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Sales and Marketing

The Art and Science of Story Telling

The team at BRIGADE

The team at BRIGADE shows off the many honors garnered at the recent Ad Club of Western Mass. award show.    Photo by Stephanie Craig Photography

It was just a few weeks after Kirsten Modestow and her husband relocated to Western Mass. from San Francisco that she got the phone call that would ultimately change her life. The person at the other end was looking for someone to do some freelance work for a fledgling vodka brand called Svedka. As many people know, Svedka has gone on to become the top-selling imported vodka in the U.S. What they may not know is that, with that notable first client, Modestow created the marketing firm BRIGADE, one that has certainly built on that solid foundation in every way.

Kirsten Modestow says the branding company she would call BRIGADE (yes, all caps) was started on her kitchen table.

Which doesn’t exactly make it unique; many startups are blueprinted in such a setting. Which makes this one different is what happened after it was conceived.

For starters, that kitchen table would later become an official work station for one of the first hires, and soon other parts of the house were absorbed by additional team members as they came on board.

“The first person was in the living room, the second person was at the dining-room table, the next one was in the spare bedroom … then we all moved into the garage,” she explained. “When there was no room in the refrigerator for people’s lunches, we knew it was time to go.”

By that, she meant move into larger quarters, which the company has done a few times, but we’ll get back to that later.

The other thing that separates BRIGADE from other ventures hatched on the kitchen table is the pace of growth. Indeed, over the past 13 years, the company has expanded to 35 employees, most of them artists and designers who commute to the current home on Route 9 in Hadley from across Western Mass. and well beyond.

And their client list includes a number of prominent national brands, including Svedka vodka, the Wyndham Hotel Group, Black Box Wines, and Vertical Water, as well as some local businesses, such as Esselon Café, just a few hundred yards down Route 9.

Actually, Svedka wasn’t a national brand when Modestow was hired as a freelancer to help with a branding campaign. It was a fledgling vodka label looking to break out — and it did, big time; a few years ago, it surpassed Smirnoff as the top-selling imported vodka in the U.S.

The team at BRIGADE designed packaging for Svedka strawberry seltzer.

The team at BRIGADE designed packaging for Svedka strawberry seltzer.

“We’ve been along for the ride,” Modestow said, noting how the growth of Svedka and BRIGADE have mirrored one another. “Over the past 13 years, we’ve grown with them.”

But BRIGADE hasn’t outgrown Modestow’s kitchen table, then a space on University Drive, and then a totally renovated foreign-car sales and service shop further down Route 9 because of one client — although Svedka certainly has played a huge role in that transformation.

Instead, it’s been the company’s ability to work with clients to create branding that resonates, builds name recognition, and drives sales, Modestow explained, adding that this is what branding, the company’s specialty, is all about.

Elaborating, she said BRIGADE focuses on helping clients tell their story, and to do that, she and her team must first understand what that story is and then develop effective ways to communicate it.

“We get to know a client by doing an audit of their existing brand,” she explained. “We always see it as the client being the expert in what they do in their industry, and we bring in the branding piece, so it’s crucial to work with them as a partner.”

That was certainly the case with the new coffee bags the company created for Esselon Café. Coffee had long been a key ingredient in the restaurant’s recipe for success, said Modestow, but a while back, its leaders decided a new look was needed.

“People are more open to working with remote agencies. Before, it was a case where you went to an agency in one of the larger cities. Around 2006, when we started, there was a willingness to work with people who weren’t down the street, and that had a lot to do with our success.”

“We worked with them to determine how to capture the heart of Esselon and capture who and what Esselon is,” she explained, adding that BRIGADE came up with new packaging that drew on the Western Mass. landscape — specifically the Seven Sisters portion of the Holyoke Range — as well as new language: “All roads, bike paths, and quests for the best cup of coffee lead to Esselon Café.”

Kirsten Modestow

Kirsten Modestow

“The whole idea is that they’re on the bike path and everyone comes to Esselon; the place is packed, and you have to park illegally,” she explained. “We decided to embrace all that — we have these bike paths and roads that wrap around the bag, and we told this café story, and it’s been awesome for them; the bag is loved by Whole Foods, and retail sales have tripled because of it.”

For this issue, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at how BRIGADE has moved well beyond that kitchen table and grown its own brand by delivering services that tell a story and generate results.

Seeking an Ad-vantage

Modestow told BusinessWest that the BRIGADE story really starts in Boston, where she worked for the acclaimed marketing agency Hill Holiday Advertising and such clients as Dunkin’ Donuts.

When the dot-com sector was at its pinnacle, however, the place to be was San Francisco, and Modestow went there and had the opportunity to join a firm and work with brands such as Electronic Arts Inc. (EA), the video-game maker.

Her firm eventually closed its doors, however, after losing one of its mainstay clients, and Modestow and her husband were at a crossroads.

“I could afford to live in San Francisco for about four and half minutes after that,” she joked. “I think we sold our house within seven days and left.”

The two then made a pact of sorts. They would relocate to wherever one of them found a job first.

“He beat me by a day; he got a job in Western Massachusetts — he’s originally from Worthington — and we came here,” she explained.

And it wasn’t long after they landed that she got that life-altering phone call.

“Someone called and said, ‘I have a freelance opportunity for you on this startup vodka brand called Svedka,’” she recalled. “Over the past 13 years, we’ve grown with them and helped them along the way; they’ve been really wonderful to us.”

As noted earlier, the company quickly outgrew Modestow’s kitchen table, refrigerator, and garage, and settled into that space on University Drive, above the popular Hangar restaurant. It wasn’t exactly a long stay, though, because the company continued to grow at a rapid rate, doubling in size from five to nine employees in a few years.

It then relocated to the foreign-car shop — a site that required a massive renovation effort — but outgrew that in just over a year, as Modestow recalled, adding that the next home is intriguing on many levels.

A portion of the 8,500-square-foot facility was home to a Registry of Motor Vehicles office, and even though it’s been closed for quite some time, people still walk in the front door looking to renew their driver’s licenses, said David Bosch, the company’s operations manager.

Another portion of the facility has home to Zoe’s Fish House, he went on, adding that, while BRIGADE renovated all the spaces into work areas, including a banquet facility that never became reality, it kept the bar intact.

The company doesn’t have a liquor license, obviously, but it does use the bar for company functions, said Bosch. Meanwhile, it’s an unusual decorative touch, and it give the company a chance to showcase many of the brands it has helped develop in what would be described as a natural setting.

The space is wide open, said Modestow, adding that this the desired environment for a marketing firm where people work together to create solutions for clients.

“We work in branding, and a lot of that is people coming together to solve a problem,” she explained. “So being in a very open space, one that’s conducive to gathering, is important.”

BRIGADE should be in this home for quite some time, because there is not only ample room to grow, but plenty of business coming through the door as the company continues to build strong word-of-mouth referrals.

The new coffee bag that BRIGADE created for Esselon Café has helped spark a surge in retail sales.

The new coffee bag that BRIGADE created for Esselon Café has helped spark a surge in retail sales.

Indeed, as noted earlier, Svedka has been a dream first client and solid foundation for BRIGADE. But the company has been able to build on that foundation, said Modestow, and for several reasons.

One is the large number of contacts she made from her previous career stops, and the experience she gained working for national and global clients, a tremendous asset in this business, as in any other.

“Having the exposure in Boston and San Francisco enabled me to work on some high-caliber clients and hone my skill set that I could then pass on to people here,” she explained. “We started off with an ability to work on those high-caliber clients; we’re really good at it, so we’ve attracted through our work the attention of others.”

Another factor is a growing willingness among corporations to work with agencies not based in New York, Boston, or Los Angeles, or whatever major metropolis the corporation was based in or near.

“People are more open to working with remote agencies,” she noted. “Before, it was a case where you went to an agency in one of the larger cities. Around 2006, when we started, there was a willingness to work with people who weren’t down the street, and that had a lot to do with our success.”

Getting the Message Across

But easily the best reason for the company’s success is the results it has garnered for its clients, said Modestow, adding that more important than the awards the company has gained for its work — and it has won many — are the gains registered by the companies looking for help with their brand.

Which bring us back to Esselon Café.

That new packaging has won a number of awards for BRIGADE, said Modestow, but the bigger story is that dramatic rise in retail sales at Whole Foods and other locations.

It came about through that art and science of storytelling and creating a brand that speaks to who they are.

When asked about the methods for gaining such results, Modestow returned to the subject of effectively partnering with the client to solve a problem or revitalize a brand.

The client knows their industry, their product or service, and their story, she went on. BRIGADE essentially takes that insight and uses it to create a brand that conveys the story in a way that resonates.

Steps include the brand audit she described earlier, and also creation of brand strategy.

“We would work through positioning statements with the client, help them figure out their key messages, how they’re different, how they talk about themselves, what their voice is, and more,” she explained. “And once we have that platform, then we would go into the visual component of all this — bringing it all to life visually through some kind of toolkit, which might be a refresh logo or packaging or a new website. We’re helping them see how this language and this new positioning can visually come to life.”

As the company creates these strategies and brings them to life, it does so not with a hard focus on targeting specific demographic groups — a mistake some companies make when marketing and branding — but building a brand that’s “authentic.”

“I don’t think you build a brand to speak to a specific group of people,” she told BusinessWest. “You build a brand that’s true to who the brand should be, and then it resonates with the right people.

“A mistake you see is when companies think the key to their success is going out and capturing the Millennials,” she went on. “Well, the Millennial doesn’t want to be captured — you have to find them because you have something compelling that made them want to believe in you. It’s about consumer experience and storytelling; people want an authentic experience with a company.”

As an example of how the firm partners with its clients, Modestow referenced the Wyndham Hotel Group and some of its specific brands, including one in particular — Travelodge.

“It was kind of an old brand with old, tired signage,” she explained, noting that, at the time, Wyndham hadn’t put much emphasis on branding, but has since changed that attitude. “We helped refresh the Travelodge brand, we helped them with an ad campaign, and we helped them with a new way to talk about themselves.”

Another example is work with Svedka to launch a new line of spiked seltzers. The company designed the cans in a way that were true to the Svedka brand but also resonated within the growing spiked-seltzer product category, said Don Magri, the company’s chief financial officer.

“They came to us with a good amount of research that they had already done on their consumer and who they were really trying to target,” he explained. “You go through iterations, but you’re really trying to creating a design that is true to the brand going into a new category, but also hitting the demographic they’re trying to reach.”

Looking down the road, those at BRIGADE said they look to continue providing clients with what they call ‘responsive branding,’ so that they are ready for the future and their brands are as well.

In short, they aim to do what the company’s done from the beginning — grow with its clients.

“We want to grow and create new opportunities for our employees and then for the people who don’t work here yet,” said Magri. “Growth for the sake of growth is not something we’re interested in, but growth for the sake of growing our skills and growing our client base and securing our client mix is our plan.”

Bottom Line

In other words, the company is going to continue doing what it’s been doing from the start, back when work was being done on Modestow’s kitchen table and her refrigerator was getting filled with employees’ lunches.

The company has come a long way since then — a quick tour of the facilities at 195 Russell St. make that clear — but the guiding principles remain the same.

And those are to tell the client’s story and create an authentic experience that resonates. When you that, it’s a lot easier to do what BRIGADE has done with and for Svedka and all its other clients — be along for the ride.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

BOSTON — Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), the statewide employer association, announced five senior-management promotions designed to ensure the future growth and vibrancy of the organization.

“These promotions are well-deserved and position us, as an organization, to achieve our policy objectives, growth strategy, and financial targets,” said Richard Lord, president and CEO of AIM, which represents the interests of 4,000 Massachusetts employers across multiple industries.

Robert Paine was promoted to executive vice president, Membership, Sales & Marketing. As head of the newly formed Membership, Sales and Marketing team, melding groups focused on sales and engagement, marketing, community, and events, he is responsible for growing AIM membership and developing initiatives targeted toward both existing and new markets. He manage membership, sponsorship, and event sales; marketing (including the AIM website), member-interest councils, and member benefits. He also leads the AIM mission sales team and co-leads the team overseeing AIM’s association-management and customer-relationship-management systems.

Christopher Geehern was promoted to executive vice president, Public Affairs & Communication. He will develop and execute communication strategies and initiatives to support the policy and growth objectives of the organization. He will direct all public-policy and organizational communication such as white papers, op-eds, speeches, letters, and blogs. He is the chief public spokesperson for the organization and will manage all public relations, including interactions with the news media. He will also manage the AIM board of directors and executive committee and serve as clerk of the corporation.

Cindy Lyman was promoted to executive vice president, Finance (CFO), and COO. She will broaden her current role and responsibilities as executive vice president of Finance (CFO) to include all operations of the organization. She is responsible for executing AIM’s short-term and long-term business strategy, promoting the organization’s culture and vision, and achieving financial and operational goals. She will continue to be responsible for managing the AIM annual budget and all matters business and financial.

Kristen Rupert was promoted to senior vice president, External Affairs. Having led the AIM International Business Council since 2005, she will expand her role by creating opportunities for collaboration among AIM and external business and community organizations. She will pursue alliances that advance the public-policy agenda of Massachusetts employers and help those employers navigate increasingly complex economic issues.

Kyle Pardo was promoted to vice president, Consulting Services. She will be responsible for assisting AIM-member employers in the areas of compensation, pay equity, healthcare, and affirmative action. She also oversees the development and implementation of AIM’s wage and benefits surveys.

Daily News

FLORENCE — American Benefits Group (ABG) recently welcomed Brad Ramer as vice president of Sales & Marketing. His responsibilities will encompass sales-team leadership, driving revenues through the acquisition of new clients, and contributing to the company’s marketing and business strategies.

Ramer boasts more than 20 years of business experience. For the past seven years, he occupied the role of area sales manager, Benefit Services for PrimePay, LLC in West Chester, Pa. While at PrimePay, he oversaw the sales department.

In his new position, Ramer will be responsible for overseeing sales and marketing at ABG and will strive to expand ABG’s client base, strengthening the company’s current broker relationships, along with developing new broker relationships.

Daily News

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — Waterford Hotel Group announced the appointment of Jaime O’Connor as director of sales at the Sheraton Hartford Hotel located inside Bradley International Airport. The Sheraton Bradley is managed by Waterford Hotel Group, a national hotel and convention-center management firm.

As director of Sales, O’Connor is responsible for the total sales efforts for the hotel, as well as supervising sales-related personnel and implementing sales and marketing strategies to maximize profits while also maintaining guest satisfaction.

O’Connor started her career in hospitality at the Sheraton Springfield in 2001. She quickly grew within the property, holding the positions of executive meeting manager and senior executive meeting manager, before joining Waterford Hotel Group as a sales manager at the Marriott Hartford in 2005. Most recently, she has been working as director of sales at the Sheraton Hartford South.

“We are pleased to welcome Jaime back to the Waterford Hotel Group team,” said Karen Bachofner, vice president of Sales and Marketing at Waterford Hotel Group. “We look forward to working with her in this new role.”

Company Notebook Departments

UMass Amherst Tops in Campus Dining for Second Straight Year

AMHERST — The food in the UMass Amherst dining halls is so good that the Princeton Review came back for another helping, choosing the school as the national leader in collegiate dining in the U.S. for a second straight year. The announcement further cements UMass Dining’s reputation for serving up healthy, sustainable, and delicious food prepared by award-winning chefs, said Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises at UMass Amherst. The rankings are based on surveys of 137,000 students at the schools in the guide. UMass Dining is the largest college dining-services operation in the country, serving 45,000 meals daily, or 5.5 million meals per year. Since 1999, overall participation the university’s meal plan has more than doubled from 8,300 participants to more than 19,200. A self-operated program committed to providing a variety of healthy world cuisines using the most sustainable ingredients, UMass Dining incorporates recipes from accomplished chefs and nutritionists as well as principles from the Culinary Institute of America and Harvard School of Public Health to its cycle menu.

Regnaleb Offers Sales Training for Digital Age

WESTHAMPTON — Regnaleb Enterprises, a sales and marketing consulting firm, announced it is offering high-caliber sales-management and growth strategies to small and mid-size companies throughout Western and Central Mass. The organization is led by Art Belanger, an experienced sales and marketing professional with more than 30 years in the industry. The Regnaleb process utilizes the salesQB program to conduct a complete audit of an organization’s current sales and marketing process. The results are used to benchmark performance and identify areas for growth and improvement. Following the audit, business leaders will be taken through an in-depth report that will pinpoint methods for increased efficiency throughout the entire sales process, from lead generation and management tactics to the use of digital technologies like CRM, software programs, and social media. A successful salesforce is empowered, efficient, and informed, Belanger said, adding that Regnaleb Enterprises will offer a custom road map to improve communications, management, customer service, and sales techniques to drive increased performance.

Talbots to Return to Longmeadow Shops

LONGMEADOW — Grove Property Fund and Talbots announced that the women’s-apparel retail store will be returning to Longmeadow Shops this fall. The announcement is the latest from the Longmeadow Shops, which recently expanded its retail footprint by 20%, attracting new tenants Verizon Wireless and J.Crew Mercantile while allowing CVS Pharmacy to move to a larger retail space with a pharmacy drive-thru. Talbots operated at the Longmeadow Shops from 2001 to 2013. The new store will utilize 5,334 square feet of retail space, the majority of the space previously occupied by CVS Pharmacy.

HCC Gateway to College Earns National Honors

HOLYOKE — For the second year in a row, the Gateway to College program at Holyoke Community College has received national recognition for exemplary performance. The Gateway to College National Network, based in Portland, Ore., honored HCC with its 2017 Gateway Program Excellence Award at a conference in Providence, R.I. last month. Gateway is a second-chance, dual-enrollment program for students who have either left high school or are at risk for dropping out. Gateway students take college classes and earn college credits while also working toward their high-school diplomas. The 2017 award recognizes Gateway programs that exceeded all four of the network’s performance benchmarks for the 2015-16 academic year: first-term GPA, one-year persistence, two-year persistence, and three-year graduation rate. Since its founding in 2008, HCC’s Gateway to College program has helped 251 students earn their high-school diplomas while also getting an early start on college. More than half have continued on to college, and so far 30 have earned their associate degrees from HCC, and six have earned bachelor’s degrees.

Austen Riggs Recognized as a ‘Best Hospital’

STOCKBRIDGE — Austen Riggs Center has been recognized as a “Best Hospital” for 2017-18 by U.S. News & World Report, ranking ninth in psychiatry nationwide. Noteworthy among the top group of psychiatry honorees for its small size and integrated approach, Austen Riggs Center is a therapeutic community, open psychiatric hospital, and center for education and research, promoting resilience and self-direction in adults with complex psychiatric problems.

PeoplesBank Among Top Charitable Contributors

HOLYOKE — The Boston Business Journal announced the region’s top corporate charitable contributors, and for the 10th year in a row, PeoplesBank is among the companies included on the list. The region’s top charitable companies, which in many instances include the companies’ corporate foundations, will be honored at the magazine’s 12th annual Corporate Citizenship Awards on Thursday, Sept. 7 at Fenway Park in Boston. The list is composed of companies that gave at least $100,000 to Massachusetts-based charities in 2016.

PV Squared Named Among Top 500 Solar Contractors

GREENFIELD — Solar Power World, the leading publication covering solar technology and development, published its annual Top Solar Contractors list in July. PV Squared, a local solar-installation company and worker-owned cooperative, was listed prominently among other top solar contractors and developers across the country. PV Squared is a local leader in the field of solar design, installation, and maintenance. A worker-owned cooperative, the company has provided renewable-energy solutions to a range of clients, including business owners, commercial property owners, farmers, and homeowners since 2002. PV Squared currently employs 42 people, 19 of whom are co-owners of the business. In 2016, it completed 188 projects in the Pioneer Valley and surrounding areas, installing 2.5 MW of solar power. It is also a certified B Corporation, demonstrating its commitment to a triple-bottom-line business model. It is currently involved in Franklin County’s first Habitat for Humanity project in five years and will be contributing a solar array to the construction of an energy-efficient home in Greenfield. Additionally, it is also exploring opportunities to partner with the Franklin County Technical School to mentor young people through a solar installation process. The donation of this solar array will not only eliminate upfront costs for the future homeowner, but will also help strengthen the local community.

Daily News

WESTHAMPTON — Regnaleb Enterprises, a sales and marketing consulting firm, announced it is offering high-caliber sales-management and growth strategies to small and mid-size companies throughout Western and Central Mass. The organization is led by Art Belanger, an experienced sales and marketing professional with more than 30 years in the industry.

“I’ve had the experience of working for large corporations, mid- to small-sized businesses, and successful startups, building sales teams from the ground up,” said Belanger. “Mentoring sales representatives and implementing long-term strategic plans has been my passion. I’m looking forward to working with local business leaders to streamline their tactics.”

The Regnaleb process utilizes the salesQB program to conduct a complete audit of an organization’s current sales and marketing process. The results are used to benchmark performance and identify areas for growth and improvement. Following the audit, business leaders will be taken through an in-depth report that will pinpoint methods for increased efficiency throughout the entire sales process, from lead generation and management tactics to the use of digital technologies like CRM, software programs, and social media.

A successful salesforce is empowered, efficient, and informed, Belanger said, adding that Regnaleb Enterprises will offer a custom road map to improve communications, management, customer service, and sales techniques to drive increased performance.

Daily News

BERLIN, Conn. — Comcast announced the appointment of four leaders for the company’s Western New England region, which is headquartered in Berlin, Conn. and includes more than 300 communities in Connecticut, Western Mass., New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York.

In the Human Resources department, Judith Rudge was named director of Talent Management, while Taissa Gawronski was named director of Human Resources. In Sales and Marketing, Matt Frascone was named director of Retail Sales, and in the Communications department, Elizabeth Walden was appointed manager of Public Relations.

Rudge came to Comcast with more than 12 years of recruiting experience. In her new role, she oversees talent management and recruiting efforts for the company’s Western New England Region, which currently employs more than 1,800 individuals across five states. Prior to joining Comcast, she was the senior manager of talent acquisition at Verizon in Atlanta, where she owned the end-to-end recruitment of information technology, engineering, product, and sales positions for 86 national office locations. She graduated from Dickinson College.

Gawronski joined Comcast with 10 years of human-resources experience. In her new role, she is responsible for the human-resources needs of the company’s retail and door-to-door sales channels, as well as those on the Comcast Business team and in Sales and Marketing administration. Before joining Comcast, she was director of Human Resources at C&M Corporate, a custom cable manufacturer in Killingly, Conn., where she evaluated and maintained the company’s organizational design, as well as oversaw its workforce-recruitment and retention efforts. She graduated from Framingham State College.

Frascone recently relocated from Comcast’s Greater Chicagor to Comcast’s Western New England region to oversee 10 XFINITY stores and three service centers across Connecticut, Western Mass., and Vermont. He is also responsible for Indirect Sales, which involves Comcast’s partnerships with Walmart, Target, and Best Buy. Previously, he spent the last year as director of Comcast’s flagship XFINITY store in Chicago. He joined Comcast with 20 years of retail experience and, prior to Comcast, was a director for two Apple stores in Atlanta, where he managed a staff of 177 sales associates. He was also a U.S. Navy Reservist.

Walden came to Comcast with seven years of public-relations experience. In her new role, she is responsible for helping shape the company’s image with external audiences across the Western New England region. Prior to joining Comcast, she was vice president at Quinn, a lifestyle public-relations firm in New York City, where she oversaw a team of public-relations executives who carried out day-to-day media and operations for a portfolio of 20 business, real-estate, and technology clients, in addition to being responsible for building the firm’s client base and developing strategic public-relations campaigns. She graduated from Clark University in Worcester.

Construction Sections

Home Makers

An example of Laplante Construction’s work

An example of Laplante Construction’s work creating both indoor and outdoor spaces.

When it comes to custom homes, trends come and go, but buyers are always looking for the next big thing — or, to be more accurate, the next not-so-big thing, as one of those trends favors downsizing in favor of easier maintenance and more energy-efficient touches. But high-end homebuyers aren’t shorting themselves on the interior; they still want the best floors, trims, and technology money can buy. And many are turning to Laplante Construction to get the job done.

Ray and Bill Laplante both grew up around the construction business, so it’s not surprising they’ve made a name among the region’s top luxury home builders.

“My dad was a builder, and my older brother was a builder,” said Ray Laplante, who launched East Longmeadow-based R.E. Laplante Construction — since shortened to Laplante Construction — in the early 1970s. “I started out doing a lot of work for them, and after a few years, there wasn’t enough for me, so I went out on my own, doing remodeling and framing and building.”

At the time, duplexes were in vogue in Springfield, and he cut his teeth there, but soon started building custom homes in Longmeadow, Wilbraham, East Longmeadow, and surrounding towns. “Business just took off from there,” he said, and soon he was developing entire subdivisions of high-end residences in those communities.

His son, Bill, grew up in the business too, helping on job sites when he was only 13 years old.


SEE: List of Home Builders


“I would clean out houses, do final cleanings upon completion of houses,” he told BusinessWest. “Then I started in the framing crew, working as a mason tender and doing some finish work. I basically worked through all the way through high school and college, through the summer breaks and vacations.”

He graduated from Trinity College in 1992 with a degree in economics, but a few days after graduation, he was back out on job sites, where he worked for about five years, framing houses and performing myriad other tasks. But, though the experience was invaluable, his heart wasn’t in the field.

“So I started working in the office,” he said, “in project management and then in financial management and sales and marketing, touching virtually all aspects of contruction and understanding how everything goes together — all facets of building.”

Company founder Ray Laplante (left) and President Bill Laplante

Company founder Ray Laplante (left) and President Bill Laplante say a healthy mix of residential and commercial building and remodeling keeps their business thriving.

That’s the part of the business he enjoyed most, Bill said — working with clients on the big picture, and shepherding their vision to reality.

“Growing up, I always liked the idea of seeing something built,” he continued, “but I knew pretty early on, after getting out of college, that I didn’t want to stay in the field; I wanted to work with people, helping design and build what is, in many cases, their largest investment: a new home. That’s really what I’ve enjoyed. My passion is in working with the people and selling our services.”

Today, Bill Laplante serves as the company’s president, working alongside its founder to bring those visions to life — including, in 2014, a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s famed Monticello estate in Somers, Conn.

But luxury homes are only one staple of this family business, as it expands its reach in commercial construction as well, delivering a range of building and remodeling services with the diversity to weather economic cycles and record continued growth.

Estate of Mind

In fact, Ray said, Laplante takes on many different types of jobs, from single bathroom remodels up to large commercial buildings. “And every once in a while, you get a Monticello thrown in there.”

That’s not quite true, of course, as both he and Bill acknowledged that Monticello Somers, built at the behest of Friendly’s co-founder S. Prestley Blake, was a once-in-a-generation project. Ray and Bill Laplante designed the project themselves based on copious research into the original Virginia estate, creating a ‘modernized replica’ that’s historically accurate in the façade, yet decked out in 21st-century amenities inside.

“It was extremely interesting trying to recreate a building like that,” Bill said. “One of the most challenging aspects was trying to create a modernized interior within a very old exterior. And there were code issues that didn’t exist in the original Monticello.”

To be sure, custom finishes, modern touches, and code compliance have long been facets of Laplante Construction’s work building and renovating high-end homes in the Greater Springfield region. But, contrary to a Monticello-scale project, Bill said the trend in luxury homes today is moving away from massive floor plans and toward spaces that are smaller, but still pack all the bells and whistles.

While many homeowners are looking to downsize, Bill Laplante says, the company still puts up plenty of large homes.

While many homeowners are looking to downsize, Bill Laplante says, the company still puts up plenty of large homes.

“We’re seeing people generally downsize. There has been an increased demand for single-family living, low maintenance, and high energy efficiency. Many people are selling their 4,000-square-foot, two-story, inefficient colonial and want a 2,500-square-foot, very well-appointed, single-family house that’s very low-maintenance, which they can shut down and head to Florida over the winter and really reduce their operating expenses.”

He credits a desire for a simpler lifestyle; people are staying home more and enjoying the space they have, but don’t necessarily want to maintain a sprawling estate.

“It’s amazing — 15 years ago, we built one or two ranches. Nowadays, we’re building, six, eight, 10 ranches a year,” he went on. “That’s because of downsizing. Everyone used to want a colonial, but now focus on ranches and other things. It’s becoming desirable to buy those smaller homes and put money into them.”

And they are investing plenty of money into them, he added. “They want all the amenities — granite countertops, expensive finishes, Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances. They want those outdoor spaces, the screen porches, the outdoor kitchens, all very well-appointed.”

That goes for remodeling as well, Bill added, which has long been a critical part of the business — which was fortuitous when the market for custom homes dried up in the years following the financial crash in 2008.

“People weren’t building homes, but they were still trying to renovate their homes,” he noted. “What served us well was, we never abandoned the remodeling. Other builders at the time wouldn’t take on smaller remodeling projects; they were busy with bigger housing projects. We always maintained smaller remodeling jobs. Then, when the new-construction market dried up, we were well-positioned to respond to demand for remodeling as well.”

Those home remodels, which are often aimed at creating a getaway without actually having to get away, often include outdoor elements, particularly features that blur the lines between inside and outside living, Ray noted. “We’re starting to see a lot of outdoor-living projects — carriage houses, pool cabanas, outdoor kitchens, things of that sort.”

These can all carry hefty price tags, but, interestingly, other home costs have come down in recent years, notably whole-home technology — the devices that control heat, cooling, lights, security cameras, and irrigation remotely.

“The old ‘smart house’ was very expensive, but nowadays, with technology and with the iPhones and apps available, virtually every manufacturer has a product or an app that can be controlled on a cell phone from anywhere in the United States,” Bill explained. “That goes for heating, lighting, security cameras, you name it — and people are really embracing that. I mentioned people closing up the house and going down to Florida for the winter; they can check in with their phones, see what the temperature reading is in the house, or turn the lights on and off.”

clients want the interior well-appointed with high-end flooring, tile, trims, and technology.

No matter the size of the home, Bill and Ray Laplante say, clients want the interior well-appointed with high-end flooring, tile, trims, and technology.

Homeowners appreciate the cost reductions in that area, as they do the savings they realize from energy-efficient investments.

“Because of the spike in energy costs a few years ago, everyone became much more concerned with energy efficiency,” Bill said. “When people move from 4,000-square-foot homes into smaller, higher-energy-efficiency houses, they’re shocked by the savings in operating costs. We’re doing a lot with spray-foam insulation, energy-efficient windows, air sealing, and super-energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment. Then there are people who want to go even further, into geothermal heating as well as photovoltaic and solar.

“Some of these technologies, there’s not a great payback on, but there are some tax credits available to explore alternative energies,” he added. “And it makes people feel good to reduce their carbon footprint and be energy-conscious.”

Down to Business

Laplante Construction is widely recognized as a custom home builder, but its commercial roster is deep and far-reaching — and has been expanding over the past decade.

“Going back to the ’80s, when my father did a lot of Jiffy Lubes in the area, that type of work has always been there,” Bill said, “but I would say there’s been a resurgence over the past eight to 10 years in commercial. We’ve done a wide range of things, from banks to an eye-care office to a behavioral health clinic to Kringle Candle Country Barn in Bernardston to a school in West Springfield. We have a pretty good diversity of commercial construction.”

That mix of expertise promises to keep Laplante growing as it moves forward with what has been one of its best years in the past decade.

“Maintaining that diversity, and keeping the commercial work going as we do our residential new construction and remodeling, allows us to be flexible and weather turns in one or two sectors,” he told BusinessWest. “With the increase in commercial work, we feel very comfortable and confident moving forward.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Departments People on the Move

United Personnel announced the following:

Jennifer Brown has been promoted to Vice President of Client Development. With more than 20 years of experience in the staffing industry, Brown brings a wealth of human-resources knowledge and recruiting expertise to her new role. She most recently served as United Personnel’s assistant vice president of Operations in the Springfield region, where she oversaw all aspects of operations for the Light Industrial and Professional placement divisions. She has an associate’s degree in business management from Burdett Business School and recently became a certified staffing professional through the American Staffing Assoc. Her community involvement includes membership in HRMA and serving as a board member of Dress for Success; and

• Mim Zayas has been promoted to Assistant Vice President of Operations, Springfield. Having recently celebrated her one-year anniversary with United Personnel, Zayas, formerly the director of Quality Assurance and Talent Acquisition, will now manage all operations for United Personnel’s Springfield-area offices, including the Professional and Light Industrial placement divisions. Zayas holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Elms College. She is a member of the board of directors for the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce.

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Yogesh “Yogi” Malik

Yogesh “Yogi” Malik

Greenfield Savings Bank announced that Yogesh “Yogi” Malik has joined the bank as a premier banker and also joined the bank’s GSB Investments and Insurance Division as an Infinex Investments executive. Malik will assist customers with identifying opportunities to increase their earnings on their savings at the bank and through the investment opportunities offered by the GSB Investments and Insurance Division, through Infinex Investments Inc. He is based at the bank’s main office located at 400 Main St. in Greenfield. Malik came to the bank with more than four years of experience and has a bachelor’s degree in finance from Bentley University. He has passed the Series 6, Series 63, Series 65, and Series 7 examinations, which are required for individuals who sell certain investment products. In the fall, he is planning to begin working on an MBA.

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W. Paul Harrington Jr.

W. Paul Harrington Jr.

Pope Francis High School, a faith-based college-preparatory school serving grades 9-12, announced W. Paul Harrington Jr. as its new head of school following a lengthy nationwide search. A native of Holliston, Harrington holds a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in economics from Fairfield University, and a master’s degree in school administration from Loyola Marymount University. He received his doctorate in educational leadership at the University of Southern California. He received the unanimous recommendation of the search committee, approval by the Pope Francis High School Board of directors, and the affirmation of Springfield Bishop Mitchell Rozanski. “I am very pleased and excited that Dr. Harrington has accepted the position as the new head of school for Pope Francis High School,” said Rozanski. “Having personally met with him, I believe he has the vision that will help us realize the full potential for this new school, both academically and spiritually.”  Said Harrington, “I am humbled by this incredible opportunity to honor the rich traditions of Holyoke Catholic and Cathedral High Schools while inspiring a future filled with innovation, faith formation, and academic excellence as Pope Francis High School.”

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Peter Pan Bus Lines  recently honored the country’s first 4-million-mile driver, Ed Hope, at the company’s annual S.T.A.R. (Super Team Achievement & Recognition) Awards Dinner at the Sheraton Springfield Hotel. Hope will be inducted into the National Safety Council Hall of Fame. The National Safety Council defines one million miles as the equivalent of 12 consecutive years of driving without an accident of any kind, or, as noted by Peter Pan Chairman and CEO Peter Picknelly, 4.2 trips to the moon, or 40 times around the earth. This is a significant milestone in a professional motorcoach operator’s career. Peter Pan Bus Lines is proud to have more one- and two-million-mile drivers than any other transportation company of its size. In addition, it is the first bus company in the world to employ drivers who have driven three million, and now four million, miles without an accident.

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Jim Kantany

Jim Kantany

J. Polep Distribution Services announced the promotion of Jim Kantany to Director of Sales. He has been with J. Polep since 2001, and has worked his way through the company, working in warehouse-control positions, as a field sales representative, and, most recently, district manager. Kantany brings a wealth of experience to the Sales department. According to the company, his continued, focused effort has been on creating and maintaining the business’ infrastructure. He possesses an excellent record of customer relations and can identify trends and emerging developments to improve customers’ margin dollars. He takes the time to understand their strategies for growth with the goal of making customers successful.

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The Center for EcoTechnology, a nonprofit that helps people and businesses in the region save energy and reduce waste, has appointed two new members to its board of directors for 2017:

Jennifer Atwater is Vice President of operations at United Personnel, where she oversees the Northampton and Berkshire County markets. She has served on the board of directors for the American Red Cross, Easthampton Chamber of Commerce, and Easthampton Fall Festival; serves on the board of CareerPoint and Ella Clark Home for the Aged; and sits on the development committee for Look Park. She holds an associate’s degree from Bay Path College and a bachelor’s degree from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts; and

Janet Warren is Director of Sales and Marketing at Fazzi Associates, the Northampton-based service provider for home-health and hospice agencies across the country. Her three decades of experience in marketing, sales, and product development have included serving as vice president of Marketing for Monson Savings Bank; president of her own marketing practice, MarCom Capital; and second vice president of Market Development for the Group Division of Phoenix Home Life. She is a past president of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce and has served on the starter board of the Hampshire County Regional Chamber, the Hampshire County Tourism Advisory Council, and on the board of directors of United Way of Hampshire County. The Center for EcoTechnology helps people and businesses in the region save energy and reduce waste. For 40 years, CET has offered advice and resources to save residents money and help them feel more comfortable in their home, and help businesses perform better.

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Jay Smith, Founder of Sports Travel and Tours, took over as Chair of the board of directors for the National Tour Assoc. on March 2, before the conclusion of the annual Travel Exchange convention in St. Louis. He will lead the board until the next convention in December in San Antonio, taking the reins from Justin Osbon of Image Tours Inc., which offers European tours. Smith has been sitting on the board for NTA — a leading business-building association for professionals serving customers traveling to, from, and within North America — for about six years. NTA acts as an advocate on behalf of its members and the tourism industry at large. Active with policymakers in Congress and the administration, the association coordinates with its partners on a number of key legislative issues. It is governed by a 17-member volunteer board of directors, which is advised by volunteer committees. Currently, NTA is focused on a number of policy priorities, including specialty travel markets in countries including India and China, travel between Cuba and the U.S., and funding for the National Park Service Centennial. As chair, Smith looks forward to helping the organization further stabilize after a transition over the past few years, which brought in Pam Inman as the new president. Founded 20 years ago, Sports Travel and Tours has been the official travel company of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum since 2007.

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Jessica Chapin

Jessica Chapin

Jessica Chapin, American International College’s (AIC) Assistant Athletic Director of Compliance and senior woman administrator, has been appointed to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II Management Council through January 2021. As part of her commitment, Chapin will serve on two committees: the NCAA Research Committee and the Committee on Infractions. The Management Council is charged with recommending administrative policy and regulations that govern the division. It reports directly to the President’s Council and implements the policies adopted by the association’s Board of Governors and Division II President’s Council. The Management Council may sponsor legislative proposals, make interpretations of Division II’s bylaws, and may also handle resolution of Division II issues and recommendations from other committees and working groups throughout the division’s substructure. The council is comprised of Division II chief executive officers, faculty athletics representatives, athletic directors, senior woman administrators, conference representatives, and student-athletes. Chapin joins the council, currently 29 members strong, as a senior woman administrator.

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — The Center for EcoTechnology, a nonprofit that helps people and businesses in the region save energy and reduce waste, has appointed two new members to its board of directors for 2017.

Jennifer Atwater is vice president of operations at United Personnel, where she oversees the Northampton and Berkshire County markets. She has served on the board of directors for the American Red Cross, Easthampton Chamber of Commerce, and Easthampton Fall Festival; serves on the board of CareerPoint and Ella Clark Home for the Aged; and sits on the development committee for Look Park. She holds an associate’s degree from Bay Path College and a bachelor’s degree from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

Janet Warren is director of sales and marketing at Fazzi Associates, the Northampton-based service provider for home-health and hospice agencies across the country. Her three decades of experience in marketing, sales, and product development have included serving as vice president of Marketing for Monson Savings Bank; president of her own marketing practice, MarCom Capital; and second vice president of Market Development for the Group Division of Phoenix Home Life. She is a past president of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce and has served on the starter board of the Hampshire County Regional Chamber, the Hampshire County Tourism Advisory Council, and on the board of directors of United Way of Hampshire County.

The Center for EcoTechnology helps people and businesses in the region save energy and reduce waste. For 40 years, CET has offered advice and resources to save residents money and help them feel more comfortable in their home, and help businesses perform better.