HOULTON, Maine — Layoffs at Katahdin Cedar Log Homes and increased consumer interest in building log homes in Aroostook County pushed Moosehead Cedar Log Homes to expand into Houlton, according to the Dover-Foxcroft company’s president.
When Pleasant River Lumber, based in Dover-Foxcroft, bought Moosehead Cedar Log Homes two years ago from longtime owners Randy and Lucy Comber, it gave the company an injection of excitement and resources that set the company on the path to start growing, Moosehead president Barry Ivey said.
The new Houlton office has a client service manager to work with clients and dealers, dealer support staff and design staff, Ivey said. The company may build a model home in Houlton in the future, he said.
The company also has a wholesale yard just north of Tractor Supply in Houlton where customers can purchase wholesale cedar material, log siding and decking.
A log home was historically considered a more expensive option. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a homebuilder would spend from 15 to 20 percent more to build a log home than a comparable stick-frame home, Ivey said. Many homebuilders thought they were out of the log home price range. But the pandemic caused the prices of lumber to go through the roof, making log homes a more viable option to consumers.
“Because we don’t use as much of that type of material in our homes, we became much more competitive,” Ivey said. “So for the past couple years we’ve enjoyed that we are similarly priced to a stick-frame home. It’s been a big boost to the industry.”
Moosehead was also able to bolster its workforce by hiring workers laid off from Katahdin Cedar Log Homes, said Ivey, who splits his time between Houlton and Dover-Foxcroft.
Katahdin Forest Products, parent company of Katahdin Cedar Log Homes, was founded in 1973 and owned three mills in Ashland, Oakfield and Chester. It has had several rounds of layoffs and closed the Ashland mill in January when cedar stocks ran out.
While the other two mills remained open through the spring with a skeleton staff to fulfill existing orders, they feared they would have to close in June. Nonetheless, the company took some chances and re-worked how they are doing things and have remained open at a slower pace, said Vice President Gabe Gordan.
“That prompted us to get the Houlton office and really prompted the company as a whole to speed up our growth intentions,” said Ivey, who worked for Katahdin for 24 years but left in 2018. “With the added staff, we can take on more business and grow our dealer network.”
The company sells its homes through a dealer network nationally from Maine to Georgia to Colorado, Ivey said. After Katahadin made its announcement in the spring, Moosehead has picked up several dealers, Ivey said. The company has 25 dealers now but would like to grow that number to 60 or 70.
Moosehead’s push to grow in The County might be seen as a threat to Ward Log Homes, a Houlton-based business for 100 years. But Ward Log Homes’ director of sales and marketing, Ron Silliboy, said he does not see it that way.
“We run up against them every now and then,” he said. “We have been in business for 100 years and plenty of log home companies come and go. We focus on what we do well.”
Moosehead Cedar Log Homes started in the mid-1980s in Greenville. In the mid-1990s, Randy and Lucy Comber bought the company and owned it until early 2021 when they were bought out by Pleasant River Lumber, headquartered in Dover-Foxcroft.
Ivey said that in the past few years, with the movement of people away from larger cities into rural areas, including Maine and especially The County, the region has become a good market for more people interested in building log homes.
Moosehead recently invested in a new state-of-the art log home production line thanks to Pleasant River Lumber purchasing the company. Cedar companies typically can’t invest in the multi-million-dollar machinery a spruce timber manufacturer, like Pleasant River Lumber, can afford.
“And now being the little brother, we get to piggy-back off that technology and knowledge and we have really begun to mesh the two worlds,” Ivey said.
Pleasant River also owns and operates lumber manufacturing facilities in Dover-Foxcroft and Enfield that specialize in spruce/fir framing lumber. In addition to the mills, Pleasant River owns Ware-Butler Inc. Lumber & Building Supplies with 14 locations in Maine; Chaffee Transport, a trucking company in Clinton; Woodsmith’s Manufacturing, a custom cabinet manufacturer in Detroit; Quality Saw Sales & Service, a saw filing and supply company in Enfield; and A&A Brochu Logging, which specializes in commercial thinning, headquartered in Enfield.
Correction: An earlier version misstated Katahdin Cedar Log Homes current situation. The business is still open.