For nearly two centuries, S.W. Collins Co. has served northern Maine, providing community members with products and services they’ve needed over the years. Whether it’s selling supplies to build houses following World War II, growing potatoes for nearby communities or expanding product lines to meet the growing needs of DIYers, company leaders across generations have prioritized meeting the needs of their customers.
Now, president Sam Collins and his brother, vice president Gregg Collins, are preparing the sixth generation to take over the business and lead their employees, known as Pioneers, into the future. That next generation includes Sam’s daughter Clara Collins, who is currently working as the operations manager for the company’s five stores.
Setting a Foundation
Stepping into a family business may seem daunting, but Clara says she is ready for the challenge.
“I loved growing up and spending time in the store as a kid,” she says. “Those early years working in the business encouraged me to join the company and follow in my family’s footsteps.”
After graduating from high school, Clara attended Northeastern University in Boston, focusing on finance and supply chain. Though her plans to stay in the city were cut short by the pandemic, she says she was eager to return to Maine and join the company in September 2020.
“When COVID-19 hit, it fast-tracked my decision to enter the family business, much to my dad’s happiness,” Clara says. “I am incredibly grateful for the experience I had in Boston. Many of my professors were leaders in their industries, so to learn directly from them and bring that knowledge back to the business has been invaluable.”
As the operations manager, Clara endeavors to preserve the family’s core values and keep them in the operation.
“We continue to offer excellent products and legendary service as we strive to be an active, positive influence in the communities where we live and work,” Clara says.
Since taking over operations in 2020, Clara has become more involved in the communities where S.W. Collins stores are based, as well as the culture inside each location.
“My father told me growing up that we are just stewards of this business. Our main responsibility is to continue to grow the operation and build upon it so the next generation of leaders can continue to do the same.” Clara says.
Building into Community
While the company may not be floating logs down the river as it did in 1844, it is still providing lumber, farming equipment, paint and core hardlines. Employees—which the company calls Pioneers—are also encouraged to give back and receive time off to do so in their community and contribute to causes important to them.
“We give our Pioneers an additional day of paid time off to volunteer each year,” Clara says. “We have so many Pioneers who are active in the community. We want each individual to be able to dedicate their time to something they are passionate about in their communities.”
S.W. Collins’ community program is another way employees get involved, Collins says. Twice a year, the company provides a $10,000 grant to different local programs and nonprofits that benefit the community.
“Customers receive tokens at the register, and they vote to determine how the funds are allocated,” Clara says.
This year, S.W. Collins received a community service award in recognition of its employees’ contributions to their communities. The Institute for Family-Owned Business (IFOB), based out of Portland, Maine, awarded S.W. Collins with the Shep Lee Community Service Award. This award was named after one of the founders of IFOB and honors the service a company and its employees provide their community.
S.W. Collins president Sam Collins says he is thrilled that the award is focused on recognizing the team’s commitment to volunteer work.
“This award recognizes the many volunteer hours our fellow Pioneers contribute and the donations placed to make our communities better places to live and work,” he says. “We are fortunate to be included in a lineup of some of the finest Maine family-owned companies.”
Setting an Example
Along with encouraging company and employee involvement in the community, the Collins family strives to keep employees engaged in their jobs. In bimonthly newsletters, employees across the company’s five locations receive updates on important organizational information and read about the accomplishments and life events of fellow Pioneers.
“Our bimonthly Pioneer newsletters are designed to make our entire team feel more connected despite the distance between our five locations,” Clara says. “We make sure everyone is aware of the most important updates in the company and also take the time to shine a light on our employees and the exciting life milestones they are celebrating, like a new puppy or a wedding.”
Employees also receive updates and service recognitions at the company’s annual meeting. At this event, one outstanding employee is named Pioneer of the Year, which is an extension of the company’s Pioneer of the Month Awards. These awards acknowledge an employee who has gone above and beyond for the organization, from making sales contributions to providing high levels of customer service.
The Don Collins Service Award is also given out at each annual meeting to one employee who is wholly invested in serving the community. The award honors previous president and fourth-generation family member Don Collins following his passing.
“Being of service to others was a big part of my grandfather’s passion and is what helped guide our mission to be of service to our customers and communities,” Clara says. “We created the Don Collins Service Award to recognize exceptional Pioneers who truly embody service above self, just like he always did.”
As S.W. Collins continues to grow and expand its reach across Maine, service to the community remains a major focus. The Collins family plans to continue operations for more generations to come and serve its customers and communities.
“We are looking forward to another 175 years of continuing to be active in our communities in northern Maine,” Clara says. “All the work we do is to pass the company and its legacy on to future leaders and generations.”
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