GREENFIELD — Dave and Deb Buxton have survived three recessions, a tornado, a fire and the near-death of the state’s hardwood sawmill industry, but despite the challenges, New England Forest Products has continued to grow for the last 20 years.
The Buxtons began their business two decades ago with a small sawmill, turning native hardwood trees into lumber. In 1996, according to Dave Buxton, they totally revamped the sawmill in order to expand the business, but exactly one year after opening the new and improved mill, a freak tornado touched down in Greenfield and wiped out the business.
The Buxtons rebuilt and managed to survive despite economic challenges associated with two recessions. But in 2008, things looked dismal.
“At that point, business dropped in half in a matter of months,” Buxton said. “We had to make a decision whether to take our toys and go home or stick with it.”
They opted to stick with it, and in the midst of the recession, decided to expand their business to include a retail outlet for local builders and homeowners. The move helped keep the company afloat at a time when the bottom had fallen out of the U.S. wholesale market, Buxton said.
In 2010, the couple installed kilns to dry the wood, creating yet another product to add to their repertoire that includes custom flooring, raw-cut and milled lumber.
Buxton said his buyers have diversified extensively since 2008.
“Our local clientele markets are strong right now,” he said. “But we’ve really been able to expand into Asia and the Middle East.”
Buxton said around 80 percent of the lumber produced in Greenfield ends up on the West Coast for transport overseas. To keep up with demand, the company now has 20 employees, up from 12 before the recession, and keeps a regular core of 20 to 25 subcontractors including truckers, loggers and foresters busy.
The business hit a setback over the summer when fire damaged one of the kilns, Deb Buxton said.
“We were really lucky,” she said. “One of our longtime employees, Scott Quilty, drove by and saw the smoke.”
The fire department arrived in time to save the kiln, though damage kept it shut down for a month. Quilty’s wife, Janice, said her husband now makes a point of driving by the business regularly just to keep an eye on it.
“I think he’s just nosy,” she said. “Now he feels like he’s the guardian of the place.”
But Quilty said she’s proud of her husband’s loyalty to the couple that has kept him busy for two decades.
“This is like a family,” she said. “And these guys have been through enough.”