LEWISTON — Mike Morin's office is in a mobile home a short boardwalk away from a 25,000-square-foot factory on the outskirts of town.
Inside, workers paint, stain, cut, saw and bend thin slats of wood into barrels, an art called coopering.
Morin's first job out of high school was here at Maine Bucket Co. He never left. A year ago, the 37-year-old bought the business.
Despite the name, buckets aren't a mainstay. Handmade barrels are the company's top seller and it makes thousands a year. Customers come from all over. Samuel Adams beer. The Discovery Channel. A Grand Cayman grocery chain.
"Why they would source it all the way up here, I don't know," said Morin, owner and president, pointing to the partial order of 600 crates and barrels awaiting the trip to the Caribbean. "I offered to deliver it . . ."
Morin has a staff of 20 full-time employees, six fewer than a year ago, along with a few part-timers and temps. He said he also has confidence.
He can make this work.
"This should be our slow season," he said. "We've been working overtime almost every week."
The company was founded in 1982 by John and June Stauffer of Auburn, according to the Sun Journal archives. It started making three sizes of buckets. In 1986, Douglas and Susan Boyd bought Maine Bucket "on a whim that they could turn it into something, and they certainly did," Morin said.
But, after 25 years, the Boyds were ready for something new.
"It was not the greatest time to take on a new business, but the timing worked well for both of us," he said. "They were looking to get out and I was looking to get in."
Morin said he tightened every expense he could. After building the company around the nursery and garden industry (planters, window boxes, tubs), he's continued to court the wine and spirits industry for display potential.
"The lawn and garden industry is a difficult business," Morin said. It seems when there isn't flood, there's drought, and when the weather does cooperate, the economy doesn't, he said.
Alcohol sales aren't so fickle.
He's made hundreds of in-store display barrels for Sutter Home wine and Batch 19 beer, a brand that, after having them as a customer for two years, he has yet to find on local shelves.
But, Morin said, that's how Blue Moon beer started, too.
"We started building those crates by the thousands before you ever heard the name," he said. "Now you can find it everywhere."
A niche project coming up: "We're making 50 little custom barrels with the 'Moonshiners' (a Discovery Channel show) brand that they're going to give away to viewers. It's a small order but it's something interesting that you recognize."
It takes between 30 minutes and two hours to craft a barrel in white cedar or white pine, depending upon stain, stenciling, branding or other finish work. The company also makes floor, counter and cabinet retail displays to hold about anything. Most of Maine Bucket's sales are wholesale and most customers in the U.S.
"We do face very stiff competition from China," Morin said. When he quotes some jobs, "if the quantities are very large, you can almost guess we're not getting the work."
The company has two major competitors in the U.S., one in northern Maine and one in Minnesota.
He's hopeful for the future. Maine Bucket plans to hire soon.
"Everyday is a learning experience, that's generally the way I try to look at things," Morin said. "On a weekly basis, somebody will come to us with something we've never done before."
He's game to try.
Making It is an occasional series on manufacturing in Maine, who's making it and where the industry is headed. Send comments to email@example.com