BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The story goes that employees at Keiver-Willard Lumber Corp. were planning a “small” anniversary observation to mark the 60 years in business for the company.
But it was also company president Bob Keiver’s birthday — his 80th — and close to 250 friends, customers and business associates recently showed up at the Graf Road complex to honor the affable executive.
“I didn’t expect so many people,” said Keiver, a hard-working industry veteran who still comes in to work three or four times per week. “There were tours of the grounds and talking among old friends. We had a great time.”
Keiver is head of Keiver-Willard, a lumber company that serves retail sellers who market high-end wood products. It is a hardwood and softwood lumber wholesaler, and manufacturer of mouldings and millwork. It has served woodworkers and retailers in the region since 1953.
The company was started by Osmund Keiver, father of Bob. The small firm was known as the O.O. Lumber company when it started in Beverly in 1953. Osmund Keiver joined forces with Emerson “Speed” Willard, and in 1976, the company moved to Newburyport and expanded its distribution and millwork operations.
The company receives shipments of domestic and imported hardwood on a daily basis, and its distribution team has trucks making deliveries to customers all over New England.
“We are environmentally conscious and take product only from sawmills that are certified and dedicated to sustainability,” said Patti Heintzelman, vice president of operations and Bob’s daughter. “We offer quality products from mills that meet all industry standards.”
Keiver-Willard deals primarily with commercial yards that provide high-end products to builders and architects. It does not encourage the average homeowner to shop at its sprawling warehouse.
Like many companies that have lasted a half-century or so, Keiver-Willard has had to adapt.
Supplying lumber for boats used to be a major source of business, but in the ’80s many builders converted to fiberglass as the chief product in creating vessels.
Also, the number of sawmills in New England has decreased, and in recent years managers have been seeking new sources from as far away as West Virginia.
A recession that started in 2008 also impacted the company.
“Business was down and we had to let people go,” said Keiver, who said the number of employees went from 70 to about 37. “That was one of the worst times I’ve ever had here, because we value our employees.
“We’ve hired some back and we’re up to about 45. Building is increasing, but we’re still cautious.”
Keiver, a native of Swampscott, went to North Carolina State University to study forestry. He left to join the military and returned to school after the service to study hardwood in a technical school in Memphis.
The veteran manager studied business at Northeastern University.
“Bob is a first-class guy and he runs a first-class business,” said Chris Costello, a hardwood retailer who recently opened Timberline Enterprises LLC on Low Street.
“When we moved to Newburyport, he and his team were there to help us get settled and down to business. He’s a real asset to our industry.”
Keiver, who has earned awards and lifetime achievement recognition from several national associations relating to wood products and lumber yards, indicated he thinks more about the business at hand than the prospect of retiring.
“I enjoy people, and I have found satisfaction in working with those in our industry,” Keiver said. “I have believed in providing a good product and being fair to employees and to customers. Being fair — that is important in any business.”