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Family makes play their business

For the Biedrzyckis, putting together a playground set is more than a family project _ it is the family business. Ron, Suzanne and Tim Biedrzycki are the owners of a company that designs, manufactures and sells a line of playground equipment for back yards. But we're not talking about metal pipes and creaking joints here. The Biedrzycki products are made almost entirely of wood.

"People want to go back to the basics. They want quality products _ natural products that look good _ and that's what we do," said Suzanne Biedrzycki, the secretary and treasurer of Brooks Bay Wood Products Inc.

The Brooks Bay play sets, called Timberworks, have much more to offer than just swings: They come with slides, bridges, firefighters' poles or little forts.

Ron Biedrzycki, 46, is the president of the company. He designs all the sets and builds the prototypes.

Tim, 26, is Ron and Suzanne's oldest son and the vice president of operations. He makes the instruction booklets, carefully drawing the set designs in detail and writing directions on how to put the kits together.

Until two weeks ago, when he got a job outside the family business, 24-year-old Jeff also worked for Brooks Bay.

Even the younger members of the family contribute to production. Ron and Suzanne's three youngest sons _ Ronson, 12, Jason, 10, and Casey, 7 _ provide their father with ideas for new sets and input on what kids like. Once the prototypes are built, the children also test them to see if they are safe and fun.

Right now, Ron, Jason and Casey are working on a special project. They are designing a set that will be built just for the family in the Biedrzycki backyard.

250 sets a week

Several playground sets are on display at the 9.5-acre Timberworks factory on U.S. 41. Here, all the different models for sale _ the Lodge, Inn, Chalet, Tower, Loft and Twin Tree House _ can be examined, and even tested, by buyers.

"The kids can try out everything," said Suzanne. "When parents bring their kids here they see right away what the kids like by what they are playing on."

The sets range in price from $249 to $1,950. The best-selling model costs between $750 and $1,100 and includes a fort that is an enclosed clubhouse-type area, a 12-foot-long walkover bridge and a firefighters' sliding pole.

More than 9,000 sets have been made at the factory, which produces an average 250 sets a week.

The sets are packaged as a kit, complete with instructions, that parents can put together.For an additional fee, the Biedrzyckis will do the installation.

Since the company was created three years ago, the Biedrzyckis have installed between 800 and 1,000 sets locally and have shipped kits as far way as California, Alaska and Canada.

They also have custom-built nine commercial sets at schools and day-care centers.

About a year ago, the sets were so in demand that the company franchised the Timberworks line to dealers in Jacksonville, Ocala and Tallahassee. Almost 75 percent of the company business is generated by the dealers, while 20 percent comes from people who just happen to drive by the factory and decide to buy a set, and 5 percent comes from mail orders.

Like Lincoln Logs

A semi-truck delivers a load of pressure-treated southern pine to the factory every month or two. The wood is put on a moulding machine to even out the lumber's four sides and round sharp edges.

The Biedrzyckis use No. 1 wood that has been treated with chemicals that ward off rot and termites. This wood has the highest quality rating, meaning there are fewer knots and less cracking than in wood with lower ratings.

The wood is cut and drilled to make the pieces for the kits. Ten to 100 kits are cut at a time.

"We use a unique, interlocking joint system that makes the sets stronger than just using brackets," Suzanne said. "The pieces actually go together like old fashion Lincoln Logs."

No metal, except for the hardware, is used on the equipment, and 98 percent of the materials in the sets are made in the United States.

The slides are made out of plastic, because the Biedrzyckis found that metal slides got hot and could burn a child.

The sets are under warranty for one year, and the Biedrzyckis claim they will last 50 years or more, by which time even grown-up kids should be ready for something new.