By Rod Lee
What immediately becomes apparent in any assessment of the success of the Camosse family’s Worcester-based masonry supply business is the significance of certain key dates and some strategic adjustments that have been made along the way.
Not the least of these were the decision to open a Camosse Masonry Supply retail store on Trolley Crossing Road in Charlton as a second location in 2004 and the decision eight years later to end the company’s manufacturing operations in order to concentrate solely on the marketing and sale of hardscape products.
“I’ve lived in Charlton for the last thirty years,” Camosse’s president, Henry J. Camosse Jr., said in his office at 64 Southwest Cutoff in Worcester the morning of June 26th in offering one line of reasoning for the company’s expansion to the city’s western suburbs. Also figuring into that decision, Mr. Camosse said, was “it’s hard to do business east of here”—where competition would have been fierce. Access to the relatively untapped Charlton-Oxford-Southbridge-Sturbridge area made sense.
So too, Mr. Camosse said, did ending a long run as a manufacturer of concrete masonry materials. Manufacturing had been a backbone of the company’s expertise “for sixty-three” of its now seventy years in business—since its founding in 1948 by Mr. Camosse’s grandfather Henry Camosse. Despite pushback from his brothers, Mr. Camosse elected in 2012 to drop the manufacturing component in order to focus on satisfying a burgeoning demand from customers for hardscape materials—pavers, retaining walls, curbing, stone walls and stone veneers.
“There’s no money to be made in manufacturing,” he said. “It’s a shrinking market with shrinking margins and we were working with forty-year-old equipment. Now we buy from various manufacturers right here in Worcester County.”
Mr. Camosse joined the company after college in 1978 as production manager and subsequently worked alongside his father, the late Henry Camosse Sr. He succeeded his dad as president in 1990.
“I started in that end of the business (hardscapes) in 1990,” he said. “By 2014 it had become the majority of our business.” In thinking about a move away from manufacturing, he said, “I came up with twenty-two reasons to get out of it. When I asked my brothers why we should stay in manufacturing they said ʽbecause that’s what we’ve always done.’”
At that time, too, “we were supplying twenty-four Lowe’s stores. Three years running I was not allowed to raise my prices. That was thirty to forty percent of my business. That pretty much clinched my decision.”
Amidst the change, Camosse Masonry Supply remains very much a family business—staying true to the roots set down by Mr. Camosse’s grandfather when he borrowed money from friends to start the company. Mr. Camosse’s sons Henry III and Christopher have joined the company and carry significant responsibilities in Worcester and Charlton. They represent a fourth generation. Henry III’s wife Erin is the company’s bookkeeper.
A celebration of the company’s 70th anniversary will be observed with an open house at the Worcester store this fall.
That Mr. Camosse has not been hesitant about retooling the business is evidenced by the introduction of a new showroom (with new offices) on westbound side of Southwest Cutoff and a revamping of the Charlton store.
“We went from 670 square feet to 2500 square feet of showroom space here in Worcester, and almost 3000 square feet of outdoor display area,” he said.
The Charlton store is doing well, he said.
Patronage is “50/50, contractors and homeowners,” Mr. Camosse said. “You can’t buy our material online. Our customers want to see it, touch it, feel the colors. Most homeowners who come in here have never set foot in a masonry store.”
Camosse is going strong as strictly “a materials supplier.”
The company’s reputation has been enhanced over years as well by its community-mindedness, including as a sponsor of the Auburn Little League for fifty years. It has donated materials for dugouts and concession stands, supported local sports teams and organizations. The Camosse Family Foundation helps with construction of housing for families in need.
The annoyances in an era of growth and prosperity are few and of little consequence. Sewer work on Rt. 20, which interrupts traffic flow; that and a temporary loss of computer access on June 25th which left Mr. Camosse beseeching his terminal to boot back up so that he could look at his calendar. “Come on, Outlook, come on,” he was heard to say over the phone line.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.
Henry Camosse founded the company seventy years ago this year.