Celebrating Women's Small Business Month with Scentury Cedar

October 12, 2016 |Grinders In Action

We interviewed Kim Leonard for our Women’s Small Business Month feature, highlighting women who own and operate Rotochopper equipment. We asked Kim for her unique perspectives on the challenges women might face in the industry and her strategies for success in recycling markets.

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Kim Leonard, owner and operator of Scentury Cedar in Booneville, Arkansas, runs one of the most unique pieces of Rotochopper equipment in the industry. She purchased the used 1995 M-136* in 2003 to transform the waste from her Eastern Red Cedar sawmill into mulch. The addition of her M-136 offered her increased freedom and security in her business, along with giving her the opportunity to diversify and expand into new markets.

Owning an older machine has come with its share of challenges and has provided several unique insights. “I’ve done everything on this machine on my own, with the help of the Rotochopper Service Department. From maintaining teeth, to rebuilding bearings and replacing shafts, I have learned so much about reaching my full potential. I’ve learned to do all of the maintenance on this machine, because I need to know it’s been done right.”

What challenges do you face as a woman in a male-dominated industry?

“The biggest challenge, hands down, is the lack of respect from raw material suppliers dropping off logs and chips at my sawmill. There are a lot of people who don’t see the value in me as a business person, assuming it’s my husband who runs the operation. It’s me. I’ve always been out there with my employees, working as hard as they are; and there are times I am not treated with the same respect. People have automatically assumed that I can’t operate my machine, because I’m a woman, or they are impressed at the fact that I work on my own machine. These things wouldn’t be surprising if I was a man, and that is endlessly frustrating. Being a woman doesn’t prohibit me from doing any of my duties, I have learned how to run my business through years of dedication and hard work.”

What advice do you have for female grinder owners/operators?

“Don’t be afraid to learn how to do things yourself. Don’t be afraid to get dirty! You need to know how to operate your grinder if you’re going to own it. There isn’t any part of this machine that can’t be operated because you’re a woman. Learn how to work on your machine, how to load it, how to do everything required of an operator, even if you won’t be the main operator. I assure you, Rotochopper isn’t only making equipment for men, they have phenomenal designs, and the machines are so user friendly. Buy a quality machine, and take care of it.”

What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced along the way, and how have you conquered them?

“I cut off three of my fingers on my circle saw in 1996. The doctor fixed them, but my index finger is noticeably shorter than it used to be. The recovery was brutal, I struggled with the fact that I couldn’t keep working like I used to. In addition to traditional physical therapy, I began working with these cedar logs and found a passion for woodworking. That passion grew into local craft shows and larger art shows all over the United States. It was too hard for me to be away from my sawmill and the employees who were dependent on me. So now I have a small shop on Etsy and I take custom orders on different styles of cedar boxes, chests, and other cedar products.”

What do you think needs to happen to get more women involved in your industry?

“Promote it! Talk to your daughters, their friends, young women everywhere. There is nothing about this industry that limits women. Teach girls that it’s cool, and show them the pride in a job well done. It is really that simple. There is a national STEM push, providing endless opportunities for young women. Get into engineering, learn about mechanics! I promise you, even if it isn’t your career, it will teach you so much about your potential as a human.”

What are some of your greatest accomplishments as a business owner?

“I have learned how to do almost everything on this machine by myself, thanks to Dave [Kulzer] and the Rotochopper Service Department. I replaced the rotor with an updated design a few years after I bought it, I’ve replaced teeth, rebuilt rotor bearings, repaired directional control valves, done a complete clutch overhaul, you name it. I do all the maintenance on it myself. It is really empowering. Dave has always been there when I have a question about my machine, ready to walk me through whatever I need to do. In the years I’ve owned this business and my M-136, I have learned so much about what I’m capable of; and all of that has made me a better mother, wife, and business owner.”

Why Rotochopper?

“Honestly, finding my machine was pure luck. The company that distributed my closet liners told me they were paying their 20 employees solely on the income of their mulch operation. I needed the money, so I started looking for a grinder that could meet my needs, and the M-136 was perfect for my business. My mulch buyers know my product because it’s perfect, there is no comparison. Now that I’ve owned it for 13 years, I see how everything on my grinder is so user-friendly, and you can tell they put a lot into the design of these machines. My grinder is 21 years old, but there is no need to replace it at this point.”

Do you have any parting wisdom?

“Man, woman, or Martian: there isn’t anything holding you back from accomplishing your dreams. You’re only limited by your own thoughts. If you really want to do whatever it may be, there is nothing that is going to stop you from doing it.”

*The Rotochopper M-136 is a predecessor to our current line of mobile, diesel powered grinders. The M-136 was designed with some of the same features as current grinders and the same "Perfect In One Pass" grinding precision but was phased out by higher capacity grinders.