CANFIELD, Ohio — Expanding a business through e-commerce and reaching new customers through a partnership with the popular television show, “This Old House,” has helped Baird Brothers Fine Hardwoods stay on the cutting edge.
Still, there is one area where company Treasurer Scott Baird believes the industry is lagging: the adoption of automation. “That’s the next area,” Baird says. “We’re starting to see companies get more involved in the automation of the lumber industry.”
The transition to a more automated process won’t be the first challenge the Baird family has tackled since Baird Brothers opened 60 years ago. But, as with all previous challenges, they’ll do it together.
Of the 125 employees who work at the producer of hardwood, 11 are members of the Baird family.
“Not everybody agrees all the time,” says Paul Baird, the only living member of the first generation and one of the founders of the company.
While Paul is the oldest member of the family and holds the title of company president, he’s not “the boss.” “If you’re looking for a guy who sits up top and calls the orders, it’s not here,” he says.
Now 78, Paul has seen Baird Brothers, and his family’s involvement in it, grow a great deal since it started in 1960.
Baird Brothers began as a hobby shared by three brothers – Howard, Richard and Paul. “There were three of us and we started out as kids on a farm,” Baird says.
Working with his brothers wasn’t always perfect, Baird says, but, as luck would have it, seeing the business grow is a great way to give everyone his space. “As we kept branching out and getting larger and hiring more people, we had our different areas and you had more of your own area that you had to take care of.”
Over time, more of the second-generation began to get involved. Scott was tapped to take over company finances, a job that he performs today alongside his cousin Lori. “As the business has gotten bigger that job has got bigger,” he says.
Scott’s brother Mark, as well as cousins Matt, Terry and Tim, also work at Baird. Margot Baird, widow of Richard Baird is also employed at the business.
“It’s sort of like a marriage,” Paul says. “We don’t always agree with our spouses.”
But while some might see differences of opinion as hurdles, the eldest Baird sees it as an advantage.
Paul recalls many instances when he or one of his brothers had an idea for the business that he was sure would work. “But then once somebody put their input in, you realized maybe that wasn’t the way to go,” he says. “Sometimes three, four, five heads are better than one.”
Lately the company has been receiving input from three members of the third-generation of Bairds. Scott’s son, Tyler, works on the company’s IT and marketing, while Matt’s son, Ben, works in sales. And recently, Lori’s son, Brandon, began working in shipping while he completes school.
“These guys are taking over more of the operation all the time,” says Paul of the second and third generations, adding that every advancement they’ve made has been earned. “You work your way in.”
Scott says members of the Baird family have a meeting each Friday morning to make sure everyone is on the same page and decide what needs to be done. The big emphasis lately, he says, is keeping up with their growing online sales. “It grows every year,” Scott says.
Because of that growth, Baird Brothers products can be found in every state in the United States and parts of Canada.
“Right now we’re doing everything painted,” Scott says, referring to the current trends. “That’s what the designers want right now.”
The biggest challenges facing the business, Scott says, are finding qualified workers and managing the cost of health care and labor.
Baird says while automation would certainly be beneficial, it would be impossible to automate all of the company’s manufacturing operations.
Unlike the auto industry, which typically produces a single product for an extended period of time, the products Baird Brothers produces are constantly changing, meaning the tasks and production styles need to change as well.
Simple, repetitive tasks, however, will almost surely be taken over by automation, he says. “We will see that and we’ll have to go that way.”
Pictured: Eleven members of the Baird family work for the family business. Top row: Ben and Tyler Baird. Middle row: Matt, Tim, Scott and Mark Baird, and Brandon Burdette. Front row: Paul, Lori and Margot Baird. Not pictured is Terry Baird.