Feature, V2I3

Consistent Quality

Shed builders look for consistent quality lumber, and Paul McGrath knows it.

That’s why his company, McGrath Lumber Co. Inc. in Greenfield, New Hampshire, strives to ensure that every truckload of 2-by-4s that leaves the shop is good, quality material.

“We developed a niche, a recipe, and a brand name that is consistent,” McGrath says. “The consistency is what manufacturers are looking for.”

McGrath lumber sells its lumber through wholesale distributors into nearly 30 states in the Central and Eastern U.S. He says, “Because of our hand-graded consistency, and the fact that people in this industry are looking for something of higher consistent quality, we are shipping into some pretty far off places that honestly surprise me logistically.”

McGrath says the company is on track to produce about 20 million board feet this year of product, and even after almost 15 years in business, he says that the company isn’t “a huge player in the industry” but has “worked hard to develop a brand and become a mainstay in the shed and barn sector.”

McGrath uses a crosscut trim saw to PET some of the units of lumber to special trims.

McGrath got his start in lumber in 1991 at 20 years old with a wholesaler. He sold to the retail and manufactured housing industry for 10 years before moving on.

“Honestly, I got bored of sitting in an office. I was 30, and I guess I had my mid-life crisis a bit early,” he says with a chuckle. “I ended up leaving there and took some time off and figured out that lumber was really the only thing I knew how to do. I missed it, and wanted to get into the production side of the business.”

After a short stint with a Canadian manufacturing company, countervailing duties kicked in and threatened many of the small mills and manufacturers along the Quebec border, so McGrath started his own facility in the U.S.

“I just decided to go and do it on my own from scratch. With the ongoing U.S./Canadian trade issue, putting a facility on the U.S. side was a must. I started up a small shop, here at the same place we are now, and it grew from there,” McGrath says.

He started McGrath Lumber in 2001 with a couple small saws, one forklift and two employees, one being his father.

An employee maneuvers lumber in position to be trimmed to size.
An employee maneuvers lumber in position to be trimmed to size.

“My dad helped with the accounting side of things,” says McGrath. “He was an auditor for 30-plus years. I knew how to recognize value in markets and trade lumber, but the manufacturing and accounting side of things were all new. In the beginning, we learned as we went. I also can’t stress enough that without the help of my production manager Ron Taylor, and the employees that have worked hard every day for the last 15 years, I wouldn’t be here.”

The company’s manufacturing space in Greenfield is approx. 20,000 square feet, sitting on about three acres.

Last fall, McGrath opened up a second plant in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.

“Over the last five years, our spruce production grew a fair amount, and we were bulging at the seams,” says McGrath. “There are some things that we do that aren’t necessarily tied to the main spruce production. Opening Jaffrey up allowed us to carve out some of those items,and open up manufacturing and yard space here in Greenfield.”

An up-close look at the multi-head trimmer as an employee feeds lumber into it.
An up-close look at the multi-head trimmer as an employee feeds lumber into it.

A large part of McGrath’s business is for the shed industry, and he says probably 95 percent of that is 2-by-4s.

But providing lumber for the shed industry wasn’t a planned strategy. In his previous positions, McGrath was supplying lumber to the manufactured housing sector.

“I had always supplied the ‘fussier’ customers,” he says. “My customers always wanted a better stick. I used to trade product out of mills like Diamond, Champion, Fawcett, etc. All of these mills are out of business now.”

Once a full set of product is lined up, the units are wrapped.
Once a full set of product is lined up, the units are wrapped.

Also at that time, European product reached the United States, and big box stores also started taking a stranglehold on the Canadian premium framing products.

“A lot of the mills went to producing a premium product for the home center and the straight borderline #2 for everyone else,” McGrath says.

McGrath set to work to make his consistent quality product. As that happened, the product started to get into the hands of shed builders.

“A fair amount of shed builders want a perfect stick. Someone told me, and it’s a great saying, ‘We’re building kitchen cabinets for people’s backyards,’” McGrath relates. “With the European product coming and going based on the U.S. dollar vs. Euro exchange rate, we ended up putting our focus on a true premium product for the U.S. market so that customers could have access to it no matter what the exchange rates were. We also produce our NPS product that has a large amount of premium in it. It is reminiscent of the old Diamond/Champion stud mill days where every grade under the sun isn’t pulled out of it. It’s a great stick for someone that doesn’t feel it’s necessary to buy the premium.”

After cutting, sorting, stacking and wrapping, the product is loaded aboard a tractor-trailer for shipping.
After cutting, sorting, stacking and wrapping, the product is loaded aboard a tractor-trailer for shipping.

McGrath lumber produces a variety of 2-by-4 lengths, from 2 feet to 16 feet. Because of that variety, McGrath’s process is an old-school, hands-on operation.

“It’s archaic, old-school technology, and I’m okay with that,” he says. “We touch every piece, different lengths and different grades. Guys know what industries we serve and grade to those industries.”

In July, McGrath Lumber turns 15, but McGrath still considers it to be a newer business—a business still in a growth phase.

“We’re a remanufacturer, not a saw mill, and that allows us to take advantage of moving markets. We’re not locked into a fixed log cost,” he says. “It’s something where we work with the customers to try and lock them in at a better value. Outside of the quality and consistency, that’s what’s going to keep them as my customers for a long time. We work very transparently with our customers, and as partners, not just as companies with standard customer/vendor relationships”.


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