Business Savoie FaireVia Huddle: Jean-Claude Savoie founded Groupe Savoie with his father back in 1978 when they purchased a local sawmill Jenny Keleher March 24, 2016
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ST-QUENTIN – Jean-Claude Savoie founded Groupe Savoie with his father back in 1978 when they purchased a local sawmill.
Both Savoie and his father put mortgages on their homes to make the down payment. Savoie also quit his job as a high school teacher to focus on the business full time.
It was a gamble that paid off thanks to some strong business savoir faire.
Today Groupe Savoie has two sawmills, one pallet plant, one component plant, one pellet plant, and dry kilns in St-Quentin. They also have a component plant and a dry kiln in Kedgwick, a pallet production and recycling plant in Moncton and a sawmill in Westville, Nova Scotia. They employ around 600 people and ship a variety of hardwood product all over North America, Asia and Europe.
“I’ve never said no to a customer,” Savoie says. “Whenever a request comes from a customer for the market, even though it’s something we haven’t done before, something we can’t do, we always try to find a way.”
The big thing Groupe Savoie has been making these days is wood pallets. But they seem to have their hands in pretty much everything. That ranges from guitar necks, snowboards and kitchen cabinets, even down to basic sawdust and wood shavings – they produce it all.
“It’s only the leaves and the stump we haven’t found a use for.”
This is one of the reasons Savoie cites for why the company is still going strong – along with hiring good workers and quick thinking.
“I think one of the reasons why we survived all these recessions is because of diversification. We’re into many different products; we’re not just in construction. We do all kinds of different things,” he says. “Every chance we had to add value to what we’re doing, while at the same time investing in new technology and equipment helps us better prepare for the future.”
But diversity hasn’t made the company immune to hard times. During the 2008 recession, when the American housing market crashed, Groupe Savoie had to lay off around 75 workers and lower wages. Savoie says it was a difficult decision, but most people understood it needed to be done for the company to survive.
“I think most of the employees recognized that fact and could see what was going on around us,” he says. “Half of the mills in New Brunswick have closed, so instead of closing and losing their job all together, they were more than willing to take a pay cut.”
Savoie says the company aims to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to the latest technology and practices. The company was one of the first hardwood suppliers to have implemented a full-scale wood processing system to maximize the use of the wood. He says the future of the industry will involve companies continuing to explore new technologies and finding more ways to use the wood.
“There’s more uses for wood. It’s not just paper. You can do other stuff with it,” Savoie says.
For example the AV Group mills in Nackawick and Atholville use their pulp to make fabric.
“There’s a company in Nova Scotia right now using biofuel from softwood shavings and sawdust, that could be an avenue. Looking at the chemistry of the wood, not just the physical properties. It’s a difficult plan. It requires money. But I think the role of the government would be to encourage more research.”
There’s no denying that the natural resources industry in New Brunswick is much leaner than it was decades ago.
But Savoie says those who are still around are in the position to continue to innovate and survive.
“It’s survival of the fittest I suppose. Those that survived were more fit to survive and more fit to move on. To keep going and keep getting better,” he says. “That’s been happening for thousands of years. “