Even as Bob Benard looks back on 50 years in business, he continues to look ahead. After all, reaching your golden anniversary takes more than just resting on what you’ve already done and built. It takes foresight and determination, and the chairman of the board of C.N. Wood has shown plenty of that.
“I’ve always believed that growth is healthy and necessary,” said Benard, who along with Paul McCarthy, started operations at C.N. Wood in 1964. “That ideal led us from a small single-focus business into a multiline dealer. We have faced challenges along the way. Everyone deals with them in this business. But, we have treated our customers honestly and fairly and have proven to them that we’re looking out for their best interest, and in turn, we have grown.”
Benard and McCarthy, who Benard bought out several years ago, decided to go into business for themselves after Benard quit his previous job selling equipment. Right before that move, Benard spent 11 months in a hospital battling tuberculosis, where he came to the conclusion that he needed to make a change.
“I wasn’t happy with the direction things were going, so I made up my mind to either work for another dealer or go out on my own,” he recalled. “I quit not long after getting out of the hospital, even though I didn’t have anything else in the works. I stopped at another dealership on the way home from quitting and was offered a position, but I didn’t commit to it right then.”
A Long-Tenured Staff
That night, McCarthy, who worked with Benard at the same company, called and asked him what his plans were. The next morning they talked about possibilities and decided to call on Charlie Wood, the owner of C.N. Wood.
“Charlie was about the same age that I am now and didn’t have any family in the business, so he was open to our conversation and ideas about buying him out,” said Benard. “We started working at C.N. Wood and paying Charlie. Eventually, we put the money together with the help of family members and a banker willing to take a chance, and bought it outright. Paul was a tremendous partner and asset to the business, helping build and shape the foundation of what C.N. Wood has become. At the time we started, the company only sold snow removal equipment, and we had only a handful of people.”
One of those employees was Buddy Barrelle, who remains with C.N. Wood today and is the company’s vice president. He has served as a technician, service manager and sales representative during his tenure.
“Bob asked me 50 years ago if I’d stay on temporarily after he and Paul took over, and I’m still waiting for him to make it permanent,” Barrelle joked. “In all seriousness, Bob’s leadership, visionary tendencies and commitment to our customers and the employees at C.N. Wood helped this company become a leader in the industry. He always emphasized that taking care of people, whether it’s customers or staff members, is key to success. We have customer relationships that go back decades, and several employees have been here 20 years or more. Everyone respects Bob and how he’s built an organization that values employees, whether they have been here 50 years or just started yesterday.”
Today, C.N. Wood companies employ about 120 people at its six locations: Westbrook, Maine; Johnston, R.I.; Avon and Whately, Mass.; New Haven, Conn.; and Woburn, Mass., which is C.N. Wood’s headquarters and also home to partner company Woodco Machinery.
Among the group of individuals who have long-term status with C.N. Wood are Bernard’s daughter Paula Benard, president of the company, and his son-in-law Dana MacIver, who is CEO of C.N. Wood and COO of Woodco Machinery. Others include General Manager Jim Maxwell; Vice President Dick Thomas, Sales Representatives Bob Rosa and Steve Russell; Parts Manager Jeff Sullivan; Environmental Sales Manager Tom Fiore and Jo-Anne Giordano, who handles accounts receivable.
“Our employees come to work every day with the attitude of doing whatever it takes to please the customer,” said Paula Benard. “Sometimes that means taking calls at odd hours, such as nights and weekends. We had an old slogan that’s still appropriate: ’Never Alone.’ It signifies that C.N. Wood is always available to help out in a time of need, and we practice that every day. We view ourselves as loyal partners in our customers’ businesses, whether that’s contractors putting pipe in the ground or municipalities that have one of our sweepers or refuse trucks. No one can afford downtime, so we do everything within our power to ensure that’s minimized.”
One way C.N. Wood minimizes downtime is by carrying top-of-the-line productive, efficient and reliable equipment. The list of manufacturers and industries the company represents has vastly changed over 50 years. C.N. Wood went from strictly carrying snow removal equipment to becoming a multifaceted dealer serving residential and commercial construction, landscaping, agriculture, municipal and governmental entities, demolition, energy, highway construction and paving, infrastructure, manufacturing, recycling and scrap, utility and waste handling.
“One of the first lines we added was Elgin Leach, and that eventually led to us carrying street sweepers,” said Bob Benard. “We still carry Elgin products today. Our first loader line was Trojan, and then we took on Clark Michigan in the early 1970s. During that time period, we added Link-Belt cranes and excavators as we became a more full-service dealership. In 1980, Komatsu approached us about becoming a distributor for its crawler dozers, which we lacked at the time.”
Equipment Lines Expand
Taking on the crawler dozers led to excavators and eventually the entire Komatsu product line. C.N. Wood remains the exclusive distributor of Komatsu machinery in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It also carries environmental, road maintenance and municipal equipment in those states, as well as in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.
“Our customers run the gamut, from municipalities to earthmovers to material handlers to demolition contractors, you name it,” said Paula Benard. “In order to meet their needs, we’ve aligned ourselves with what we believe are the best manufacturers in the industries they serve. As far as I’m concerned, our product lines are unrivaled. They’re productive, efficient and reliable, which is what our customers expect.”
In addition to Elgin and Komatsu, manufacturing lines include Gradall excavators, NPK demolition attachments, the full line of Bomag products, Madvac sweepers and vacuums, Mustang skid steers and track loaders, New Way refuse trucks, RapidView pipeline inspection and rehabilitation equipment, Rogers trailers, Sennebogen material handlers, Trackless municipal tractors and Vactor sewer cleaners. Woodco Machinery represents Mauldin and Carlson paving products, as well as Volvo earthmoving, waste-handling and paving equipment.
“I find great satisfaction in knowing that we are a one-stop shop that can handle nearly any sales, rental, parts or service need,” said General Manager Jim Maxwell. “For instance, we have one customer that looks to us for trash trucks and equipment for its transfer station operations; excavators, loaders and dozers for its site development side; and large loaders and mobile crushers for its aggregate business. Our philosophy in taking on a manufacturer’s product line has always been to carefully select those we believe offer the highest quality and greatest value.”
CEO Dana MacIver acknowledged that reaching 50 years in business is about more than just having good equipment. “Bob has always emphasized that customer satisfaction is paramount. It involves getting to know customers’ businesses so we can match their needs with the right machinery, then having exceptional parts and service support to back it up.”
Parts Manager Jeff Sullivan started with C.N. Wood in the early 1980s, left and then came back at the request of the company. He’s seen the company’s parts inventory expand considerably over the years.
“I started at the old Watertown location and worked at the company for 19 years, before leaving for family reasons,” said Sullivan. “After a decade with the company I worked for, I was laid off. I ran into a C.N. Wood technician and told him what had happened. Within hours, C.N. Wood called and offered me an open position at its branch in Woburn, which is where I live. I think that says a lot about Bob and the company. After being gone a decade, he still respected what I did at the time I worked for C.N. Wood and why I left, and he was willing to bring me back.
“He and everyone else at the company places a high priority on respecting customers and their time,” Sullivan added. “That’s why we continue to build a parts inventory designed to minimize downtime. In most cases, a part is on the shelf when a customer needs it, but if not, we can get it from another branch or directly from the manufacturer the next day. There have been times when that wouldn’t do because having a part immediately was critical. Bob would say, if it’s necessary, take the part off a machine out back and get it to the customer. Or, if it’s at another branch, go get it, and deliver it.”
Maximizing Customer Productivity
Parts go hand-in-hand with service capabilities. C.N. Wood is expanding its infrastructure to further ensure it’s meeting critical service needs, both in the field and in the shop. It’s currently adding 9,000 square feet of space to its Woburn facility. When done, the shop will have six drive-in bays and a 10-ton overhead crane.
“The importance of meeting our customers’ service needs can’t be stressed enough,” said Paula Benard. “Having adequate facilities is essential, but what’s even more critical is the talented personnel we have, who know how to get the job done. Equipment has changed dramatically in 50 years, especially in the last decade with newer technology. Training is a crucial tool that ensures our technicians know how to diagnose and fix an issue efficiently.
“We take training beyond the technician level so that our parts and sales teams are well-versed and up-to-date too,” she added. “Training is something that we’ve always focused on and will continue to emphasize. If our personnel understand the products they’re representing, they can help customers get the most benefit and maximize their uptime, productivity and efficiency while lowering their owning and operating costs.”
Helping customers maximize their equipment investment has always been a hallmark of C.N. Wood, according to Vice President Dick Thomas who oversees areas such as finance and insurance. He started with the company in 1972 and has seen many changes that directly benefit customers.
“In the early days, customers had few options for financing — basically just a handful of banks and finance companies,” said Thomas. “Today, manufacturers offer programs and incentives that give customers more flexibility in rates and terms. Financing is now available for parts and service that allows customers to get repairs done without putting down a large chunk of capital all at once. Those types of programs tie in well with C.N. Wood’s philosophy of doing whatever is necessary to help customers get the most value out of their equipment and maximize their profitability.
“Bob has always had a knack for finding creative solutions that are equitable for all parties,” he added. “Many customers have survived and thrived thanks to Bob’s willingness to commit to their success. The same can be said for the way he values employees. He has helped many of them during times of need. People remember when you treat them with respect, dignity and honesty. It’s why we have so many loyal employees and customers alike.”
A Great Legacy
A focus on giving customers more than they expect has always been a guiding principal of Bob Benard’s, and he’s passed that on to the staff at C.N. Wood.
“As anyone in this business knows, everything is dependent on satisfied customers,” said Barrelle. “If you take care of them, and they trust you, long-term relationships form. We’re honored that much of our business comes from repeat customers, many of whom were able to get started and grow thanks to Bob’s willingness to take a chance that they would be successful. I’m proud to have been here 50 years and be a part of such a great organization.”
Paula Benard said that her father’s teaching will carry C.N. Wood forward.
“Even as he approaches 80 years old, he’s still active in the business. The knowledge and wisdom Dad has passed down is invaluable. I remember in college struggling with the difference between the diesel cycle and gasoline cycle, and he took the time to explain how they worked. He’s always been able to bring clarity to any situation. That includes issues that pop up from time to time. Dad has a knack for finding a quick, fair resolution. It’s another reason why customers and employees respect him so much. He’s built a great legacy on which we continually build as we look to the future.”
“Machinery changes, technology changes and the industry goes through ups and downs along with the markets, but dealing honestly with people and earning their business is constant among all the change,” Bob Benard added. “That ideal helped us stay in business for 50 years and build a list of not just customers, but friends. It will lead C.N. Wood long after I’m gone. I don’t plan for that to be anytime soon, but I know when the time comes, it’s in good hands. I still enjoy the business and would do it all again.”
This story was reprinted with permission from Wood Works Magazine, Issue No. 1 2014.