Goosebay Sawmill and Lumber
Client Name: Lydia West
Business Name: Goosebay Sawmill & Lumber Inc.
Industry: Sawmill; hardwoods & softwoods
Location: Chichester, NH
SBDC Advisor: Hollis McGuire; Julie Glosner; Andrea O'Brien
From Wall Street to the lumber yard. That’s just a small glimpse into Lydia West’s journey. Lydia is the Chief Financial Officer for Goosebay Sawmill and Lumber, Inc. in Chichester, but as she puts it, she does “a smattering of things.”
In 1986, Lydia left Wall Street to come back home to New Hampshire and continue her career in banking. But when her daughter was born in 1993, she said goodbye to banking and hello to helping her then husband, Carl Mahlstedt, Sr., build his business, Goosebay Sawmill & Lumber. Although Carl and Lydia ended their marriage in 2003, they have continued to run the business together, which is now over 40 years old.
Their synergy – Lydia manages all the financial aspects of Goosebay Lumber and Carl Sr. oversees and handles operations – has held the business together through all its ups and downs. Lydia was a banker. She knew nothing about the sawmill business or about retail when she started working with Carl Sr., who installed and runs the kiln, knows what equipment they need to push their business forward, and has rebuilt the sawmill itself - four times! Carl relied on Lydia’s financial expertise to keep the business afloat and able to grow. Now, her stepson Carl Jr. manages the retail area and the salespeople, and is the face that customers see.
Goosebay has been family owned and operated since 1978 and supplies cabinet makers, contractors, artisans, part-time woodworkers, hobbyists, and homeowners with over 72 species of hardwoods and softwoods in stock. Goosebay offers lumber that is sourced both locally and from all over the world with finishes from specialty to natural. Essentially what you can’t find at a big box store, you’ll find at Goosebay.
Much like any other small business, Goosebay has experienced its fair share of challenges. So, what’s their secret? Well, in addition to a quality product, fantastic service, and eight dedicated employees (who, it seems, must be family or named “Mike”), Goosebay has what any small business should: a resilient, forward-thinking mindset, plus the support of the NH SBDC.
Lydia recalls the recession of 2008 when they literally lost two thirds of their business overnight. It was the week of Thanksgiving, and that Monday was business as usual. Come Tuesday, everything had changed. Thankfully, they bounced back, but the memories of that time remain fresh in their minds. So, when COVID shutdowns were being announced, all the fear and uncertainty they experienced in 2008 came flooding right back.
“I had no idea what was coming, and I was really scared. I didn’t want to go through the 2008 debacle again,” shares Lydia.
So, she took action and got on the phone with Jeanne Shaheen’s office and spoke with her assistant who was very helpful and informed her that the lumber yard had been deemed an essential business. What’s more, the assistant also directed Lydia to the NH SBDC.
As it turned out, at COVID’s beginning Goosebay Lumber experienced a big increase in sales with contractors rushing in to purchase all the materials they needed for their projects. Come April though, the contractors essentially disappeared. But, Goosebay started seeing an influx of new clientele: individual homeowners who were stuck at home and ready to take on DIY projects. This meant not only a higher volume of traffic for Goosebay, but traffic that required more attention and customer support.
Business really started to take off with revenues up by 80 percent. That’s when Hollis McGuire, NH SBDC Business Advisor became a huge help, coaching Lydia on what strategies would be best to help them invest that revenue back into their business and also provide some tax relief.
Lydia states, “Hollis helped me to develop strategies to grow the business, so that even if COVID did begin to have an adverse effect, we would be in a different position. Goosebay would be able to serve customers in better and new ways, so we would be more resilient if there did come a downturn.”
Some of these strategies included paving part of their parking lot, replacing their delivery truck, and buying a new 4,000 board foot vacuum kiln. In addition, Hollis, along with NH SBDC Merrimack Valley Regional Director Julie Glosner, also recommended that Lydia participate in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.
Throughout COVID, Carl Jr. kept Goosebay in product by managing the inventory and finding new vendors so they could buy the best lumber at lower prices. He brought in new products that people were asking for and dressed the showroom to suit their new homeowner customers.
Hollis’ ideas for Goosebay didn’t stop. She suggested Goosebay have an energy audit done and brought in NH SBDC business advisor & Business Sustainability Program Director Andrea O’Brien. Andrea then connected them with Energy LB Resources, LLC. and Resilient Buildings.
Through the energy audit, they made recommendations for heating, efficiencies, lighting, etc., so Goosebay could choose what made the most sense for them.
They opted to start with lighting and thanks to rebates, they got $10,000 worth of lighting for just $5,000 and can now boast all their lighting is LED.
As a result, it has prompted Goosebay to consider other ways in which to be more energy efficient. They decided to switch their sawmill from diesel to electric. Lydia suggested solar panels, and Hollis, Andrea and Energy LB Resources all helped her research solar panel companies for quotes.
Lydia had what some might consider her own “dream team” as she pursued these opportunities for Goosebay. She would meet with Andrea (NH SBDC) and Lawrence (LB Resources) or Chase (Resilient Buildings), while Hollis was there to look at the overview with her.
This “village” of support brought several ideas to the table, which have since come to fruition. Goosebay has converted their mill from diesel to electric and installation of their solar panels is underway. In a few weeks, when the panels are up and running, Goosebay will be able to say they are a solar run sawmill!
“The whole thing has been a very collaborative effort,” says Lydia. “It’s a superb example of ‘it takes a village’.”
As Goosebay continues to act upon their clean energy philosophy and pursue financial savings, they are keeping their eyes open for other opportunities to be more energy efficient.
The guidance and connections NH SBDC has provided Goosebay have proven invaluable, from the energy audit and the resulting recommendations to a contract with NH MEP (NH Manufacturing Extension Partnership) for consulting. NH MEP helped Goosebay reorganize their sales area to make it work better for their customers and salespeople, as well as develop a system to clean out and organize a barn full of rejected lumber.
Today, Goosebay continues to work with Hollis and the NH SBDC. “She’s helping me to grow my own support network. I’m learning how to build a strong network that fits our business and will help us grow it,” shares Lydia.
As the family-owned business begins to look at succession planning, Lydia expects Hollis and the SBDC to be a big part of that as well.
In closing, Lydia reflects, “The SBDC has been totally indispensable as far as trying to grow gracefully. I can’t thank them enough. If you’re working with the SBDC, do what they say. It will reward you.”