Berry Brothers Lumber rolls with the changes

Lee Berry of Berry Brothers Lumber in Adams holds scrap cardboard and wood in front of the animal bedding that it is recycled into. Photo by Justin Sorensen.

By Joleene DesRosiers
NNY Business

Berry Brothers Lumber in Adams has undergone some extreme transformations over the past 60 years that owners Gary and Lee Berry never could have anticipated. From overseas industry changes to a fire in 2008 that devastated the facilities, the company that started as a saw mill in 1947 has managed to keep its doors open, despite any changes. Berry Brothers Lumber still handles wood – but in a completely different way.

Berry Lumber started as a successful sawmill decades ago by Harry Berry, father to Lee and Gary. Harry was also in the logging business, harvesting trees and bringing them back to the saw mill on Route 11 in Adams to be cut into pallets and planks. For years the company surged successfully around other area mills that thrived on the constant supply and demand of wood. When Harry retired, his two sons bought the company and created a partnership. That was in 1982. For many years the duo carried the company on in very much the same way their father did. But when the logging industry started to wean, the brothers had to move in a different direction to keep their business alive. Soon they were focusing on cutting and selling hardwood furniture. But by 2007, even that venture couldn’t support the longtime business.

“I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Lee Berry said. “The furniture industry was being outsourced to China, so that was no longer a stable market for us. We had no choice but to close.”

Customers, however, continued to contact Berry Brothers to purchase the byproduct of their work. They needed, Lee said, sawdust for their farms.

“We had customers that were using the sawdust for animal bedding,” he said. “Despite our decision to close, they asked us if we could continue to do something for them. We certainly could, but we told them that in order to continue, we would have to begin making the product and our expenses would go up. They agreed. And so we started making animal bedding.”

Less than a year after the company began their new venture, a blaze stopped them in their tracks yet again. On June 18, 2008, an equipment fire stalled the manufacture of the product, but not for long.

“After the fire our focus actually changed,” Lee said. “Our equipment was gone, ultimately giving us an opportunity to look outside of the box. So our setup and focus was entirely different after the fire. We were operational and making a product within one month of the blaze, but not without a serious learning curve. We know more about it now than when we started. There’s nothing like a few mistakes to help you learn.”

With a new market and customer base to support, Berry Brothers Lumber started all over again. They took advice from seasoned farmers on how to better their product and compete with the market. More than that, they learned how to make the animal bedding more affordable than their competitors.

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