BY SARAH ROLPH
SPECIAL TO THE WORCESTER BUSINESS JOURNAL

 (Family Business Awards Honoree | Category: Fewer than 25 full-time employees)

Camosse Masonry Supply, Central MA

Pictured, from left to right, are: Craig Camosse, Charles Camosse, David Camosse and Henry Camosse Jr., president.

It’s a Friday afternoon at Camosse Masonry Supply in Worcester, and the place is jumping. The line at the counter is three deep, and there’s conversation everywhere.

“This is beautiful block, I’m just looking at it pricewise, plus the ability to hold back the pressure. Lot of pressure — I have a pool.” “Okay, let me know on Monday.” “If I don’t have any corners, and you need them, you can do this … “

Customer service is an important aspect of the business. “Seventy percent of the customers who walk in the door have never been in a masonry supply store,” says Henry Camosse, the company president. “So we have to take them by the hand and say, ‘This is the difference between a concrete brick and a clay brick. This is the difference between untumbled brick and tumbled brick.’ We have to spend time with them.”

Today’s customer base includes a lot of homeowners and landscapers. When Henry became president in 1990, he saw that the do-it-yourself market was growing, along with the use of concrete pavers in landscaping, and adapted the firm’s business model to take advantage of those trends. Before that, the customer base was almost all masonry contractors.

“For the first 30 years we made standard 8-by-8-by-16 concrete blocks — grey block,” Henry explains. “Shopping centers, schools, any building made of masonry. There was a time when there wasn’t a school built in this state that wasn’t made of concrete block with a brick façade. That was our business.”

The firm still makes its own concrete blocks, and also uses that same equipment to make other concrete products, such as segments for retaining walls. But now it also sells a broad variety of other products.

64 YEARS, SAME LOCATION

Founded in 1948 by Henry’s grandfather, Camosse has occupied the same spot on Route 20 ever since.

Henry and his three brothers all worked at the firm during the summers since they were about 13. “We learned how to drive forklifts before we drove cars,” says Henry. As the eldest, Henry has worked there the longest — since 1978. He considers himself lucky to have had a couple of years of working with his grandfather and more than 10 with his dad. “I had a great teacher in my father,” he says.

Each brother has his own niche of the business. Craig Camosse runs the “yard,” where all the products are stored and staged for delivery. He enjoys keeping things organized and working with people. David Camosse loves to drive — he does the deliveries. David learned to drive a truck in the Army, and has been driving since. Charles Camosse, who runs the factory; after work, he uses the garage for his hobby, building cars.

Charles spent two years at a special technical school in Michigan for concrete technology. The skills he learned include how to test the gradations of sand and how to use different formulas to create the right blends for different types of concrete. “It’s like baking a cake,” he says. “You use different recipes for different results using basically the same ingredients.”

USING THE WEB — TO A POINT

Henry is continually learning from every source he can find. Alan Lavine, of Percy’s appliance store in Worcester, taught him techniques for gathering email addresses. From a lecture by a marketing executive at Harley Davidson, Henry learned how to revamp the store for better visual appeal.

He also keeps the store open late one night a week. “We don’t sell a lot from 4 to 6 p.m., but we get a lot of couples. It makes our life easier because if that same couple came in on Saturday morning, it would be much harder to spend 20 minutes with them.”

Camosse stars in a how-to cable television show, segments of which are available on the company’s website and on YouTube. Henry wants to extend as much as possible into Internet marketing, “but we will never sell over the Internet,” he says. “We’re the epitome of a brick-and-mortar store.” These are products people need to see and touch, he said.

Craig credits his father’s work ethic for creating a foundation for success. “He taught us you have to get up in the morning and work, and to make a living you have to work hard.”

The Camosse brothers intend to keep working hard. They are building the business for the fourth generation. Henry’s son, Chris, is now general manager of the Worcester location (Camosse also has a store in Charlton). Says Chris: “My goal is to one day take over the company my great-grandfather started.”