Almost 135 years young, L. Sweet Lumber Company nurtures a culture of innovation
For almost 135 years, L. Sweet Lumber Company, Inc. (L. Sweet) in Providence, Rhode Island, has been specializing in supplying the best hardwoods and softwoods for quality homes and commercial projects, including historic restoration. You could say that it’s the company’s sweet spot.
L. Sweet Lumber is a retail lumber and building materials dealer, but the company goes far beyond a typical lumberyard with many hard-to-find items across a wide spectrum of product lines, including custom millwork and hardware, says Vice President Raymond Angell.
“We carry quality lumber and building materials across the board,” Raymond says. “Our framing lumber consists of the best grades of Douglas fir, including premium grade from the West Coast of North America. We also carry superior species of finish lumber, from red cedar and mahogany to cherry and clear fir. The types of lumber that we stock aren’t carried by many lumberyards. They are for the professional—real craftsmen who care about quality.”
The company’s customers are largely commercial and residential contractors, builders, remodelers and architects, as well as homeowners and do-it-yourselfers. L. Sweet also serves industrial contractors, manufacturers and institutions, Raymond says. About 85% of the company’s transactions are with professionals and the remaining with homeowners. “We really have a diverse customer base, from builders and remodelers to furniture makers, manufacturers, facility managers and institutions; it runs the whole gamut,” he says.
“Being in a historic city like Providence, there is a lot of old housing stock that requires custom millwork because doors and windows aren’t standard sizes,” he says. Matching historic windows, wooden gutters and mouldings both inside and outside can be a challenge for remodelers. “That’s why we stock a lot of these items that no one else has. And we also have the ability to custom-make and custom-order something that isn’t sitting on our shelves, from stair parts to flooring,” he adds.
Millwork is sort of a catchall term for doors, windows, cabinets, casing, base, trim moulding, mantels, railings, staircases, columns and more, Raymond explains. Millwork increases the utility of a home or building and adds decorative and cosmetic appeal. Homeowners most commonly request entrance and interior doors, windows, and mouldings that serve as casing, base and other trim, he says.
“We can basically source everything and do small mill jobs, as well. We have employees who have been here 30 to 40 years. They know the landscape of the industry, who to call, who to trust and how to get a product when they need it,” Raymond says.
A typical project for L. Sweet might be providing the wood products for a historic restoration or remodeling of an old house in Providence or Newport—and really throughout the state of Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts, Raymond says.
“People aren’t tearing homes down and starting new in most of these areas because the older homes were built well and built with quality lumber and many times from us, with an old L. Sweet stamp. Most homeowners are opting to keep the original charm of the home, maintaining the historic integrity while modernizing,” he says.
His company is also called on to provide products for old industrial buildings that are being converted to condominiums and apartments. “We are well-known around here, so they come to us for the lumber to fit out these buildings with quality products. We’re also seeing the similar projects for restaurants and retailers that are new or remodeling,” he says.
Homes and other buildings located in coastal areas need specialty wood that is water resistant, he adds, and “that’s where our extensive knowledge and quality products play a role so that our customers get the project done right the first time, with minimal call backs,” Raymond explains.
L. Sweet supplied the materials for the restoration of one of the lighthouses in Narragansett Bay. “It is an honor to supply the materials for these iconic projects and to witness how well our products perform in the toughest of conditions,” Raymond says.
Everything L. Sweet does comes back to relationships, Raymond says—relationships among employees, vendors and customers. “We have many long-term customers who have been dealing with us for their entire careers, spanning 30 to 40 years or even longer. Their fathers and even grandfathers have been multigenerational customers. Our customers value craftsmanship and quality work, so they want quality products and helpful service. They don’t want to deal with the low-end, low-price vendors or big boxes; they want to deal with professionals,” he explains.
There has been a lot of consolidation in the lumber industry over recent years, he adds. Retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers and mills have all seen their share. L. Sweet strives to stay independent and operate as a family-owned company. That doesn’t mean that the firm is behind the times, though. Technological improvements include computerized point-of-sale and inventory and delivery tracking systems to help business operations run smoother. Plans and drawings are now done digitally, with CAD (computer-aided design) and CNC (computer numerical control) machines that help manufacture doors and mouldings.
“We’ve seen technology make its impact, and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. We anticipate keeping up with the technological advances to improve efficiency and profitability for our company and our customers,” he says. “Looking ahead, we plan on staying agile and having the ability to adapt to changes as they become more frequent and more profound.”
L. Sweet Operations
The family-owned company was established in 1885 by Leprilete Sweet, a civil engineer and local businessman in the Providence area. He sold the business around the turn of the century to his relative, John S. Angell, who became the first generation of the Angell family to own the company.
The company was passed down from John S. Angell to his son, Edward “Bud” S. Angell, and then to current Owner/President, Edward “Ted” S. Angell Jr., who is Raymond’s father. Raymond’s brother, Ed, also works at the company, making up the fourth generation of the Angell family in the office. John S. Angell was Raymond and Ed’s great-grandfather.
“Ed and I worked here part time during high school and during school vacations and the summers. After graduating from college, we both returned to work here full time,” Raymond says. “We both work in all aspects of the operation, including sales and purchasing. We are proud to continue the family legacy.”
L. Sweet still operates out of its original location at 709 Harris Ave. in a wooden frame building purchased from a local church across town and relocated to its current location, where it was erected, remodeled and placed on a new foundation.
Earlier this year, the company tore down two small 100-year-old sheds and put up a large new shed with racking and storage to keep more product out of the elements and improve the company facilities. Raymond says this was the first major change to the location in its history.
According to Raymond, you won’t see the L. Sweet name in many ads or in marketing campaigns because most of its business is done by word-of-mouth from satisfied customers. “It’s the best type of advertising,” he says. “But, at the same time, we want to keep getting our name out there as new people and new faces come into the industry. That’s part of why we are involved with The Blue Book Network®. We want to continue to make our presence known to the construction industry.”
“Our mantra is basic, but our staff of 15 hears it a lot,” Raymond says. “We are all about quality and service; when we say it, we actually mean it. We are always carrying the best materials, offering professional service and keeping prices reasonable”
L. Sweet also likes to support the community by contributing to multiple charities, including local schools, colleges and Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops. “We especially like to support the charities that are important to our customers. We like to give back and what better way to do that than to give back to the customers who help us succeed,” Raymond says.
The company’s goals are straightforward and simple. “Our principles focus on the success of the business. We want to help our customers out both professionally and personally. We provide great service and our customers can count on us to help them succeed. I think it is important to stick to our roots,” Raymond says. “We are adapting to change but staying true to our mission of being a quality lumberyard. It all goes back to a favorite saying: When run-of-the-mill just won’t do, come see us.”