Paul C. White—CEO, Paul White Company
Known for its verdant forests, rocky coastline and picturesque lighthouses (and lobster, of course), Maine has long been a popular destination for tourists—despite its relatively sparse population. But after a two-decade-long decline, the state has enjoyed a recent surge of inhabitants.
In a state that was already experiencing an acute housing shortage, the need for more building stock has only increased. As a result, Paul White Company (PWC)—a supply company specializing in countertops, flooring and more—has been busier than ever.
Faced with both opportunities and challenges in the form of pandemic restrictions and a shortage of workers, PWC has leveraged its 50-plus years of experience to not only survive, but thrive, according to CEO Paul C. White.
“We had a surge of people coming into our market looking for housing and also people spending time at home instead of traveling and deciding to invest in remodeling,” says White. “We had to check on the customer’s comfort level with us being in their space for installation and servicing. There were essential businesses like Abbott Laboratories, Puritan Medical Products and IDEXX who needed us at the same time.”
Pandemic challenges and opportunities
Helping keep those businesses running as they produced tests, swab kits and other essential items was certainly rewarding, White says, with PWC helping them execute projects and streamline delivery on fast-track jobs.
Non-pandemic-related projects also kept coming, including a new and innovative corporate office for Maine staple L.L. Bean—a beautiful facility with a focus on outdoor space and pristine views. PWC was hired by the construction-management team to handle important interior design finishes, including ceramic and porcelain tile, sheet rubber and carpet tile.
The company’s reputation for competitive pricing and completing projects on time only helped its cause.
“Being a long-standing local company in southern Maine, New Hampshire, and the Boston area, we must differentiate ourselves with a higher level of customer service, and that means customer contact, as well,” White says. “We put a focus on the safety of our customers, vendors and team members. It’s important to balance the needs of all three.”
Throughout the first year of the pandemic, PWC met daily to review COVID-19 mandates—masking, testing, benefits, time-off policies—and how they might impact operations. It reviewed and acted on information from federal, state and local government, insurance agencies, human resource consultants and lawyers, White says. Depending on the situation and information, changes were enacted in short order.
“Definitely navigating the pandemic had its own special set of challenges and hopefully we don’t have to experience that again,” White says. “Thankfully, our staff really came through. Our facilities and jobsites were open for the most part.”
Going local saves the day
He says the company overcame supply shortages through domestic sourcing, working with trusted contacts to mitigate supply issues such as ordering tiles, and fast-tracking necessary changes, like acquiring a new crane truck to expedite delivery (and increase safety). While customers looking for specific products may have experienced extended wait times, most were amenable.
“I’ve had more issues at the grocery store than in our business,” White says. “People became more accepting of longer lead times and more flexible overall. Given the increase in shipping costs, we’ve seen a shift toward domestic sourcing. The tariffs on products coming out of Asia also incentivized domestic manufacture.”
By staying the course, he says PWC was able to increase its share of the regional market and strengthen its relationships with local businesses.
Through it all, PWC worked to strike a delicate balance between project timelines and budgeting concerns. And while that remains a significant challenge, the company’s decades of experience—coupled with a proud history of working in local communities—has helped it weather the storm.
“We saw it as a good opportunity to expand our footprint and control cost by having a facility and team in that market,” White says. “We developed labor resources, customer base and enhanced vendor supply channels.”
New generation, new strategies
PWC has operations in both Portland and Newmarket, New Hampshire, and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020. While the celebration was muted by the pandemic, it was an important milestone for the family-owned business and the perfect opportunity to look to the future.
“We’re pushing a culture of being more open minded. It’s something we wanted to do, but the pandemic took up a tremendous amount of bandwidth,” White says. “Now that we’re coming up for air, have our pipeline where we want it, and have strengthened customer and vendor relationships, we’re turning to helping our people grow.”
Be it in management or production, White is always looking for the next generation of company leaders. As PWC has modernized and embraced more digital technology, the goal is to elevate employees from things like hand polishing and paper blueprints to working with digital equipment.
“We’re not replacing our people, we’re elevating their skills so they can accomplish more, which translates into a better value for our customers.” White says. “We’re keeping up with the industry in a time when supply channels have definitely narrowed, and resources are limited.”
For his part, White spends most of his time overseeing and troubleshooting operations, while also keeping an eye on the big picture—especially regarding facilities. After decades deeply involved in the family business, he’d also like to work on his golf game and enjoy the much-lauded food scene in Portland.
“I’m also hoping to travel more as the business matures and we can get away a little, though Maine is my favorite place to be,” he says. “Even though it’s growing, I don’t think what’s great about Maine is going to disappear. This state has a way of changing people rather than being changed by them.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. I 2023 Edition here.
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