Hancock Lumber makes everything from clapboard siding to finished lumber. It produces 83 million board-feet of lumber per year at three sawmills and 10 retail locations.

Heading into the recession, the Casco-based company employed more than 600 people.

The company started an export business in 2007, which grew to account for one quarter of its sawmill operations and 15 percent of its sales. Having a sizable base of overseas customers helped keep its three sawmills operating, even when the domestic housing market contracted. The company closed two smaller stores and opened a larger store in Bridgton.

“It was a really tricky time for everybody,” said Erin Plummer, a spokeswoman for the company.

In 2010, the company opened its Home Again design showroom in South Portland, and acquired a lumber yard in North Conway, New Hampshire. But in the wake of the recession, about 200 positions were eliminated across its sawmill and retail divisions.

Hancock radically changed the way it did business and how it used resources. The company started tracking and measuring the value of the amount of materials that each truck carried, and making sure each truck was fully freighted when it left the yard each morning.


“We tightened up the ship as a company,” Plummer said. “We looked for ways to eliminate waste and be productive with all our resources.”

Some lumber yards and wholesalers didn’t survive the tough times. But bidding on projects is as competitive as ever because there are fewer jobs to bid on.

“It’s still a highly competitive market, but the dynamics really changed,” Plummer said. “Those who have been able to come out of the recession are a little bit sharper having lived through it.”

The company is seeing signs that activity is picking up, and in some cases builders are starting to plan two years out.

“It’s been a long time since our builders have had the optimism they’re sharing with us now,” she said.

And because of the changes it made during the recession, the company is much better poised to grow going forward.

“You get a little bit sharper and focus on the details,” Plummer said. “Now that we’re in a period of growth we’re just set up much better.”

Jennifer Van Allen can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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