With sidewalls high enough to construct a house and room enough for five homes inside the heated building, the Verndale Custom Builders plant worked well for building homes and has ample space for storing pallets of grocery items.
While it’s a major square footage increase, Mason Brothers Operations Manager Duke Harrison said they would have liked a space about 10% larger to fit the growing needs of the small-town wholesale grocery supplier. Space was something the business just doesn’t have a lot of in their corner of northeast Wadena.
The move to Verndale with this part of the business is simply a local expansion, Harrison explained.
“We’re not going anywhere,” he said. All other operations remain at the Wadena location. The Verndale site just fits the bill and has the potential to pull an additional workforce from the neighboring town. Harrison said the jobs brought by this expansion are full-time and year-round.
He estimates 15-20 employees working from the Verndale location. This site will be a drop off spot where trucks can unload their inventory and pallets of goods will be kept here ready to be picked for orders and shipped out again.
“It should meet our expansion needs for the next 10 years,” Harrison said.
Mason Brothers is having an extremely strong year in sales and part of that comes with the hard work of making sure they have the inventory consumers need in a time of constant change, thanks to COVID-19.
“First it was toilet paper …” Harrison said, expressing the struggles of maintaining inventory in a pandemic. This overstock location gives them the added advantage of stocking extra goods that at any moment could be the next “most wanted” item. During the so far scorching summer of 2021, that’s novelty ice cream and drink mixes, like lemonade.
Speaking of ice cream, Harrison explained that the long term goal is to convert the Verndale building into a refrigerated space for keeping their cold inventory at just the right temperature. With that change, it could mean an expansion of the freezer space at the Wadena location by converting their current refrigerated space into frozen.
The need for more freezer space comes from what seems to be a generational shift from canned vegetables to frozen vegetables in a bag.
“That’s an area of growth,” Harrison explained.
With Mason Brothers blowing past 100 years in business, they look to continue to expand to meet the needs of their customers in an age of shrinking wholesale grocery suppliers in this region. While Mason Brothers continues growing and hiring, they continue to keep their focus on the local area providing over 275 jobs. At the same time, they are focused on providing product throughout the upper Midwest.
Verndale Custom Homes closure
The sale of the old Verndale Custom Homes building comes after what seemed to be a comeback for the business.
The home construction plant started in the 1970s and closed its doors in 2011 after the recession pulled the housing market to its knees. The plant reopened in 2015 as Verndale Custom Builders, a third arm of businesses by the Weiher family, which also includes Whispering Pines Log Homes and JR Construction.
The business emptied out with a liquidation auction June 19, 2021, where tools and supplies were sold. Verndale Custom Builders owners did not return calls for comment.