Co-owner of Brown Dog Wood Products in Central Square specializes in kiln-dried lumber, custom moldings
By Lou Sorendo
‘COVID-19 has actually meant better business for us because people are home. People who are laid off have taken their extra money — if they had any extra money — and spent it on their homes.’
Q.: At what point in your career did you decide to launch Brown Dog Wood Products?
A.: I launched the business on county Route 4 in Central Square along with my husband, David, in September of 2019. We got the idea from a friend of ours who had experience in molding and wood products and built a lot of the same stuff that we are doing now. He sold us the equipment to make it, and we decided that we should actually get a kiln and try it. David was in the lumber mill business since he was young. His grandparents owned a lumber mill, and his dad and uncle were in the business as well. He knows people in the business, and that helps out a lot. I am currently working from home due to COVID-19 and will be retiring from Carrier Corp. in the spring.
Q.: Why the name Brown Dog Wood Products?
A.: We have a chocolate lab — Louise — and she’s on our signs and website. That’s actually gotten us a lot of business. People will call and ask, “Oh, I love that! Is there really a brown dog?” She’s very friendly.
Q.: What were some of the foremost challenges associated with launching the business?
A.: Letting folks know that we are open and where we are was a challenge, as well as getting help with financing.
I created a website and got the word out that way. My mother-in-law also helped pass out cards to friends, family and folks that used to do business with the lumber mill. I also sent out letters to people trying to drum up business, and we slowly got the word out. I also used www.facebook.com/marketplace. Usually people hear of us through word of mouth, and once they come and see what we have, they are very impressed and tell their friends.
Q.: How did you fund the business initially?
A. We were able to get an Oswego County Industrial Development Agency loan in order to buy a new kiln, which costs $43,000. That and buying lumber were our major costs. The IDA was very helpful and we had a lot of input into the business, which helped in terms of securing the loan. We buy lumber green, put it in the kiln to dry, and then we convert it from basic lumber to whatever product we want to sell. It is a lot of work and I knew that going into it. You’re working every day, all day long.
Q.: What exactly is kiln drying, and what other products and services does the business offer?
A.: Kiln drying takes the moisture out of wood so if you put it in the house with heat, it doesn’t shrink and maintains stability and dimension. Any lumber you buy at a lumberyard or store is going to be kiln dried. David makes moldings whose profiles are produced by another company, such as base, crown and window molding. We also make V-groove, which is our main product. People have been buying that like crazy lately. People have also been buying shiplap, which they have seen on the DIY Network.
Q.: Have you grown inventory since you first launched the business?
A.: We have plenty of lumber. It’s just that the kiln doesn’t work as fast as we need it to and we need another one. It seems that as fast as we make the product, it gets sold. At times we do custom orders if somebody wants something special. Right now, we have somebody making beds and there are certain criteria they need, so it’s a little different from our normal inventory. A lot of people are also looking for cove siding or flooring. Many folks are redoing their homes, because they are there all of the time now. They are not taking vacations; rather, they are doing things like working on their camps. COVID-19 has actually meant better business for us because people are home. People who are laid off have taken their extra money — if they had any extra money — and spent it on their homes.
Q.: What do you feel gives you a competitive edge when compared with other businesses?
A.: We price our products below the big box stores and a lot of people would rather buy local. They also see the quality in what we are doing. Also, during COVID-19, there were not a lot of products available at big box stores because they were running out quicker. We have enough connections in the lumber world where we were are able to keep material in stock.
Q.: What have been the keys to operating the business on a successful basis?
A.: We’ll have to make sure to be able to keep lumber in stock to actually dry and make into products. We figure we will probably slow down through winter. If we can get enough inventory between now and early spring, we’ll be ready when it picks up again. We may not be making product, but people will come and ask if we are open. We’re always here, especially during COVID-19. Hopefully, we can hire one or two more people to help in the business and allow it to grow more.
Q.: What is it like working with your husband as partners in the business?
A.: It’s good and it’s bad. You’re with him a lot, and sometimes that can be a little too much. For the most part, though, I enjoy working with him.