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November 10, 2017

Maker of high-end outdoor furniture building manufacturing plant in Saco's business park

Courtesy / Richardson Allen
Courtesy / Richardson Allen
An architect's rendering shows the 5,000-square-foot plant that is under construction at the Mill Brook Business Park in Saco for outdoor furniture company Richardson Allen.

SACO — The purchase of 3.81 acres at the Mill Brook Business Park in Saco will allow a manufacturer of high-end outdoor furniture to construct a purpose-built plant.

Sam and Rebecca Butler, who founded Richardson Allen in 1982, closed the deal on Oct. 2, buying Lot 5 in the business park for $100,000 from the city of Saco. Greg Hastings from NAI The Dunham Group represented the Butlers.

Richardson Allen produces high-end garden structures and furnishings for residential and commercial settings. Its signature collections and custom pieces use wood, marine epoxy, Awlgrip colors and specialty outdoor fabrics similar to those seen on luxury yachts. Customers include Pebble Beach Golf Links, the John Hancock Tower and resorts, airports, sports centers and corporate headquarters, in addition to individual homes.

As an example, retail prices for its Cape Porpoise collection range from $1,700 for a side chair to $3,600 for a 68-inch bench made from teak.

"We do a lot of work for designers and architects who are the middlemen to their affluent clientele," said Sam Butler. "It's a very expensive product and it's a niche product that's difficult to do well."

Recently, Richardson Allen completed 20 pieces going to a client in Colorado. That was preceded by a large commission of custom planters for Longwood Gardens, which receives 1.3 million visitors a year in Pennsylvania.

A family-owned business

Courtesy / Richardson Allen
Courtesy / Richardson Allen
A Cape Porpoise bench built by Richardson Allen, which is building a new manufacturing site in Saco’s Mill Brook industrial park.

Richardson Allen is a family business with deep roots in Maine thanks to Rebecca Butler's family, which goes back to the 1600s. Sam grew up in Massachusetts and appreciated the antique furniture his grandparents collected.

After attending Dartmouth College, he moved to Maine, met Rebecca, a University of Southern Maine alumna, and the two started designing and making furniture in an old barn in Cape Porpoise, soon employing four to five people. About a decade later, they moved the operation into an 8,000-square-foot space at the Riverdam Millyard in Biddeford.

At the time, although the 19th century mill was rundown and cold, "It was a great place for a young company that wanted to save some money, and we could make it work," he said.

In recent years, though, the renaissance of mill space in Biddeford and Saco pushed the couple to think about buying their own property rather than deal with the prospect of rising rent.

"Developers in Biddeford are planning for rents to rise more in five years," he said. "That made us think that, if we could swing this, we'd be better off owning property than paying rent."

Their broker, Greg Hastings, helped them identify Mill Brook as a possibility. It's the newest of Saco's business parks, comprising 70 acres. It also has covenants aimed at maintaining "high quality appearance and atmosphere favored by progressive businesses" and covering building appearance, starting time, outdoor storage and other issues.

Butler said the covenants helped tip the decision.

"I'm not a big fan of industrial parks," he said. "But Mill Brook is very beautiful. It has a curvy road and a ton of covenants that will keep it well-forested. There's a pond across from me that's beautiful and a ravine with forest that's part of our land. I think Saco is doing a great job with making Mill Brook a beautiful place."

Making the move in January

The building will be 5,000 square feet, plus a mezzanine of about 500 square feet. That's smaller than the old mill space, but it will be laid out "more strategically," he said. "We never needed 8,000 square feet, so we were lackadaisical, let's say, in our use of space. It's just a matter of good workflow."

Patco Construction in Sanford was hired as the general contractor.

"Patco has been fantastic," said Butler. "And they seem to be ahead of schedule."

The metal building will have lots of windows. "We added lot of windows because I like the whole forest feel out there," he said.

Move-in is expected in January. The Butlers also have permits in place to increase the new building to 7,500 square feet, if they decide to do so in the future.

"We just didn't want do that yet," he said. "This is a leap for us financially, but in few years, that's an option."

The family-run business includes the Butlers' children and today employs 10 highly skilled craftspeople, most of whom have been with the company for nearly 20 years.

"It's all handmade and very labor-intensive," he said. "We don't have a lot of giant machinery. Classic old English garden furniture is our thing, and there seems to be an ongoing desire for that. It's like Maine lobster. People just like it."

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