Entrepreneurship 101 teaches that if you see a void in the market, you create a product to fill it. Corbin Clay took that advice and ran with it when he started Corbin Woodworking, his Denver-based woodworking company, last year. The company offers custom-built furniture and cabinetry made of "beetle kill pine."
This wood, also referred to as "blue stain" or "denim pine," is streaked with blue hues ranging from sky-blue to gray-blue to dark navy. Admirers describe it as pretty, particularly because of the eye-pleasing contrast of the wood's blondish-yellow background. It's produced as a result of an infestation by the mountain pine beetle, a bark beetle responsible for killing millions of acres of trees in the Western U.S. The epidemic is particularly bad in Colorado.
An Ohio native, Clay didn't know about Colorado's beetle kill problem until he moved there in 2007. He chose to move there after college and began woodworking to help pay the bills. While working for a Denver-based cabinet shop, a number of homes featured beetle kill floors or ceilings, which inspired him to work with the material.
"The cabinet shop I was working for at the time wasn't interested in doing anything with the beetle kill. It was a typical high-production cabinet shop that didn't want to integrate anything too unusual."
So, in 2009, Clay opened up a shop of his own and has since hired two independent contractors. While beetle kill is not the exclusive material offered, it does make up about 60 to 70 percent of the company's budget. He offers the species in flooring and siding, as well as cabinetry and furniture.
What causes the beautiful blue is not as pretty as the wood itself. The mountain pine beetles land on various species of pine trees, eat the bark and lay their eggs. The eggs hatch into the living bark layer, killing the tree.
"A common misconception is that the beetles damage the wood and a lot of people assume they're similar to termites. But the fact is they never actually bore into the log - they don't even like the taste of the log. They eat the bark. The fungus they leave causes a chemical reaction on the tree and makes a change of blue.
Clay says the wood is unfortunately quite plentiful in the millions of acres in the Rocky Mountains. He buys from a mill that purchases the wood from local loggers. Clay says he hasn't experienced a great deal of competition, other than from hobbyists.
"We've done so much better than I ever thought we would for our first year. We've already doubled our projected revenue and hope to continue our growth at this pace."
This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue.