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A controlled process, good employee development brings success to Milan Lumber

Piles and piles of lumber sit waiting to be cut into boards at Milan Lumber Company. Photo by Debra Thornblad. (click for larger version)
July 25, 2012
MILAN - Anyone traveling regularly on Route 16 between Milan and Berlin in recent years couldn't have helped but notice the growth of the lumber company just south of Milan Village.

In the past four years the Milan Lumber Company has almost doubled its output and today lumber coming in to be cut and lumber sitting in stacks ready to go out cover just about every inch of the property.

Indeed, General Manager Mark Gilbert said the mill is right about at its capacity for its size. He attributes the business' success to increased measuring and control over processes and to the company's attitude towards its employees.

"We spend a lot of time coaching and mentoring our employees," Gilbert said.

Richard Carrier purchased the former Valley Lumber in 2008. Carrier has 40 years of experience in the wood industry, Gilbert explained. Carrier came from a background in logging and trucking, but decided he wanted to own some mills as well. In addition to Milan Lumber, he owns HHP Lumber in Henniker, a hard wood mill.

"Carrier is very knowledgeable and respected, well known in the forestry industry," Gilbert said. "He is a person of resource, a good visionary. He knows how to build the infrastructure of a company to be successful. He is a great owner to work for."

Gilbert himself has over 20 of experience in the business. He previously worked for Kevin Hancock of Hancock Lumber, for Kennebec Lumber and Pride Manufacturing. He is the general manager for both the Milan and Henniker mills.

When Carrier first bought the mill it was putting out 150,000 - 180,000 feet per day. Today they are doing close to double that, 270,000 - 300,000 feet per day. They employ 68-72 people. It fluctuates a little seasonally, Gilbert said.

The lumber comes from a 250-mile radius. They buy from a number of sources, including loggers, large land-owners and independent companies. Milan Lumber is not a retail mill, meaning an individual can't buy lumber directly from them.

The mill is a dimension mill, which means they cut 2x4's, 2x6's, etc . Gilbert said they do some specialty products, but it's mainly dimension lumber.

The lumber goes mainly to wholesale and warehouse businesses in New England, where it then goes on to distribution to businesses that sell to the public.

Gilbert said when he first came to Milan Lumber nothing was being measured but the lumber put out at the end of the process. He changed that. They now focus on many key indicators along the way that tell them whether or not they are on track. If something gets off track they know early on.

"We've become an industry where you better be good at what you do. There's just no margin for error," he said.

"We're fortunate. We have a very good, dedicated team. We've embraced maybe a little different philosophy, but the result is we have employees who care about what they do," Gilbert said.

The company didn't just institute more controls, but also brought their employees into the process, he explained.

Regular meetings with key teams are held. They talk about how the work is going and where there are problem areas. They then come up with an action plan to correct it.

"We know how many saws we should have and how much we should be spending for repairs," he said.

As for the future, Gilbert said a comfort level for this mill is 66-70 million feet annually. This year they will do 68 million up from 62 million last year, so they are right where they want to be for continued success.

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