Justin Bubier, a new employee at FutureGuard Building Products in Auburn on Monday, receives training from Rick Mitchell on retractable patio awning. The company has seen a surge in orders and is hiring new employees. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — Immediately after Gov. Janet Mills declared a state of emergency in March, FutureGuard Building Products gathered staff around to ask for voluntary layoffs.

Jim Harper welds an awning at FutureGuard Building Products in Auburn on Monday morning. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Three months later, with people across the country skipping summer vacations due to the pandemic and lounging in their backyards instead, the company known for its high-end retractable awnings has hired everyone back, added 20 employees, started a second shift and seen sales up between 50% and 2,000%, depending on the product.

“It’s been a roller coaster of emotions,” said Brian Buteau, a co-owner in the family-owned company and vice president of operations. “We went from literally shedding tears with our employees to working until midnight and high-fiving. Tears on both ends, scared and excited.”

Buteau said what’s especially striking is that the growth is coming without having added a new product. That happens next year: FutureGuard has spent $11.5 million gearing up for its new SummerSpace line of free-standing screen- and glass-paneled rooms and pergolas.

The company is looking to double or triple annual revenue and hire up to 70 additional employees on top of the 105 working now, according to Buteau.

The Auburn Planning Board this week approved an addition to house the new line, shipping and receiving and a larger showroom that brings the factory up to 238,124 square feet.

His father, Don Buteau, founded FutureGuard in 1979. It’s been at 101 Merrow Road for almost 20 years.

Andy Demambro, Don Buteau and Brian Buteau from the family owned FutureGuard Building Products, stand in front of their newest cabana prototype in their facility in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The factory has had a series of expansions since 2017.

“We build additions ahead of the growth, knowing the direction of where our business is going,” Brian Buteau said.

In that same spirit, he said the company, which specializes in wholesale manufacturing with very little direct to retail sales, took a hard look at its offerings five years ago.

“We saw real stagnant growth in our retractable awning line,” he said. “There were lots of competitors,” some of it lower quality coming from overseas. “We are the high-end of the market; we’re never the cheapest guys. We always claim our quality and service is what stands out on our products versus price. But that said, there was only a certain market sector we had to go after and our sales were relatively flat.”

Don Buteau found the line that would lead to SummerSpace in Canada, bought rights to it and started a redesign, making it their own, Brian Buteau said.

“There’s really no major competitors in this free-standing pergola, screen room, stand-alone screen room business that has horsepower or any size to it,” he said. “We’re bringing in our own glass tempering oven, cutting lines, washing systems. We’ve invested about $1.5 million into our glass line.”

Michele Woodham walks along a cutting table at FutureGuard Building Products in Auburn on Monday morning, where she is making measurements for a length of awning. In addition to filling their own growing orders, the company is helping their competitors fills orders. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The screen rooms, depending upon size and options, will likely range between $5,000 and $15,000 when they hit the market next year.

FutureGuard’s awnings range from $3,000 to $12,000.

“My Dad is a risk taker, lots of rewards but lots of losses in his day,” Brian Buteau said. “Don sees SummerSpace as his grandchild; he could retire now, but he has this mission and this thirst for the next challenge. He’s deeply, deeply involved.”

Spring is typically the company’s busy season, he said, but there’s no way they would have forecast the flurry of the last few months.

“We have days that we’re doing half-a-million dollars a day in sales,” he said. “Lightning struck and orders have been coming in at greater volumes than we’d ever anticipate.”

While most of it is through a vast network of dealers taking orders from staycationing customers, some volume has been from an unexpected source.


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