by Joshua Jerome-
On an ordinary day in 1986, Nicole Lafaille walked into work at a local Barre company doing catalog sales and walked into work to discover all of the employees separating catalogs to be mailed by zip code. She asked, “is there not an easier way to do this?” but was told that there was not. However, she was not convinced and the next day she called several other businesses in the area to see if they had a need for a bulk mail processing center and the answer she got was, “yes!”
At the same time, Nicole was taking one of her young sons to Dartmouth on a regular basis for a medical condition. And this is where the flexibility needed in being a mother crossed paths with the entrepreneurial spirit of identifying a business opportunity. So, with $800 in her pocket, Nicole set out to hit yard sales to procure tables, chairs and equipment to start up the Mailing Center. She started up the business with a friend of hers which allowed her the flexibility to bring her son to work and take him to appointments.
Several years later, Nicole bought out her friend and took on the role of sole owner head on. Nicole concentrated on just mailing services at first, but as technology continued to increase efficiencies, she found additional opportunities to diversify her business. Nicole described her deliberate process of saving and investing back into the business over much of the first decade, saying “I don’t like taking on debt.” Her husband, Michael, worked at Rock of Ages and supported the young family in the beginning, but in 2002 came on board as a full time employee.
Nicole’s son, Chris, began working at the family business in 2002 and his brother, Jeff, joined in 2005. Besides the occasional part-time employee, the bulk of the work is done by the Lafaille family with each member having a specialty and skill that complements the others. As we toured the 9,000-square-foot facility, Jeff was running a printing job, doing quality control while Chris was doing some test runs of a pamphlet. Nicole was quick to point out how proud she was of Chris and Jeff for being so knowledgeable with all the machinery they own and their ability to update software and troubleshoot when necessary.
Today, the Lafaille family-run business has a combined 65 years of experience in doing bulk mailing for businesses and nonprofit organizations throughout New England. Their services are diversified and include data list management, variable data printing, invoices, statements and pretty much anything else that can be stuffed in an envelope. I asked her what the most interesting job she’s completed over the years and she described an inn that wanted her to mail out hard hats and little hammers to all former guests of the inn to celebrate a large renovation project that was beginning. I said, “hard hats and little hammers!” and Nicole said, “Yes, some of the stuff we are asked to mail out is interesting. If it can go through the U.S. Postal Service, we can find a way to do it.”
For the last few years, the Mailing Center has grown the business keeping in mind the need to expand into all areas that may involve mailing or printing. Soon they will be adding two digital presses to further enhance the printing part of their business, and early last year, they purchased additional bindery equipment. Even after 29 years in business, Nicole continues to look for opportunities to diversify services and find opportunities in the marketplace. She says “I pride myself on being able to find ways to save our clients money” and in today’s business environment, that is pretty important.
It was a wonderful experience getting to tour this family operated business on Auburn Street in downtown Barre and I thank Nicole and her family for taking the time to sit down with me.
The writer is executive director with the Barre Partnership.