By Katt Tozier
Dick Giguere says he’s “just an old lumber guy,” but he’s a little more than that.
President and general manager of Ware-Butler for the last 15 years, Giguere shares that the company is a second-generation family business, and that he started at a very young age — around 10 or 11 years old — shadowing his father and older brother at the flagship store in Waterville. By the time he was in high school, he was “in the yard driving trucks, unloading and loading wood” and it became a lifelong venture for him.
Ware-Butler was founded in 1925 by John Ware and Perley G. Butler. Giguere’s father, Gerard Giguere, began working for them in 1934 and became instrumental in moving the company forward after the Great Depression and through and beyond World War II.
Following the deaths of John Ware in 1947 and Perley G. Butler in 1948, Gerard Giguere purchased a controlling interest in Ware-Butler in 1952 and began to shepherd the company into a new, modern era. He quickly expanded the business, opening the Skowhegan branch in 1961 and the Livermore Falls branch in 1966.
As Giguere followed in his father’s footsteps, he quickly realized how much he loved the lumber industry and wanted to make it his life’s work.
“Waterville, back then, was kind of a little boom town, lots of construction going on — schools being built, churches being built…it was exciting to see the community development… streets going in, a lot of new homes — it was pretty exciting,” Giguere says
The Ware-Butler company website talks about the founders successfully guiding the business through the economic recession of the early 1920s and says, “That ability to change with the times has characterized Ware-Butler ever since.”
That certainly holds true for Giguere today, and his father before him.
He says his father was a “forward thinker.” He laughingly shares that Gerard was fond of the Socratic method. “If you wanted his advice, you’d ask him but he wouldn’t tell you what to do, he’d tell you a story about something that happened maybe 30 or 40 years ago, and you’d have to figure it out.”
Giguere readily admits he does this too. When asked a question, he’ll start with “Well, you know, back when…” and guide people using his own stories.
The success of Ware-Butler has been in the hands of the father-and-son duo for 68 years. It was first led by Gerard; later by Gerard and Dick together; and for the last 15 years, by Giguere himself. Their secret to success is simple — superior service, building relationships and community involvement.
According to Giguere, Ware-Butler “services building contractors with everything you need to build a house.” In the early years of the company, contractors would start building a house with a handsaw and craftsmen would build their own cabinets and hang their own doors.
The flagship store originally sold minimal builders hardware and was lumber focused, but that changed over time. More hardware, and eventually prebuilt cabinets, prehung doors, and other modern building supplies were added to the stores.
There’s an entire culture surrounding the lumber and construction industry. “We’ve seen generations of carpenters go through here and retire, then their sons and daughters come in and so it’s pretty interesting to see how construction has changed over the years.”
One of the changes Giguere has led the company through is keeping Ware-Butler thriving and growing despite the advent of big box hardware stores. “The big thing was the relationships with our building contractors and the service we provide.”
Ware-Butler prides itself on free delivery; and contractors being able to come in, get loaded and get going. “I think the big thing is working with the contractor, working with plans, doing estimates and quotes that takes a big chunk out of their time” — things such as calculating materials and figuring loads.
While Ware-Butler is deeply committed to serving local contractors, they also welcome homeowners who want to do a project, whether it be a garage or a house. They offer design services, helping consumers look at plans and incorporate the changes they want.
The company’s philosophy — and Giguere’s personal philosophy — is founded on the principle of relationships and community relations, offering a level of support that’s not available in a big box store. They strive to go above and beyond with things such as special ordering and personalized support.
“We’re helping people,” Giguere stressed. “They get in trouble, we say ‘hey, we’ll take care of it, we’ll get it there, don’t worry about it.’ I think it relieves them a little bit of pressure in this day and age that we can help them.
A quote attributed to Dick Giguere on the company’s website says “We are a unique business in that we are a modern, computerized operation with old fashioned values.” Those old fashioned values are apparent in everything Giguere says.
“For me, it’s a great industry, I’ve been in it a long time. I’ve been involved with the Lumber Association, and you meet a lot of great people in the industry. There are some fine people in the industry.”
Giguere has a passion for the people he serves. “I like being in the shelter business. You’re building houses — I think it’s a great industry to be into, where people are building their dreams and you’re helping them and you’re providing that service. For me, I just love the industry.”
A vital underlying principle of Ware-Butler, and the Giguere men who’ve run it for decades, is cultivating an inclusive atmosphere for their employees. “I think they have the same passion I have. We try and have good benefits, we’re close to our employees — I think it’s involvement. We are a family.”
Giguere doesn’t hesitate to give a big share of the credit for the success of Ware-Butler to his employees. “I have great employees and it’s very fortunate I’ve had some great people to work with. It’s helped me personally, and hopefully we’ve helped them personally. That’s been a big key in our success. We’ve got some very dedicated employees that like the lumber business.”
Having great employees requires great leadership, and Gigur shares that; like everything else at Ware-Butler, his leadership style is relationship based.
“I have an open-door policy. I’m always available, I’m out there loading trucks sometimes. It’s a team effort, and I think they know that.”
Along with great employees and an open-door policy, Giguere believes adaptability is a crucial factor in Ware-Butler’s continued success under his leadership.
“I think my ability to change and be flexible with what comes down the road, move with the changes or make decisions with the changes” is the strength that has served him well during his tenure as president and general manager.
Giguere has had to rely heavily on his ability to adapt as he has guided the company and his employees through the current COVID-19 pandemic.
As a man who loves being in the shelter business, sheltering in place is right up Giguere’s alley. During COVID, he and the Ware-Butler family have continued to focus on sheltering people well.
Being flexible, going with changes, and adapting are all part of how Ware-Butler has stayed solid in 2020. “We were fortunate we were deemed essential by the governor, which kept all my employees employed, which was great.” Early on in the pandemic, his decision for the company was simply “let’s follow the rules.” They implemented recommended safety precautions and continued to give the same great service Ware-Butler is known for.
Giguere notes that with more time available, “fortunately, people are doing home projects, so it was really a no-brainer for us. We were fortunate, unlike a lot of companies that are still hurting.”
With the underlying personal and company principles guiding the way in a challenging time, Ware-Butler has seen an uptick in consumers, and the contractors they serve “didn’t really skip a beat.”
The importance of relationships and sheltering people doesn’t stop with Giguere’s employees and contractors. Though he is reluctant to play up Ware-Butler’s generosity, it’s clear that Giguere extends the company culture to the local community. They make “a lot of donations” that support churches, food pantries, the Boys & Girls Club children’s food program, local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and much more.
“It’s a lot of little donations that we don’t really advertise,” he added.
Early in Giguere’s career with Ware-Butler, seeing the development of the City of Waterville and its community was a deciding factor in Giguere’s lifelong venture. He continues to foster and support the health and growth of the community that was so exciting to him back then, and is looking forward to the next chapter for himself, Ware-Butler, and the local community.
Even after spending most of his life in the lumber industry, Giguere says, “I still like what I’m doing,” and you can’t really ask for more than that.