcases how RTM supports the industry and also highlights the cool factor for those that may be new to a saw mill.
They speak to what has changed to the average mill recently and discuss how technology is making such an impact on the how they operate. Their approach of highlighting the intricacies of the mills themselves is what sets them apart. Conversation and awareness are occurring because of their efforts and the next generation of mill owners and operators are out there ready to be introduced to this wonderful field. This was an exciting inside look at the wood industry and how embracing ideas such as digital marketing can take any industry to the next level with the right focus.
Ray Tharpe - Owner/President at RTM Industrial Maintenance Inc.
Vadim Kovalev - CEO & Founder at Koval Digital
Host: Chris Grainger
Executive Producer: Adam Sheets
Audio/Video Editing: Andi Thrower
You know storytelling it's not about me and my crew and how great our cameras are, how close we can get the cameras to a saw or up in a drone, but it's completely about the group of people we're working with. The folks that are super passionate about what they're doing the results, the fruit of their labor. With video specifically, we're able to capture that story and a satisfied customer is your best salesperson.
Welcome to EECO Asks Why a podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics, spotlights the heroes that keep America running. I'm your host, Chris Grainger. And on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features and benefits on products that come to market, instead, we focus on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world.
Welcome to EECO Asks Why today we have an idea episode. And we're trying something new today. We kind of have a round table discussion and we're going to be talking about the wood industry. And specifically, when we're going to be talking about the wood industry and how we introduce digital marketing into it and how that's making an impact.
And so we have two experts with us. We have Ray Tharpe, who is the owner and president at RTM Industrial Maintenance. And so welcome Ray, how you doing today, man?
We're good, Chris. Hope you are.
Oh man. It's Friday. I'm enjoying us a beautiful day in North Carolina says it doesn't get any better that for me. And our second guests, we have Mr. Vadim Kovalev, who is the CEO and founder at Koval Digital. So welcome Vadim.
Thanks for having us today, Chris, it's an honor to be here and great to connect with you.
Absolutely. Absolutely. And maybe get us started a little bit, Ray, just so our listeners are know, where are you guys located out of?
We're located out of Dolphin, Virginia
Dolphin, Virginia. All right. That is awesome. And you Vadim where are you?
I'm in Vancouver, in Washington state on the West coast.
So they couldn't get it any further apart, but you guys do a great stuff together, man. And maybe get us started with this, given the listeners a little bit of information on your backgrounds for both of you and how you serve the wood industry. So, Ray, do you want to get us started?
Yes sir. I, I mean, I'm the owner of RTM Industrial Maintenance and we are a MillRight company. We serve the forest products industry. We come in, we do installation, work, maintenance, work troubleshooting. We are a full service maintenance company and we primarily focus in the lumber industry.
I got you. Okay. And how about you Vadim?
Koval Digital is a digital agency that I founded and we're providing creative and digital services to industrial companies. I got my start in the wood products industry about 10 years ago and worked for a couple of different companies supplying products to the wood industry, found it a really cool place to be traveled the world North America and abroad to go to sawmills and. Here, I am now telling stories about the industry and very trying to find creative ways to do so.
And that is so cool. So, I mean, I guess the burning question is how in the world did you two guys connect?
It was actually a social media.
One of the individuals in the industry that I follow on LinkedIn shared a video that Vadim had produced which I liked and commented on it. And then we started chatting back and forth and next thing you know, we found ourselves working together and Vadim actually produced some material for me as well to update my website.
Man that's really cool. I saw a lot of your videos, Vadim around the wood industry. And I don't know how many cameras you've broke. Hopefully it's not many because I mean, some of them are like, man, you're sitting on a piece of lumber. You're going through a saw man. That's awesome.
Like Ray said, we connected over on LinkedIn. So I, we produced a video and there was a particular couple of shots in there that caught Ray's eyes. I remember that we sent some cameras through a saw line and through a gang of saws. Ray had told me that's what caught his attention. So it works.
That does work, man. It's I mean, how, how about you two guys? How are y'all or have you worked together in the past to really serve the industry, the wood industry and bring a new way of looking at it and new information to this industry? Just curious on, what's been working for you too.
I'd like to jump in on that. So there's many teams like RTM in this industry. And they're really hardworking teams, they're producing a great product or delivering amazing service. And it's just that if you look at the final result, you walk through a saw mill, or you looked at a saw mill video, that team, or those teams like RTM are basically invisible.
And so what we're trying to do is tell stories that inform the industry, "Hey, these experts, is RTM crew. They're the guys who can actually install the machine that you've purchased from an OEM." So machines don't magically appear and work perfectly at a factory, right? And so there's this element that people don't understand know, and we're trying to shine a light on that. So that's how I would summarize our relationship with RTM. We're telling their story.
That's great. I mean, and it's a wonderful story too. I mean, just, I know just me, I've known Ray from the past, but it's been a while. And then watching his video, I just felt like, okay, all the years between have been erased. I know what he's doing, man. I know what he's up to. I know what he's passionate about. And I noticed the industry that he serve in how he's making an impact. So, I mean, it's just, it's wonderful to see that type of material out there, particularly around this industry and talking about the industry itself, maybe Ray, you may be able to answer this the best what do you see as some of the biggest changes in the wood industry right now? And where do you see it going in the future?
I'll tell you innovation. It is really amazed me. We're going from a lot of manual operated machines and to more PLCs optimization and actually computer guided things. It's reducing the manual labor things are running more efficiently cost effective.
I mean you hate to say that we're reducing jobs, but when a company has the ability to be more cost-effective, it offers better paying jobs. And I feel the innovation is going to continue to grow. I mean, I'm seeing mills that. In my saw milling days we had 32 people to run the mill. And now you've got mills that can run on eight, nine people, and they're more efficient just from innovation. And it's still a lot, it's still always to go we still, you still going to have manual input, but that's the impressive stuff to me that I see, run these machines online. They just run themselves. So to speak.
So, is it like we do a lot with the pulp and paper, and a lot of that stuff is they're upgrading old equipment. Is that the way it's working in the wood industry? Is it upgrading equipment or is it literally bringing in new equipment?
Well, we do a little bit of both. I mean, we've done complete mill builds. I'd say maybe 60% would be equipment replacement and that's just the nature of the machinery wears out and the customer naturally, they need to upgrade it just like there's like when you buy a car. Right. After so many hundreds, thousands of miles. You've got to you got to start over
That's right? No kidding, man. Now how about for the listeners out there? And Ray, you may be this one, but Vadim also you perceptions around the industry and, some people, when they think of wood industry, they may have this vision in their mind and it's not always good. So anything you guys like to just knock out the park right now around the wood industry?
Well, I'd like to just say that trees are renewable, right? It's a renewable resource. And just the fact that companies that are harvesting and using and processing the wood, it's in their best interest to replant the forest, to manage the forest well, to make sure that the future generations have wood to work with. And I mean, I can see that from the side going out there to all these different sites, but Ray, you've got some hands-on experience with that.
Well, it typically the log and the saw bolos kind of gotten a little, I'd say maybe a bad reputation. People think that we're robbing the natural resources and not replenishing, and that's not how it works, you know? So many other products that come from the wood industry over than just building materials and paper additives to like toothpaste, PO coatings, things like that. This industry provides a lot to everyday normal life. And when I was saw a mental log and we always took on in our best effort to be stewards of the land, not try to tear things up. And then of course managing the timber life, re-plant, setting things up for the next generation. It's really no different than all farming now.
Right. Very true. Very true. I mean, I think you guys are all over it. I mean, it's hard work, but it's good work and it's meaningful work, that whole piece around, uh, that the land management and the wood, I'm so glad you guys went there cause I think that's such a big misperception of people when they think about the wood industry. So when you talk about what we were calling this, the wood product and digital marketing that the world's coming together. So Ray you've reached out, you started working with Vadim how has embracing that digital marketing really helped your business? I mean, from a, from an ROI standpoint.
Well, we've just started releasing the footage that Vadim made for us. And we've gotten a lot of positive feedback from our peers in the industry and in fact, two days after I posted the installation video that he produced, I got a phone call.
A mill owner saw it on LinkedIn called me, wanted to meet, wanted to do the same type of installation. And we're currently working on getting a date together to actually do the job pool. So a return on investment so far, so good. I'm happy.
How did that make you feel Vadim? Was that I'm hanging on the rim moment for you, man?
Yeah, totally. When we talked originally with Ray, that was the idea, right? That's the goal. And then when Ray gave me a call and gave me that news, that he's actually got a lead that's definitely there's people interested, but this is a particular project. That's the answer that he's been looking for and somebody who's actually interested in now hiring RTM. I mean, that's what it's all about. Right? We're telling the story so that people see it. And, when Ray called me, I got goosebumps. I was like, "Ray, that's incredible. I love it. Tell me more."
That is awesome. Now how did they find it was that on a LinkedIn video?
It is it's on LinkedIn. We're still in the process of revamping the website. And then once, once we get those building blocks in place, then sites can be built around what Vadim produced for us.
Yeah, but I think I know for me, it's your social media presence. I mean, I'm seeing so much of what you guys are doing together on social media. That's a big audience. I mean, as your audience is growing and you're getting the followers, I'm sure that's going to make that much more of an impact for both of them. It's just awesome. I mean Vadim, when I look at your videos, man, I just, every one of them, I stop now and I'm just watching them like the one you did.
Um, there was a plant, Jordan Lumber. That was a really cool one that you did. So what have been some of the best footages you've shot so far, man, I am curious how many cameras had you gone through?
Let's keep that a secret. No I'm kidding. You know, as far as shooting these videos, what I really enjoy and when I go there, when I go out in the field with my team, it's really not about shooting the most we can, it's really about sitting down there and thinking and walking and looking at the machines and kind of sit in there and watch the process for a little bit until I'm like, "Okay, well, if I put a GoPro down underneath an outfeed of a particular machine, it's going to be what I call a money shot, where it's a 10, second clip, that's super unique that people are gonna find very interesting and an eye catching, but also I'll just give you a recent example. Last week I posted a shot that we took on top of a particular piece of wood going through a big bandsaw, right. And the fact that the camera got within a couple inches from the blade, that's just going to town and cutting off this big chunk of wood and cutting a board.
It gets really great engagement on LinkedIn. People are really excited about seeing stuff like that. And then there they're saying, "Hey, we make a particular machine. We want you guys to come out and show our machine and show the process really. So to summarize just the footage that I love capturing is that what puts you in like this perspective of I'm going through the machine and that's been really unique, kind of like our staple move at this point, I guess.
Are you sitting on the side, like a chewing your fingernails with your fingers crossed? Like, please don't tear my camera up.
Sometimes otherwise we watched the process enough where we're feeling pretty confident that the way we want to set it up. It shouldn't be a problem.
That's cool, man. I think I even saw you're doing some overhead. So are you guys using like drones for some of your footage?
Definitely. Yeah. We're flying drones inside of these mills where space allows, and then outside of course, showing some aerials, there's a lot of moving pieces and it's really hard to just get a ground perspective.
Like when Ray was lifting up a big machine and putting it into the factory, I mean, right. You guys tore the whole roof off of that one building and it's just a whole unique perspective to see the crane and lifting the big, heavy metal and putting it and setting it in place. Really open roof like definitely drone.
That is so cool. And as awesome. That's awesome. So maybe Ray too. And when you're thinking about the stuff that you want to start building, you mentioned RTM, you're getting ready to kind of go through your website to get redesigned. When you think about content that's going to bring you value and bring you those leads.
Videos are definitely working. Are there any other areas you're looking at, like newsletters or blogs or just anything in general that to try to get them even more buzz out there about what you do?
Trying to get people's catch people's attention. That was the biggest thing. And that was the purpose of the videos. Yes. We've had some talks of maybe starting a blog, things of that nature, but more or less like I said we're going to take the content that Vadim has produced for us. And the biggest thing we wanted to do, he commented on we're kind of that invisible entity over here. We come in, a lot of people don't know who we are, what we do.
And I have a question as I asked me all with that, well, what is it that you actually do? And that kind of got me going well. Wow. You know, how do we showcase that? And that's what led into conversations with Vadim. And then all split is good. Him and his guys have done. I couldn't have asked for more perfect job. They hit the home run. We did hard work, but they made, they made us look good.
No doubt. Now Vadim do you do other things too from a, from a digital marketing standpoint that you're working on with, with the end-users like Ray and, to try to support the markets from like blogs or newsletters, things like that too?
Yeah. You know, so we're looking at, I started when I was doing these videos on my own without a team behind me supporting the effort as we're really just doing video. And now that you know, the video, definitely, just one of the services that we're offering. And I'd be happy to talk to folks about doing anything from your website to make sure you're ranking on Google with SEO, marketing campaigns, and just have other, a lot of other things that are really valuable for folks that are a service provider like Ray or specifically the OEMs who build a machine.
My background is engineering and this product in the wood products industry. And so using some of those, CAD skills and whatnot, we're able to really create these unique 3D models of machines and whether it's making an animation and using that in a video form, or now even we're pushing the boundaries and creating these models that are embedded right on people's websites.
And so we are able to take like a CAD model of a machine and make it animate and then put it right into your website.
So there's some really neat applications to digital marketing across the board beyond just video.
Yeah, that's really cool. Now I've been noticing Ray, some things that come out and they're tied to you, but it's a manufacturer and you don't have to help me with the name, of equipment it looks like you're installing a lot of, are they local to the area?
You're referring to McDonough?
That's it, those guys. So I see you're, you're, you're working with them a lot. Has that been a good partnership?
They're based out of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and then they also have another factory in Canada. And we developed a very, very close working relationship with those guys through in the last couple of years, just to, we installed their equipment and then needed some help with something else. And then just the relationship grew and grew and grew. Or we, we contract to them a lot and we work hand in hand together. They've been very, very, very good partner.
I just noticed I've seen a lot of stuff kind of like following you a little bit of, I've learned a little bit about their company and it looks like they're embracing videos and definitely, articles and pictures and things like that. And I think it's just really cool to bring, that type of information about the industry out there in the public. So I was just curious on the tie there.
It's sort of relationship that has just developed over time. We look out for each other. We're all in it together. I mean, essentially.
Chris what's really interesting is once we got the RTM videos, out there, we're actually now just returned back from a trip, um, where we were capturing McDonough equipment. And so that was totally kind of a really natural progression where Ray had brought us in and they were installing a McDonough piece. And then now we're actually doing some content work for the equipment manufacturer. And that was, that was the shot that I was talking about, where we were really close to a bandsaw. That was just last week.
Yeah. Kind of came full circle right there, man. That's great.
Now how about the platforms that you guys are focusing on us definitely see you on LinkedIn. What are you measuring to see what's working and to see what people are really enjoying or engaging with. And that's helping you. Are there any metrics that jump out that you say, "Yep, this is what people want. I need to do more of that."
Yeah. What's been, what's been really neat to see the engagement. So behind the scenes, we can see how many people actually like saw the content not everybody hits, like not everybody comments, but you can definitely see that there's on some pieces that are specifically shorter.
I'm finding people are, uh, really wanting to see them and then move on. Others do hit like, and others even comment like Ray so it goes in all directions.
For sure. For sure. Well, guys, this has been so much fun. I mean, I think just bringing out. You know your passion for the wood industry and we call it EECO Asks Why, the why is the hardest show. So we'll give you each a chance to answer this if you will, because I love to get both of your perspectives, but you know why you're so passionate about this wood industry that you're serving. And why do you feel like embracing this digital marketing piece is helping each other bring that realization to the world, man? So Ray, you want to start us?
Chris I'm fifth generation logger/saw miller. I was born and raised in this, grew up in it, and that's where my natural love for the business comes from. And then being able to take a career's worth of knowledge that I have learned. Some things taught, some things just doing things the wrong way, the hard way, and to be able to get out here and extend a service to help people and to feel the general and appreciation for when you do good for somebody. And that's, that's what gets me going daily just to get out here and help people.
I love it.
How about you Vadim?
Chris for me, I got to summarize it in one word. It's storytelling. You know storytelling it's not about me and my crew and how great our cameras are, how close we can get the cameras to a saw or up in a drone. But it's completely about the group of people we're working with. The folks that are super passionate about what they're doing the results, the fruit of their labor. So when we got together with RTM, man, I was so proud to work on that project just because we're telling a story and we're really making an impact.
And it's all about that. It's about how RTM makes an impact to their customer. And we're totally behind the scenes. It's just RTM serving their customer. And then the final product, when the final customer on camera is able to say, "Wow, we're really proud of the work that RTM did," and, that testimony on video. It's kind of like on demand, right? So a lot of times, to get a reference it's word of mouth and you have to call the other person. Well, with video specifically, we're able to capture that story and a satisfied customer is your best salesperson.
That's right. You're all over. I mean, Ray's passion, your passion. When those worlds collided, it was bound to be good things to come out of it, man. I thank you both for what you're doing for our industry, we're all about serving the industry.
So we serve a lot of industries. The wood industry is one of them, for sure. I think we're very passionate about it. I used to run around those, that neck of the woods and going on those saw mills and Arbor Tech, and a lot of those mills, Morgan Lumber and those guys, and it just brought back a lot of good memories, man. When I think about the, the wood industry and I just, hopefully this will help bring some education to some people about the wood industry and, and maybe a light, a fire in them to pursue it in the future, man. So this has been. A lot of fun.
We'll put links in our show notes, so you can connect directly with our TM. You can connect directly with Vadim and his company. And so you'll have all their resources there too, man. So guys, thank you so much. This has been a blast.
Thanks for having us on the show, Chris. Thanks so much to your team.
Absolutely man. It's the honors all is ours guys, and, uh, we wish you both the best in the future.
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