- Associated Press - Saturday, August 29, 2015

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - Former chemist Anthony Wilder says that each day he goes to work, he’s working in his toy box.

His business, Island Products Co., is a wholesale manufacturer of decorative wooden planter products.

“Initially, I made a heck of a lot more money as a chemist, but I didn’t have as much fun,” Wilder said.

He uses scrap lumber that he gets from builders, primarily Keystone Homes, based in Greensboro, to create a variety of planters.

“We’ve probably gone through about 40,000 to 50,000 pounds of material from them,” Wilder said.

Banding-strap lumber, which is typically used by manufacturers to protect products during shipment, is repurposed primarily to create legs for the planters. Wilder has gotten the majority of this type of lumber from TruLine Truss Inc., based in Sparta.

“We strive to be a totally environmentally conscious company,” Wilder said. “With this in mind, all the wood shavings and sawdust waste that we produce is distributed to area farms for use as animal bedding.”

Wilder has also donated some of his company’s leftover scrap wood to Norman Trzaskoma, who makes toys for Christmas for the City, an outreach of Love Out Loud in Winston-Salem. Children are given the opportunity to assemble toys during the community event.

“What I do would be impossible without people like Anthony donating the wood because it requires so much material,” Trzaskoma said.

Since April, Keystone Homes has been providing Wilder with new construction scrap lumber from an apartment complex called Walkertown Landing Apartments that it is building in Walkertown.

Steve Nickowski, a project manager for Keystone Homes, said that a lot of scrap materials get dumped each year in landfills.

“I like his idea of recycling wood and giving back,” Nickowski said of Wilder’s efforts to repurpose lumber. “I think it’s awesome.”

Island Products operates out of a 26,000-square-foot warehouse and manufacturing building on Indiana Avenue.

“We have 60,000 board foot of material in here waiting to be recycled,” Wilder said.

As a wholesaler, Island Products does not sell directly to the public. The company’s planters are carried in local garden centers, including Briar Patch Garden Center and Reynolda Nursery in Winston-Salem, Main Street Lawn and Garden in Rural Hall, and Midway General Store in Midway.

“I think it’s a great product,” said Joanna Tesh, the manager of Reynolda Nursery in Winston-Salem. “Every customer that has bought it has been really pleased with the quality and the way it looks. They really appreciate that it’s made in North Carolina.”

Wilder grew up in Winston-Salem and is a graduate of Glenn High School. He became interested in gardening as a young man, taking horticulture classes at the Career Center in Winston-Salem while in high school and later at Forsyth Technical Community College.

“I’m an avid gardener,” said Wilder, who is now 52.

The ability to make things from wood comes from his father. Although he has never taken a woodworking class in his life, Anthony Wilder’s family has a long history in the woodworking field. His great-grandfather, Abraham Wilder, was a wooden shipbuilder in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Abraham Wilder started out owning a shipyard in Elizabeth City, then moved to Washington, N.C., where he opened a shipyard.

Anthony Wilder’s grandfather, Timothy Wilder Sr., primarily built wooden ship hulls, and his father, Timothy Wilder II, was a master craftsman in furniture who taught woodworking at several schools in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth school system for 32 years.

After graduating from Winston-Salem State University in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in chemistry, Anthony Wilder got a job as a chemist at Ilco-Kaba, now Kaba Access Controls, on Indiana Avenue in Winston-Salem.

“I was sitting in a windowless lab and wondering what’s going on outside,” Wilder said.

He then decided to take a leap of faith and started his own business in 1995.

Wilder said he initially opened Island Products with his now ex-wife but is currently the sole owner.

The company’s first location was in a 4,000-square-foot building in Farrington Business Park on Farrington Point Drive in Winston-Salem, and its first product was window boxes. The company moved to its current location in 2002. At first, Wilder operated out of 6,000 square feet of rented space in the building, but later bought the entire building after other businesses moved out.

The toughest time for the company was when the economy tanked and affected the housing market, starting about 2007.

“If people can’t pay their $700 mortgages, they definitely aren’t going to be picking out a flower planter,” he said.

Still, the slowdown in the housing market had its benefits.

Wilder said he realized he needed to diversify his product offerings.

“I spent a lot of time reading Ladies Home Journal and Southern Living and Better Homes and Gardens looking at trends, looking at new products.. and try to develop products around those,” he said.

Island Products currently has 80 different planters. They include window boxes, embossed planters, personal planters and planter shelves. At retail, the planters range from $25 to $50, depending on the style and the complexity of making them.

Plans are to grow the personal planters business within the next year. One design, for example, was created for a front porch and offers a homeowner’s address in a golden embossed inlay.

Wilder said he typically works seven days a week, saying that it helps to live near his company.

Wilder employs four to 10 people, depending on the season. Three of them work full time.

In addition, his mother, Oshia Reid, and his sister, Angela Wilder, sometimes help out at Island Products.

Wilder refers to his 12-year-old son Reagan, as a vice president in training.

He said that repurposing materials at Island Products helps his son see the value in recycling.

“The less waste we produce benefits all of us,” Wilder said.

___

Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, http://www.journalnow.com

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