Marine Fabricator July/August 2020 - 14

WM. J. MILLS & CO.
Year founded: 1880
Original products: Sails
Current products: Sails,
awnings, and other canvas
products for homes and
businesses; custom marine
canvas products
Number of employees: 26

W

hen Scottish immigrant William
J. Mills moved to Greenport,
N.Y., in 1880 pursuing steady work as
a sailmaker, he couldn't have known he
was charting the course of his family's life
for generations to come. But 140 years
later, his descendants are still operating
the company he founded that year.
Today, the fifth generation is at the helm:
Jamie and Bob Mills are president and vice
president, respectively. And in 2017, Bob's
son Rob came on board, marking the
entrance of the sixth generation.
Companies don't survive that long by
standing in place. As Jamie explains, the
company's longevity has hinged on being adaptable: "I've always subscribed to
the philosophy that what we do is manage change. And sometimes change is
what we create and sometimes change is
thrust upon us, as in the current coronavirus situation."
An example of the company's ability to
evolve was evident when its longtime partnership, from 1959 to 1996, with the Boston Whaler Co. ended. "When I first took
over the company, we were shipping trailer
truckloads up to the factory in Rockland,
Mass. But then Boston Whaler was sold
and we lost that contract," Jamie says. Fortunately, many dealers stuck with Wm. J.
Mills. "We adapted when we lost that contract to providing service to the dealers. A
lot of them we are still doing business with
from around the world."
When asked what has helped the company survive, Bob Mills gives a one-word
answer: "Diversity. Doing many different
things. When one aspect of the business
is down, we can generally keep going on
another aspect," he says. Gone are the

days of just making sails; cushions, bags,
boat riggings and marine canvas, and
custom and retractable awnings are all
in its product line today.
The company's location on Long Island also helps it weather some economic woes: "We're in a fairly affluent area,
so when recessions hit, we have certain
clientele who it doesn't really affect too
much," says Bob.

"What we do is manage
change. And sometimes
change is what we
create and sometimes
change is thrust upon
us, as in the current
coronavirus situation."
-Jamie Mills, Wm. J. Mills & Co.

When facing tough times, he says it's
important to diversify. "Find some other
things to do," he suggests. "It's just taking whatever business you can get and
getting it done. Service is going to be the
key. That's what we've always based our
business on-providing good service and
trying to deliver when we say we're going
to deliver."
Though the company was anxious to
jump back into its busy season without
restrictions, Jamie says about the pandemic, "From a societal point of view,
it's our responsibility to keep people
home. It's the right thing to do."

14 Marine Fabricator | July/Aug 2020

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Marine Fabricator July/August 2020

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