The Business End of the Supply Chain

One of the stories in this issue tells the story of wood pellet retailer Squier Lumber's history in distributing wood pellets; the journey they took building their business to where it's at today and the foreseen challenges for the future.
By Tim Portz | September 12, 2016

For nearly three years, the team at Pellet Mill Magazine has been looking for the right story about a business that relies on wood pellet revenues to make its operation go around. I’m happy to report that we’ve finally succeeded, and Ron Kotrba’s feature on Monson, Massachusetts-based Squier Lumber tells the story.

While Pellet Mill Magazine has historically trained the vast majority of its editorial gaze on the manufacturing and global distribution of wood pellets, we’re well aware that a significant share of the wood pellets produced in North America each year are purchased by individuals to heat their homes, from places like Squier Lumber.

I reached out to Chris Haley, a co-owner of Squier Lumber, to introduce our title and Kotrba, who would be conducting the interview. Haley warned me that he’d tell Kotrba exactly how things were, which was exactly what I had hoped for. I did wonder what Haley was thinking about when he offered his warning. Kotrba’s piece offers no clear land mines. Instead, it shares the story of a business that was formed a decade after the Civil War that is now working to stay relevant. Haley told Kotrba that selling pellets to his customers was an experiment with the intent of keeping customers and cash flowing in the months when home projects reached their lowest ebb. The experiment paid off and now Haley’s biggest concern is whether his business is too reliant on pellet and pellet stove revenues.

Kotrba’s story puts a face on the challenges and uncertainty of selling a heating product in an era of mild winters and rock bottom heating oil prices, challenges that Haley works to manage the best he can but must ultimately, simply accept as a reality of his operation. The real gems within the story, however are the details Kotrba uncovered while talking with Haley. We’ve rarely talked with producers about branding, but Haley brought it to Kotrba’s attention, calling it an “underappreciated facet of the business.”

Finally, the story does a superb job of outlining the challenges pellet retailers face after a lackluster heating season. Haley wonders aloud if it is worse to have too much product or too little. Ultimately, he decides that both are equally bad and will go forward into this year’s heating season playing the vital role of connecting producers to consumers.