Making the Right Moves

These colleagues traded Lear jets for 18-wheelers

William Brady and James DolanJamie Dolan (left) and Bill Brady, co-workers at Bombardier, decided to leave the world of finance and buy McLure Moving & Storage in Essex Junction five years ago.

by Liz Schick

When William Brady and James Dolan were considering the purchase of McLure Moving and Storage, they set themselves up for a surprise.

“We thought we knew what we were doing,” says Brady. “If you are a lender to a business or industry — as we were to the transportation industry at Bombardier Capital — you think you know the business; so when we were considering various opportunities, Jamie and I thought we had a step up with McLure.”

He pauses, and Dolan chimes in. “Our thinking wasn’t quite as clear as we thought.”

They were willing to give up their perks of flying around in Lear jets and working with Wall Street bankers if they could find a business that would be big enough to support them, but one where technological obsolescence would not be a factor. When they found McLure was for sale, they took a close look.

“We basically figured that, until Scotty and Captain Kirk could beam up furniture from here to California, there was no concern about built-in obsolescence,” Brady says with a grin. “Since we were financially astute and had access to lots of highfalutin cash-flow modeling software, we ran all kinds of numbers, which reinforced our decision to buy. After we started working, we discovered all that modeling stuff was superfluous.”

For example, after closing on the company on May 31, 2002, not having hired enough college students to meet the summer demand, Dolan and Brady became “lumpers,” which, says Dolan, “is the vernacular for those who carry the furniture from the house to the van. We did a lot of lumping that first summer, but in retrospect, it wasn’t a bad thing to help us understand the business.” It wasn’t long before they learned to drive the trucks and received their Class A Commercial driver’s licenses.

McLure was started in 1915 by Judson Hilliker with a pair of horses and a carriage he used to deliver milk and personal belongings. In 1939, his son-in-law, Clifford McLure, grew the business and renamed it McClure Moving and Storage.

When, in 1980, Peder Marcussen and his wife, Mary Louise McClure, took over, the fleet was expanded, warehouses and Access Mini Storage units were added, McLure Packaging Systems and Supplies was begun in response to a need for area businesses to have a supplier of custom packaging, and Excel Transportation Services, which does truckload hauling, was created.

Two employees of McClure James Dolan manages McLure Packaging Systems and Supplies, one of the company’s four divisions, with Peter Cameron (pictured), who has been with the company 15 years and grew the packaging business from its inception. Leslie Mercy is operations manager of the moving company.

Although the moving business is seasonal and cyclical, the company’s four divisions —moving, mini storage, packaging systems and supplies, and Excel — provide the business diversity and year-round revenue stream Dolan and Brady were seeking. The moving division has three parts: local, interstate/international, and commercial/industrial. Access Mini Storage has 360 units at the company headquarters on Vermont 2A in Essex Junction.

Co-managers of McLure Packaging Systems and Supplies are Dolan and Peter Cameron. Cameron has been with the company for 15 years and was responsible for growing the packaging business from its inception. Today, this division works with manufacturers and wholesalers to create custom packaging solutions for customers like Birnn Chocolates of Vermont, Rich Frog Industries and Husky Injection Molding, and has expanded into consulting, providing design services to companies from small — Dragonfly Sugar Works, a husband-and-wife maple sugar company — to large — such as Seventh Generation.

“Jamie and Bill have taken what was gong on in the business and have improved upon it,” Cameron says, “which is really what we all wanted to have happen.”

By “all,” he means the 30 permanent employees, many of whom have been with the company a long time. Ethan Geraw, for instance, has been warehouse manager since 1960, when he took over for his father. The controller, Kent Knapp, has been with McLure for 20 years; and the person who is the public face of the moving and storage business is Jerome Mendicino, a 30-year veteran who does sales and estimating. Everybody counts on Keith Druge, who covers everything from coming in early and getting the trucks ready to doing his job as sales manager.

To beef up the work force during the summer rush, when 40 percent of all moves take place, are about 15 students, including Brady’s three sons. The older two work as lumpers, and Griffin, the eighth-grader, mows the lawn.

The fleet of the Excel Transportation division moves products for various companies to outposts all over New England. Its two primary customers are UPS and Koffee Kup Bakery. Every weekday evening, an Excel truck makes a freight run from the UPS Williston facility to the Manchester, N.H., airport. The driver unloads the automated container, parks the truck, goes to sleep and waits for the UPS plane to arrive at 6 a.m., then reloads and comes back to Williston.

For Koffee Kup, trucks run four times daily, five days a week, delivering bakery products to distribution points throughout Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. “Our primary goal is to satisfy our customers,” says Ron Roberge Jr., owner and plant manager of this family business. “McLure plays a key role for us.

“I can’t stress enough how exceptionally good the people are who work for Excel,” he continues. “They know and understand our operation, and when it comes down to it, all business is about people. McLure’s are the best,” Roberge says. “Some of the training comes from us, some from McLure, but it’s a cooperative effort that works really well.”

So well, he says, that he has used all of its divisions at one time or another. “I’ve personally used the storage and the packaging, and last year they moved my sister into her new home.”

When it comes to the moving side of the business, Brady and Dolan say they focus on quality, which is why they are now associated with Arpin Van Lines. “Like ours, Arpin is a family-owned business, which is now the sixth largest van line in the United States,” says Brady, who says he likes the fact that “they give us great, personal service and support for our customers.”

McLure’s commercial/industrial arm has a contract with the state of Vermont’s Buildings and General Services Department as the “official” mover for the state. The company recently moved 250 people out of the “sick” building in Bennington, for example.

While there isn’t a lot of glamour in the moving business, McLure has had its oddities. A move for the UVM geology department included a glass case that contained the skeleton of an 8-foot whale that was unearthed in Vermont. “We were told a lot of media were invited to watch the move,” Brady says, “but nobody showed up — not even anyone from UVM. But, hey,” he muses, “how many whales do you ever get to move?”

In the gaming and financial fields, whales are big spenders, not fossils, say Dolan and Brady. They had plenty of experience with financial whales when they worked together at Bombardier Capital, securing loans and financing from Wall Street banks and biggies.

Brady served in many capacities with Bombardier from 1984 to 2001, the longest being chief financial officer of the financial services group. He also held vice president and general manager positions, and ran the inventory business, leasing company and Bombardier’s Six Sigma. In late 2001, when the company went through a restructuring, he says, “I raised my hand and said I’d be more than happy to restructure myself out of a job.”

Dolan didn’t wait for the company to implode. He resigned as director of the treasury department for the financial services group so he and his wife, Tina, could through-hike the Appalachian Trail, which they did over six months. Besides hiking and traveling —and commuting from Lincoln to Essex every day — Dolan’s passion is white-water kayaking.

Three employees of McClure McLure has 30 permanent employees, many of whom have been with the company for a long time. Keith Druge (left) is sales manager; Ed Larente provides office and operations support; and Jerome Mendicino, a 30-year veteran, does sales and estimating.

His path to the financial field was an interesting one. With a bachelor of arts in philosophy and geography from the State University of New York at New Paltz, Dolan went to work as an auto mechanic. After realizing he needed to make more money, he went to the College of St. Rose in Albany, earned his master of business administration, and became an operations analyst for Norstar Bank.

He moved to Vermont in 1989 to be with “the love of my life,” Tina, who is a wildlife biologist and consultant with the state of Vermont’s osprey program. After traveling around the world for nearly a year, in 1990 Dolan joined Bombardier as director of the treasury department, where he and Brady met and ultimately hatched plans to become business partners.

Brady came directly into his financial services career by majoring in accounting at Lemoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., where he met his future wife, Cindy. He spent seven years at GE Credit and gave up the security of a big company to go with a start-up, Bombardier Credit. He was delighted to move to Burlington, as his mother was from Brownsville, and he had fond memories of summers spent in South Hero, where his uncle had a camp.

It’s no surprise, then, that Brady spends as much time as he can at the camp he and his family bought in North Hero. They live in Williston.

When they bought McLure, Brady and Dolan took on a Vermont institution. It’s nice to know that 92 years after its founding, it’s still being run as a family business. Only the amount of the horsepower has changed. •