BREAKING THE MOLD: When President Ken Bertram, above left, and partners took over Cumberland’s Herrick & White Architectural Woodworkers in 2007, a single commercial customer accounted for much of the company’s business. But the Great Recession forced a change in strategy. Also pictured is moulder operator Steve Langis.
When Ken Bertram, president of Herrick & White Architectural Woodworkers, first heard that he was in contention for an entrepreneurial-excellence award from the U.S. Small Business Administration, it came as more than just a surprise.
Herrick & White wasn’t, after all, a new company. It had grown from a two-person operation in 1977 run out of a garage to a home in a 55,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that now employs more than 100 people.
“An entrepreneur? I didn’t see myself as that,” Bertram said.
But as he considered the history of the company since he and his two partners had taken over the firm in 2007, the near-complete re-envisioning of the company’s business did help him realize the 2014 entrepreneurial award the company received made sense.
In his first days at the company, a single commercial customer, the department store Talbots, had accounted for about 70 percent of the firm’s business.
But in the early days of his ownership came the stock market crash that caused Talbots to cut back an estimated 80-90 percent of its business.
Herrick & White weathered the first half of 2009 fairly well, propped up by a large, high-end residential project, but by the end of that year they were looking at cutting costs, cutting benefits, cutting pay and possibly cutting jobs.
But with the aid of some outside consultants, Bertram said, “we really started building the company back up again.”
“We basically rebranded ourselves as primarily a high-end residential firm,” he said. “It was a difficult transition.”
But by demonstrating the ability to do the high-quality cabinetmaking work that was the trademark of the company, Herrick & White has grown ever since, with sales poised to grow 60 percent even over last year.
One key to success is Herrick & White makes sure to follow through on its project commitments.
“All construction projects have issues and bumps,” Bertram said. “Some [companies] walk away when there are issues and bumps. We will not walk away.”
The ability to offer that kind of commitment comes from both tradition and the people that make up the company, Bertram said.