By Jeff Woodburn
LITTLETON – The North Country is marked by two trends – its young people leave the area and its business community is small and cautious. Two young entrepreneurs, Thad and Trevor Presby, are proving that assumption doesn’t always hold. The brothers, who grew up and continue to live in Sugar Hill, see plenty of opportunities here and other than going off to college, never considered living anywhere else.
The Presbys, who have run their family’s construction business for the past twelve years, have been in the expansion mode recently. Four years ago, they bought a local heating oil delivery business and recently purchased a Franconia auto salvage company and a Woodsville car wash. They also own various properties, including a commercial building in Franconia and a mini-storage facility in Bethlehem.
Thad, 38, and Trevor, 35, took a break last week from their work to discuss their business philosophy, describe their new ventures and their commitment to the region during a ninety minute rambling interview in the Courier’s office. The conversation moved from project to project with the two men describing the challenge they faced and what they learned from each endeavor. The key to success in business, they say, lies in efficiency, frugality and taking care of the customer.
Both Profile High School and UNH graduates seem to be tinkers at heart, who love the challenge that a tough construction project offers. Their father, David Presby, a prominent and prolific entrepreneur and inventor, taught them that in business that “you do everything,” Trevor said, “You have to learn to do it all.” Since they were both old enough to drive, they were running machines under their father’s tutelage. “My job,” the elder Presby said, “was to train the kids to survive on their own.” His sons occasionally ask for his advice, but he says, they make their own decisions. Trevor and Thad also acknowledge that “their name helps,” them in business, but most importantly it is the example that has been set by their father and uncle, Wayne Presby, who lead the revival of the Mount Washington Hotel, the Mount Washington Cog Railroad and has recently built a biodiesel plant in Haverhill.
While the construction business, which was started by Thad and Trevor’s paternal grandfather, William Lester Presby, in 1948, is their core enterprise, there is a synergy with the other businesses. Presently, they have forty employees and some eighty vehicles. Despite the poor economy, their construction business is down only 5 percent from last year. They built 14 custom homes last year priced from $125,000 to $750,000.
Beyond residential and commercial building, their services include excavation, septic installation, and wetland, drive way and building permitting. They also sell sand and gravel, plow snow and sweep parking lots. “In the North Country,” Trevor said, “if you’re going to survive you’ve got to do a lot of things.” They do much of their own work rather than hiring subcontractors. This, the two brothers believe, is the key to running an efficient operation. Trevor said, we can pull someone off another job if we need to and because they have their own a fleet of rigs, they can quickly deliver the right tool on demand. For example, he says, if a project needs several loads of gravel, they can deliver several truck loads at one time, which is a lot more effective than making several trips. It also keeps the Presby’s crew busy, which is the important to employee retention and delivering good price and services. Trevor adds his motto is to “make a living, not killing.”
They credit their employees with their success. “We’re not yellers or screamers,” Trevor explained, “We’re organized, we have the tools.” Thad adds, “We give responsibility (to employees) and see it grow.” They also utilize their employees to find new recruits, since it is in their interest to find good co-workers, who will carry their own weight.
The brothers share their family’s passion for Yankee ingenuity. They realize that many of the opportunities in this economy are a result of too much debt. “We don’t buy anything new,” Thad said, “everything is slightly used and we have no debt on the equipment.”
The Presby brothers’ bought Stevenson Oil in 2005. They acknowledge that they got into the oil delivery business at a rocky time, but they learned a lot. The oil delivery business, they say, fits perfectly with the ebb and flow of the construction business because both tend to be somewhat seasonal. This allows, them to keep everyone working. Presby aims to provide the best price and the most comprehensive service. It’s a business where there is little control over the product and the price. “Oil is oil,” Trevor said, they aim to provide the lowest price in the region. “Quality goes a long ways,” he adds. The company also installs and cleans furnaces and unlike many oil suppliers allows customers to buy on credit. With the trend toward larger regional and even international oil delivery, the Presbys like their market position as a local North Country business. “The money is staying here,” Trevor said.
In December, they purchased Hunt’s Auto Salvage, in Franconia. When they heard that a deal to purchase the business fell through, they stepped in and made an offer. It was viable operation, they said, that they knew they could bring to the next level. “There is a point in every business,” Trevor said, “where you have to let it loose and let someone else progress it.” They are expanding the business to include salvaged steel and metal and a wrecker service.
Recently, they purchased another business, a bank-owned car wash in Woodsville. While this one is a little bit outside of their focus area, which is Littleton, Franconia and Bethlehem, they’re confident they can make it work. “We look for problems,” said Thad “we love the challenge.”