Client Name: Tom and Sally Wilkins
Business Name: Wilkins Lumber Company
Business Website:
Industry: Forestry/Lumber
Location: Milford, NH
SBDC Advisor's Name: Andrea O'Brien

wilkins lumber client story

Wilkins Lumber, a business over two centuries old, has just solidified its spot for the next generation with technological advancements its founder could have only dreamed about when he started a sawmill in Milford, NH in 1808.

It’s not often you meet a family-owned business that’s been around quite as long as Wilkins Lumber. Yet here they are, still providing native wood products to Souhegan Valley. They’ve withstood the test of time, persevering through the great depression, a fire, the hurricane of 1938, and the challenges of successorship with each generation.

In 1981, Tom Wilkins took the business over from his grandfather, along with his grandfather’s nephew.  Eventually, the nephew would have a change of heart, selling half of the business to Tom who became sole owner. He is the eighth generation to run the business, which he does with his wife, Sally.  Sally says, “we love that we are able to do sustainable forestry and provide local lumber to local people, and good jobs for our employees.”

Tom and Sally thought the business might end with them when they retired, as their children weren’t interested in inheriting it.  But a longtime employee expressed an interest and they were thrilled to hear it. Even more exciting, their youngest son returned from the Marines saying that he too wanted to keep the business going. They began the transfer of ownership to their son and the employee at the end of last year.

But, if the business needed to thrive for another generation, the Wilkins knew some changes were needed. “That’s why we put the investment into solar,” says Sally. She shared that their three biggest expenses are buying logs, personnel, and electricity to run the machinery. If the business was going to progress into the future, they needed to find a way to cut the expenses they could control. Electricity was one of them.  Solar power was the goal, but for years it was only a discussion because the capital expense was simply too high.

Enter Andrea O’Brien, NH SBDC Director, Business Sustainability Program & Business Advisor. Andrea and Sally’s kids went to school together and as Sally puts it with a laugh, “Andrea pursued us.” Andrea knew NH SBDC could offer support to Wilkins Lumber, but Sally always assumed the service was meant for new businesses.  Luckily, Sally agreed to chat and once she shared their challenges around solar, Andrea lit up, saying “you know, there might be money available.” And find that money is exactly what Andrea helped Sally do.

wilkins lumber

“Without the help from the small business development people, I wouldn't have even known that those funds were available,” notes Sally. “And I never would have been able to navigate the whole application process and everything without that help. So that's huge.”

Initially, Wilkins received a USDA REAP grant for conservation, which helped them get an energy audit, work with consultants, and invest in a piece of equipment that now balances their mill power usage. She explains, “we were showing when they did the audit, that we were losing a tremendous amount of what we were paying for wasn't actually being used for production.” The new equipment has made a big difference to their electric bills.  

Seeing those results, the Wilkins resumed conversations about solar. Andrea once again came through introducing Sally to NH Community Development Finance Authority (CDFA) loans. Andrea put Sally in touch with Scott Maslansky at CDFA who walked her through everything and suddenly the solar array dream seemed possible. With a CDFA loan covering 75% of the expense, and a USDA REAP grant for production, the Wilkins were able to invest in a solar array with the investment expected to pay for itself in seven years.

“I love Andrea. She's been great,” says Sally. “And like I said, I wouldn’t be here doing any of this if she hadn't been pursuing it. So kudos to her. And, to all of those people (USDA, CDFA, SBA) that I have encountered have been so helpful. Everybody has been so kind, so it’s been a very positive experience all around.”

What a remarkable journey for the centuries old business. “In a way we've come full circle,” says Sally. “Because we've come from clean, renewable energy, water, to clean renewable energy, solar, and sort of marked all the steps of the industrial revolution along the way.”

Wilkins Lumber is the proud recipient of the Small Business Association Family-Owned Business of 2024. Sally is also proud to report that Wilkins’ logger was awarded the NH Timberland Owners Association Best Logger for 2024.

When asked what the support of NH SBDC has meant for Wilkins Lumber long term, Sally states,

“the SBDC has kicked us into the next generation, into having a future that goes on.”