Photo: John Moses (Gray Hat), Bob Moses (Green, Bright Hat). Brian Moses (Top Center), Shelly Moses (front center blue shirt), and Elizabeth Moses (pink shirt). Courtesy photo.
by Joyce Marcel, Vermont Business Magazine The Britton Lumber Company in Fairlee is the winner of the SBA Vermont Family-Owned Business Award. But it is really the story of two families, sequentially owning and running the same business. That’s because the Moses family purchased the lumber mill from the Britton family in 2013, after the Britton family had been running it since 1946.
“Robert Moses, my dad, was the Britton's tax accountant for about 25 years in New Hampshire,” said Brian Moses, 29, who runs sales and operations in Fairlee. “He sold his tax business, and in 2013 he purchased Britton Lumber from Doug Britton.”
The business remains a true family affair. Robert Moses is president and CEO. Brian runs Fairlee. His older brother Jonathon, 31, is the product manager in New Hampshire, where they manufacture eastern white pine.
“I started in 2018,” Moses said. “That's also when my brother started. His story is similar to mine. He lived in San Francisco. I lived in Montana. Then my mother and father purchased Britton. It was kind of in our heads that we would come home and work for my dad. It's a coming home story, and my mom is very happy.”
The company employs about 65 people and reported $40 million in revenue last year. Britton is spread over three New England states.
“In 2012, Doug Britton purchased a distribution yard in Maine,” Moses said. “So when the Moses family purchased Britton Lumber, we acquired a manufacturing facility and wholesale operations in Fairlee at the time there was saw-milling in Fairlee. We lost that mill to a fire more than five years ago. We currently operate trucking and distribution in Gray, Maine. And we own a sawmill, plus a wholesale division and a manufacturing division in Bath, NH. We are widespread, but we are a Vermont business proudly in Fairlee, where we employ, on average, about 35 individuals. ”
The company sells building materials in northern New England and in the upstate New York region.
“We buy products,” Moses said. “Our lumber mostly comes from Canada, our drywall from Portsmouth, NH. We buy screws. We buy insulation. We're a middleman. We buy materials from a manufacturer, they ship to Fairlee, and we distribute to independent lumber yards. Independent is the key word because they're not Home Depot or Lowes.”
Finding qualified workers has become difficult.
“For the first time in a number of years, we're actively recruiting college graduates and offering intern programs,” Moses said. “It's been tough in the past three or four years to find motivated help. We operate in a technological field, just like a welder or contractor. We're in the trades, and a lot of my peers still don't feel being a welder or plumber as a career path. But you can be a truck driver, a yard foreman or work in the sales office, and by year three, four or five you're going to have a stable life and a good career ahead of you.”
When the pandemic hit, Britton was considered an “essential business.”
“We were extremely unsure of the direction our company and the industry were going at the start of the pandemic,” Moses said. “We feel fortunate that Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine all deemed us to be essential businesses. It is a true blessing. We are shipping more materials now than in previous springs. A lot of people are struggling, but the home centers and the lumber yards are using middlemen and distributors like us because the large manufacturers shut down or laid off employees or had closures. We did some of that, but we didn't do that as much as we thought. Because we were cautious with our approach to COVID-19, there was enough delay that we saw business remain steady for the last two months. We've laid off under 10 people. If we were not an essential business, I don't know if we'd even be having this conversation.”
The Moses family was overjoyed to be selected Family Business of the Year, Moses said.
“We think the family business part is most important,” he said. “Our customers are family-run businesses. We're a very small player in the building materials industry as a whole, so we feel we operate as a small business and very much have an entrepreneurial spirit here at Britton Lumber.”