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06/08/2022

Howe Lumber has eyes on the community and the future

The Massachusetts dealer maintains high levels of efficiency while providing customers and the community with strong service.
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Kate and Scott Norrie of Howe Lumber. (Photo by Serena Burroughs)
Kate and Scott Norrie of Howe Lumber.

East Brookfield is quiet and unassuming like many other  New England suburbs in Massachusetts. 

There are old buildings that likely predate the 20th  century along with those that look recently built or renovated and could fit onto the cover of the town’s welcome pamphlet. 

For the population of just over 2,200, this is home, and at the heart of the quaint 10 square miles located just west of Worcester in central Massachusetts sits a little giant called Howe Lumber. 

Established in 1965 by the Howe family patriarchs, Henry (father) and Steve (son), the single yard operation is now run by Henry’s granddaughter, Kate Norrie, and her husband Scott. 

Since its inception, Howe has literally and metaphorically helped build the town of East Brookfield, the surrounding communities, and other parts of New England by providing products for homes and businesses while supporting local organizations in the town. 

“Kate’s father and grandfather started the business in 1965 in North Brookfield and opened a second location in East Brookfield in 1975,” said Scott Norrie, president of Howe Lumber. “Kate grew up at the lumberyard, literally. They lived in a small, white house that was on the lumberyard property.”

Kate’s background proves that Howe is much more than a business that happens to be in East Brookfield. The town is a part of Howe’s DNA.

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Howe Lumber Clam Bake
A recent employee clam bake at Howe Lumber.

“We try to do as much as we can for our local community,” Scott humbly understates as his list of extracurricular activities reads like a high school transcript for a student about to enter an Ivy League university.  

Currently, the Howe Lumber President serves as a trustee at the Haston Free Public Library, a  corporator at the North Brookfield Savings Bank, and on the Massachusetts Retail Lumber Dealers  Association Legislative Committee. Before the pandemic, Scott was a Boy Scout volunteer. 

Howe Lumber also sponsors local youth sports teams, helps with materials for Eagle Scout projects, sponsors local golf tournaments and fundraisers, and is a year-long sponsor for East Brookfield’s 100-year  anniversary celebration taking place in 2022. The event was actually delayed two years by the pandemic.  

Outside of their branded shirts with the Howe Lumber logo, it's impossible to tell that Scott and Kate run a business with almost 60 years engrained in the East Brookfield community. They are one of the town's power couples, yet their demeanor is anything but. 

Scott, with his salt and pepper hair and medium height, greets every customer by name with his head held high and a wide smile as if they were childhood friends. There is a certain pride to his interactions as he talks to his customers and  talks about his business. It's obvious that he simply loves what he does. 

That love has led to longevity rarely seen in today's business world. Longevity in any industry requires a tremendous amount of trust that can be hard to come by and is earned with integrity and effort.

That same trust can be easily compromised without the right nourishment. It’s apparent,  however, once stepping onto the lumberyard, that Howe’s expertise and professionalism has been passed down to the third generation of ownership. 

There are certain advantages of being small but mighty.

As a single yard, Kate and Scott need to ensure they’re maintaining the highest level of efficiency, selling the best products, and providing their customers with the best service they’ve ever experienced. All of this requires teamwork, dedication, and communication across channels, all things that would be much more difficult if talent were spread across multiple locations.  

“A single location is like driving a small sports car - we can accelerate, slow down, or change direction very quickly,” said Scott. “Plus, having the entire team under one roof helps with decision making. We  end up with a lot of face-to-face conversations, and as a result, a lot of comradery.” 

Howe has also been on the cutting edge of innovation and progress, especially when you consider that they’re a part of an industry that can be slow to change. Their lumberyard is 100% solar-powered and runs completely on renewable energy. Scott and Kate also drive electric vehicles and the parking lot consists of EV charging stations for themselves and their guests. 

Even before the pandemic, they had plans to dive into e-commerce and are now fully e-commerce-enabled. 

Essentially, Howe has the leadership and dedication in place to adapt to marketplace challenges when needed as they keep an eye on the future. 

As business owners, Kate and Scott check all the boxes: a passion for what you do, love for their employees and customers,  support of the community, and an ability to adapt to challenges as they arise. With one eye on the present and another on the future, Howe is pointed full-steam-ahead into the future.

(Special contributor David Cheng is a Communications Specialist at Lumbermens Merchandising Corporation.)