In an eleventh hour belt-tightening move, Katahdin Cedar Log Homes in Oakfield averted closing in June as it predicted it would, and the company is back to making log homes at a slower pace, said a company vice president.
The biggest factor was consolidating resources, said Gabe Gordon, vice president of sales and marketing.
The company reduced staff from 80 to 48, shut down its Ashland mill, although it still uses the property as a log yard, and consolidated wood stockpiles from Ashland to Oakfield, he said.
While there were a series of setbacks, along with previous layoffs, a slowdown in cedar supplies made it the most difficult for the company to take new orders. The company limped along through spring with a skeleton staff to complete orders already in the pipeline.
Katahdin’s dire situation came at a time when the demand for log homes in Aroostook County was increasing and competitors such as Moosehead Cedar Log Homes and Ward Cedar Log Homes were still able to get the cedar they needed. Additionally, Moosehead Cedar Log Homes expanded into The County partially because of layoffs at Katahdin.
In the previous two years, Katahdin had shipped 175 log homes. The homes are shipped in multiple tractor-trailer loads of materials, and when the company’s supplies started dwindling, Katahdin had to use its remaining cedar to make sure all of its existing orders were completed.
“We still had about 30 to 40 customers at some level of construction,” he said.
A late spring surprise helped boost Katahdin’s turn-around.
Northern white cedar thrives in Maine’s northern swamps, but the lumber can only be harvested when the ground is frozen, so harvest season typically occurs from January to mid-March, Gordon said.
The warm winter made it difficult for loggers to get the cedar to market before mud season, he said.
But once the mud dried, loggers went back into the woods to bring out the cedar that had been felled but not removed.
Katahdin Forest Products, parent company of Katahdin Cedar Log Homes, was founded 50 years ago and was one of the largest log home and cedar fence manufacturers in the nation, according to company officials. Following a 2022 banner sales year, things changed in January when the company was forced to close its Ashland mill because cedar stocks were depleted, according to company officials.
The mills in Oakfield and Chester remain open, Gordon said.
The remaining employees are excited about the progress they are making. They have maintained a significant demand for log homes and they started manufacturing again in May, Gordon said.
Locally, there is a Katahdin Cedar Log Home that just started construction in Littleton.
“Customers are already lining up for next year, and we are considering bolstering our staff,” he said.