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LDAC Lumber Person of the Year: Ray Bergeron, Eastford Building Supply

Though he’s Connecticut’s Lumber Person of the Year, Ray Bergeron is originally a Rhode Islander, and his career can be traced in fittingly Rhode Island terms: his long and winding path through the lumber industry began “where the Grossman’s used to be.” He started at the hardware chain in 1970 on the recommendation of his brother and eventually worked in four different branches.

In time, Grossman’s became Bargain Outlet and all the stores Bergeron worked for, save for the Warwick location, are gone, but Bergeron is still in the business – and thriving. “The core of the Grossman business was about 70% contractor and 30% retail,” he recalls. “As time went on and they changed hands, they started getting away from the contractor business and tried to compete with the warehouse stores. In 1985, I decided to take the leap into the wholesale side.”

That led to an outside sales position with Prudential Building Supply. He stayed on the road covering two different territories until 1998, when he became manager of the Dedham, Massachusetts branch.

Another change in the industry led to the next turn in Bergeron’s career when Prime Source bought out Prudential in 2000. “Knowing it was not a good fit for me, I decided I would not stay,” he explains. After a brief stint with another wholesaler that ended “due to a different customer sales philosophy,” Bergeron finally arrived in Connecticut, helping to open the state’s market for Sean Lorden and Rafferty Wholesale Building Materials. “Sean runs a great company and knows how to take care of customers,” Bergeron enthuses.

It was in 1993, however, that Bergeron first made the connection that would come to define his career. That’s when he started calling on Eastford Building Supply and its owner, Jack Hopkins. Hopkins had been running the business since he bought it in 1960. When his retail manager retired, he looked to Bergeron as a potential replacement – sweetening the pot by mentioning that he was also looking for someone to take EBS off his hands.

“I told him I did not have the finances to buy the business, but I would manage it for him because I enjoyed doing it,” Bergeron says. “The first thing I noticed about EBS was that people were different in this very rural town. People genuinely care about the work they do and also about each other – kind of a different world.”

Finally, in 2005, Hopkins found a broker out of Florida who put together a financing package that made it possible for Bergeron to purchase Eastford Building Supply. “I’ve been there ever since and I’m enjoying it,” he says.

Bergeron still gives credit to Hopkins, who was himself LDAC’s Lumber Person of the Year in 1990, for Eastford’s continued success. “His philosophy of carrying only quality products and not falling for lower price/lesser quality made the business grow, with many custom builders who continue to be loyal to us today,” he notes. Two of Bergeron’s sons even work there now. (The third is a police officer in Rhode Island.)

The roots of Bergeron’s work ethic and integrity can be found throughout his personal life. His parents, like so many residents of his hometown of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, emigrated from Canada to the US, where his father worked in textiles. Bergeron joined the Marines after high school and served in Vietnam on a mine and booby trap platoon. He first met his wife Linda through his local parish, where he was president of the church youth organization; they married on Valentine’s Day in 1971 and have been together ever since.

In his spare time, which is admittedly limited (“Twelve-hour days do not leave much time for outside activity,” he says), Bergeron has been heavily involved in his sons’ Little League, serving as treasurer, player agent, president, and umpire in chief over the course of 20 years. “I continued umpiring for 10 years after the boys stopped playing,” he notes. No wonder why he was voted into the East Woonsocket Little League Hall of Fame.

Bergeron is the LDAC Lumber Person of the Year because of his commitment to his customers and employees. “The people who work for us at EBS are what makes our company so successful,” he says. “They all care not only about each other, but about the customer, who knows they are number one with us.”