The Telegram (St. John's)
Sexton’s Lumber shares the wealth
Bloomfield company hands out $2 million in bonus cheques
Sue Anne Rideout already knew she was going to have a busy day.
It was Thursday, June 10, payday at Sexton’s Lumber in Bloomfield.
Rideout, who handles accounts payable for the company, had to make sure all the paperwork was completed to pay 120 workers.
Then the owners, Kevin and Susan Sexton, asked her to do something else.
Thanks to a high demand for lumber in the U.S., and higher prices for the product, Sexton’s Lumber had done pretty well this season.
Profits were up, probably the best they’ve been in over a decade.
Kevin Sexton told Saltwire he had always promised his workers that if the company ever had a really good year, he would share with them.
Last Thursday, that’s just what the Sextons did.
In addition to the regular paycheques last week, each of the employees got a share of $2 million worth of bonuses. It amounted to extra $10,000 each in gross pay.
Kevin said he could have kept that money in the company’s account as insurance against a market downturn, “because we know that along with the good times, there’s always tough times, too.”
However, he said it was important for him and his wife to let their employees know just how important they were to the company.
“These people work their butts off for us,” he told Saltwire. “And without our employees we would be nowhere. The lumber market could increase 10 times, but we’d have nothing if it wasn’t for the people who work for us.”
HANDING OUT THE CHEQUES
Susan Sexton had a happy job of handing out the envelopes with the big surprise inside.
At the yard in Bloomfield she issued a radio call asking the folks on site to come see her before they went home for the day She can’t stop smiling at the memory of seeing them open the envelopes, reading the letter inside and then seeing the cheque.
Then came their smiles, and thanks, she said.
One fellow drove away with the others, she said, only to turn around and come back to say thanks again and ask, “Can I give you a hug?”
Through the evening she said she kept getting text messages from the workers and their family, with more expressions of gratitude. A couple even had flowers delivered to her door.
Workers like Barry Reader and Rob Wiseman say they and others were just overwhelmed by the Sexton’s gesture.
Reader’s first purchase was a gas barbecue.
Sue Ann Rideout says she’s heard of others who are doing some home renovations and at least one employee who happy to tell his fiancée they would have a little more money to spend on their wedding plans for this year. It wasn’t only the workers at the sawmill in Bloomfield who benefitted from the Sexton’s generosity.
The contractors who work in the forests to provide the timber for the operation were also included.
Sexton’s sources logs from the Bonavista Peninsula to central Newfoundland, and Susan made the three-hour drive to Grand Falls earlier this week to deliver the same special envelopes to a group woodcutters.
Kevin says after all the uncertainty created by COVID, they were happy this year turned out so well.
“The lumber industry has been a tough business for a lot of years. We were surviving but we weren’t making huge amounts of money,” he said.
The arrival of COVID and the economic uncertainty it created had the Sextons wondering how it would impact the sawmill industry.
“Around March last year we were wondering if we would even operate at all,” said Kevin. Retailers that normally carried their product were cancelling orders. There were some weeks of worry.
Ironically, however, the pandemic created a situation where people had time on their hands, money through the Canadian government’s economic response program and were not spending it on travel. So some of their time and money went into their homes.
Kevin added the market for lumber in the U.S. was a huge benefit for Sexton’s this year. He said the American homebuilding business is going through a bit of revival with some pent-up demand.
In the mid-2000s, he said, the subprime mortgage program — which offered lower than prime interest rates for new homeowners for five years — created an oversupply of new homes in the US.
“They were building at the rate of about 2.5 million homes each year,” he said.
Then came the end of the subprime mortgage honeymoon and the American housing market crashed.
Demand for new homes, and the lumber to build them, “dropped off the cliff” said Sexton, impacting businesses like his.
Now, he said that market has re-calibrated, and the demand has risen as younger people are building and buying their first homes.
With 70 per cent of their product destined for the U.S., he said and the higher prices being paid, Sexton’s books show a significantly better profit margin.
There was no law saying the Sextons had to share any of their profits with their workers.
But Kevin and Susan felt strongly they needed to give thanks in a significant way.
“It’s our employees who help keep this operation going, keep it profitable,“said Kevin said. “We weren’t in the position for a long time to do this but with the market this year, we were finally able to give back. And we’re proud we were able to do it.”