When 22-year-old Rolla S. Lamson started an ice delivery service in 1887, he probably didn’t think he was laying the groundwork for a business that would thrive for five generations. Now, 131 years later, R.S. Lamson & Sons is a staple to the area building community and an esteemed figure in the lumber industry.
From its early roots delivering ice out of Hudson’s Tripp’s Pond, the company has evolved into a trusted supplier of lumber, millwork, building materials, kitchen cabinets and stone. Through the years, Lamson family leadership has remained constant, with each generation upholding their founder’s emphasis on maintaining valuable relationships and providing top-quality products and service.
Five Generations of Family Leadership
Company patriarch Rolla Lamson raised three boys, one of whom was killed in action in World War I. Remaining sons Albert and Chester became partners in their father’s growing business, spurring the renaming to R.S. Lamson & Sons. While Chester focused on sales, eldest son Albert eventually took the helm, then passed the business along to Chester’s only son, David.
A sign of the times, David’s three daughters weren’t expected to take over the male-oriented business.
“My sisters and I grew up hearing people tell us to marry someone to take over the business,” said Lona Lamson, current president. With her own plans in mind, she earned a master’s degree in psychology, then moved to Montreal to work as a teacher. It wasn’t until a visit home while between jobs that she began getting involved in the business.
“Thirty-eight years later, and I’m still here,” she laughed.
She quickly became entrenched in the career change, taking business classes and staying active in the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association (NRLA), of which the Lamson family has been a part since 1955.
“Lona’s dedication to the industry has been outstanding,” said Rita Ferris, president of the NRLA. “She’s served as the president of the Massachusetts Retail Lumber Dealers Association (a local affiliate of the NRLA) and has been a strong legislative advocate on industry issues. She’s also been a huge advocate for industry education.”
Today, R.S. Lamson & Sons is proud to be ushering in its fifth generation with Lona’s grandson, Evan McCormic. A Bolton native, McCormic studied mechanics, then turned his focus on the lumber and building supply business.
“There are four other grandchildren, still young, so I’m sure others will become involved, as well,” Lamson reported.
Strength from Valuable, Long-Term Relationships
“When I go to Lamson’s, I know all the employees. Most of them have been around 20, 30 years,” said builder Ron Ham, of Ron Ham Construction out of Sudbury, Mass. “I’ll send my customers there, because I know Lamson’s will treat them right [and] provide the knowledge they’ll need.”
Lona Lamson agrees that many of the employees boast a lengthy history with the family-friendly company; several have been on staff over 25 years.
“We love our long-term employees, but it can be a double-edged sword, so we also strive to bring in some younger people to keep us moving forward,” she said.
A recent addition was a new marketing manager, who will focus on growing their social media presence. While the company didn’t rely much on print ads in the past – Lamson said word seemed to spread through outside sales people and satisfied customers – she recognizes the growing need for Facebook and online media.
Longevity isn’t just for employees; regular customers have also been coming through the door for numerous years.
“Many of the contractors we see been coming in so long that now that their children are running the business, and they come in,” Lamson said. “We know the husbands, wives, sons, daughters, of our customers.”
A Competitive Edge
In an industry where big-box stores are eager competitors, genuine care for its customers gives Lamson’s an edge. That’s what keeps Ham, a loyal customer for over 22 years, coming back.
“You know you’ll find expertise when you stop at Lamson’s,” said Ham. “They make it easy for builders; they’ll order specific things we need. They’re able to take off with our plans and come back with a list and prices. And they’ll get what you need out to you in a couple hours. You don’t get that at the big-box stores.”
While socializing is always welcome – the company is known to hold cookouts for contractors – project talk is never at a shortage.
“Particularly with some of the bigger projects – like a kitchen – they come here because they want someone that will take the time to talk with them,” Lamson said.
Their industry involvement keeps them abreast of news and changes, which they pass along to their customers.
“The family is always looking for ways to provide the best service,” Ferris said. “One way is by participating in industry-specific roundtables, where dealers share best practice ideas and identify solutions for customer problems.”
“They also take the time to educate their employees and know what laws or regulations are in play that can impact their business and their customer’s business. If there is a way they can help their customers with compliance, they’ll do it,” she said.
While the name may lead you to believe otherwise, the passing of the torch from David Lamson to Lona enabled the company to become certified as a Women’s Business Enteprise (WBE), something which gives the company an advantage when bidding for contracts.
“With state and federal projects, when contractors are bidding on jobs, they have to fulfill a certain percentage of work with minority and women-owned business,” she explained. “It’s been a help.”
The company is also a certified Green Dealer, an independent program which certifies lumberyards or building material dealers if at least 75 percent of their personnel undergo specific training programs on the basics of green building science and green product knowledge.
While a fifth generation business is a rare find, Lona Lamson modestly insists that it’s not so uncommon in the lumber business, saying she’s met with colleagues in their fifth, sixth or seventh generation. “Once you learn this business, you stay in it,” she said.
As businesses of all types face new challenges and larger competition, keeping sight of its founding values and remaining loyal to the customer and industry have served well for this trusted Hudson fixture.
“It’s the kind of store you want to survive,” said Ham. “A home-town, family business, dedicated to taking care of their customers.”
This article first appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Massachusetts Family Business, the magazine of the Massachusetts Family Business Association.