Aaron Moser, 51, is the director of Moser Contract, the division of Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers that handles sales of furniture to institutions, companies and hospitality. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America as a certified chef and rejoined the family business in 1990. The company recently made headlines when it created furniture for the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Texas, which opened in April. The company has 130 employees, about half of them woodworkers, and ships its pieces to libraries and corporate boardrooms across the country, including the libraries of Harvard and Yale, among others.
Q: One imagines you either grew up with a hammer in your hand or stayed away from woodworking entirely.
A: We were all involved at a very early age. My dad was a college professor when I was a kid. When he was going to school and teaching, he was supplementing his income by fixing up antiques. My mom and dad loved to go on drives on the weekends and they’d pick up furniture and bring it home and fix it up.
We also restored probably 18 old farmhouses while growing up. Some of them we lived in. Dad and Mom had a motto that every gallon of paint was worth $100 (on the resale).
Then we moved into the Grange Hall in New Gloucester; that was our first production shop. I was a little boy at that time and my brothers and I all worked in the shop. It was our church and it was our school and it was our after-school sports program.
Q: But then you went to the Culinary Institute of America. Why?
A: It wasn’t that I wanted to leave the family business; I just fell in love with this very exotic thing called cooking. I spent some time with an uncle who was the director of a community school and I spent the whole day in the cooking program and fell in love with it.
The following summer, I cooked for 150 girls at a camp and it became addictive to me. I loved the smell of the kitchen and the camaraderie and the hard work. I worked for a restaurant in Boston where I rolled meatballs, and that restaurant started a pizzeria. I got to go to school at Boston College and work there 50 hours a week. I had to do that because they wouldn’t allow me into the Culinary Institute of America without it — I had to have a year in an industrial kitchen before they would let me in.
That helped inform my management approach and informed my respect for those who paved the roads before and I look back and say, maybe I wish I had more time to go the MBA route, but I never would have gotten the experience I did.
Q: How did your parents feel about you choosing such a different career path?
A: My parents allowed it. That’s not to say they didn’t judge, but they did allow it and financed it and supported me.
I spent a few years working in New York and New Orleans and Dallas. I had 70 people working for me doing banquets and I worked in some very fine restaurants and that’s where I really learned the craft. But when I got married and we started thinking about having kids, I realized the lifestyle of the hospitality industry was not for me, so I decided to try something different and I went to work for a guy building houses.
I’d had a hammer since I was a very young boy and all of a sudden, this muscle recall happened and I knew things that I didn’t realize I knew. My dad asked me to build his house on Dingley Island (in Casco Bay) and he talked me into it. It’s a barn and boathouse with an apartment, right on the water. After a year, I realized this could really work and I enjoyed talking to him every day about design and ideas and after we finished that project, I went ahead and joined the company.
Q: What was it like returning to the family business?
A: I hadn’t worked for the company since I was 15, but I was always connected to the company. I started in the sanding department. Then there was an opening in the project managing division where I would work with clients on designs and punch-listing projects and scheduling and sourcing material. You’re basically working with the customers all the time and I found I had a real strong sales acumen. I loved having something different to work on every day and I embraced this idea of working with customers who had become friends. These projects take two or three years to develop and by the time you get the order, you develop a relationship with a customer that you hope will last a lifetime.
I just turned 51 and that meant something. It’s not a midlife crisis, but I do reflect on what I’ve left behind. I haven’t really saved lives or done anything monumental, but these projects are kind of that way because I know the part that I played in that is something I hope will resonate long after I’ve gone. There’s a strong emotional connotation to our projects. I think a lot of furniture companies either miss that or don’t know it or fail to embrace it.
We did a project at the Catholic University of America 19 years ago and the furniture looks better than it did when we installed it. We tell our customers, our furniture will wear in, not wear out. It’s like a fine leather jacket: It will improve with the years.
Q: When you’re competing for a job, is it hard to stand out?
A: It’s amazing how well known we are. There’s a mystique to what we do here. There’s resurgence, like with food, where people want a much better understanding of things and really want to know about it.
I’m regularly complimented for the fact that we’ve been able to do this in Maine, of all places. A furniture company these days should be in North Carolina, with the cluster of the industry there.
Q: What’s the future look like for the company?
A: We’re not looking for growth for growth’s sake. Our brand is much bigger than our revenue. We’re an aspirational brand but we are a known brand and it wouldn’t be too difficult to attract a buyer but our goals are to remain with this company. If it gets to the point where you can’t recognize a face or remember a conversation, you’re getting too big.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: