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Feature Story

Jim Robbins, who serves as president of Robbins Lumber Co. in Searsmont, Maine, is the fourth generation owner.

Innovation Pushes Robbins Over The Century Mark And Into Future
By Terry Miller
Searsmont, Maine—Consistency, strong family ties and a hard-working, dedicated crew have contributed to the success of Robbins Lumber during the last century. However, the company cites its unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction as the main reason it has thrived since opening for business in 1881.

With customer satisfaction as its top priority, last year Robbins Lumber committed to a major rebuild at its facility on a 50-acre plot of land, and the installation of new equipment that will enable the company to improve upon its service to patrons. Production at the operation is expected to increase by 14 percent, to approximately 30 million board feet, and the new facility will provide a better working environment for the organization’s 130 employees.

Construction of the company’s new facility occurred last year from March through December.

“We constructed a new building right over the old mill,” said Jim Robbins, president of Robbins Lumber. “We worke
Alden Robbins, fifth generation, is an owner and works in sales.
d seven days a week until the construction was complete during the changeover.”

Technology was also on the “to do” list at the facility. A Scanware computerized grading system was installed to enable consistent grading of the company’s White Pine production.

“The Scanware system coupled with the Autolog system grades the lumber, and sends messages to our new PHL trimmer so that it will trim the boards or reveal which boards need to go back to the edger,” Robbins said.

The Scanware system makes it easier for Robbins Lumber to tailor lumber according to the customer’s specific orders. Then the lumber goes to the dry kilns, where it is dried to a 10 to 12 percent moisture content, unless specified otherwise by the customer.

“The system really gives us better working conditions, better lumber recovery and better grade recovery,” Robbins stated. “The more consistent grade on the
Some key office personnel are Karen Ellis, accounts payable; Kathy McAvey, accounts payable and payroll manager; and Sandy Wright (seated), sales, administrative assistant and receptionist.
lumber coming to the planing mill, the better job my graders at the planing mill can do for the customer.”

In addition to the new Scanware system and the PHL trimmer, the firm acquired a PLC board flipper and an 80-bin PHL sorter. The sorter gives the company the ability to simultaneously manufacture 4/4 and 5/4 thicknesses, and yields approximately 120,000 board feet per shift. To complement this machinery, a Moco automatic stacking system was installed, along with a new green chain.

“This was a major project. We literally built a 41,000-square-foot building right over the top of the old building,” Robbins said.

Secondary manufacturing takes place in Robbins Lumber’s cut-up shop, where 3 million board feet of shop grade lumber is used to make wooden parts and pieces for such products as novelty items, games and buckets. These products are shipped throughout the United States. Some of the machinery that manufactures the cut-up stock includes a Dimter Automated chop saw, a Weinig moulder, edge gluer, wide belt sander and a Challoner double-end tenoner that cuts profiles on the ends of the boards. The cut-up shop is critical to production at Robbins Lumber due to its ability to increase the value of low-grade lumber into a more marketable product.
Jenness Robbins currently serves as a consultant at the firm, having formerly been president for 45 years, and Bruce McLaughlin is vice president of the company.

Robbins Lumber recently formed a partnership with Churchill Coatings, which is located in Massachusetts. This partnership enabled Robbins to enter the lumber priming business and is a strategic move that provides the company more control over product quality and more flexibility within the industry.

“Churchill is truly an expert in the painting business. They wanted to do business in Maine, and we wanted to get into the priming business. We had the distribution and Churchill had the painting expertise, so we thought it was a natural fit for us to work together, rather than competing against one another,” said Jimmy Robbins, who is Jim’s son and yard manager at Robbins Lumber.

Now Robbins Lumber has the capability to paint lumber for retail lumberyards and distributors throughout the country. At the factory finishing plant, the firm offers a variety of products, including Eastern White Pine, various other species and custom paints.

“We can put a finished coat on the wood, or we can prime it. We have an assortment of colors to choose from. Whatever the customers want, we’ll do it,” Jim said.
Jeff Caswell is the sawmill manager at Robbins.

Additionally, the company offers a clear coat that provides a varnish for the boards.

Before products are shipped from Robbins Lumber, they are paper-wrapped and covered with a tarp. By keeping approximately 2.5 million board feet of dressed stock on hand for its retail customers in Maine, Jim said orders can be shipped as early as the same day on a trailer that contains mixed items.

“We are backing up our customer’s warehouse with our warehouse,” Jim said.

Along with the recent modernization project, Robbins Lumber gracefully experienced one of its biggest transitions when Jenness Robbins, who served as president of the firm for 45 years, retired. Even though he turned the reigns of the company over to his brother, Jim, and his three children, Catherine, Jimmy and Alden, Jenness continues to work part-time at the facility.

Another fixture at the company is George Weaver, a sales manager who has been with Ro
Josh Watkins operates the Finscann at the newly rebuilt facility.
bbins Lumber for 36 years. Weaver shares his insight and knowledge of the industry daily with the younger generation of employees at Robbins Lumber.

 “We are a really old company, but we have a good mix of younger and older people. We have the experienced employees passing along knowledge. I think that is important to the longevity of a successful company,” Jim said.

Robbins Lumber owns and manages 30,000 acres of forests and procures logs from more than 150 independent loggers.

It is one of the few lumber companies in the United States to offer ISO 9001-2000 certified products. The procurement system is also SFI-certified and runs about 85 percent gatewood.

To help ensure a log supply, the company participates in a landowner assistance program.

As a fifth generation, family-owned company, no order is too big or too small for Robbins Lumber and customers know they will receive a quality product load after load, according to Jim
Jim Robbins is committed to keeping customer satisfaction a top priority at Robbins Lumber Co.

“We are excited about the future and the products that we are going to be able to offer with all of our upgrades,” Jim said. “We’ve got what it takes to be around for another 125 years…or more.”    



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