Samuel Cabot Inc. Newburyport, Mass.
A long history of innovation keeps this family business at the top of the wood-care industry.
by Heidi E. Ketler
can lay claim to being family-owned for more than 125 years.
Samuel Cabot Inc., founded in 1877 in Chelsea, Mass., has been owned and operated by four generations of Cabots. Each has been a Samuel Cabot — from the founder, who invented the first wood-preserving shingle stain, to today’s chairman, Sam Cabot, whose 25-plus years as the company’s chief executive has led the growth of the company to 12 times its former size.
The family firm, now based in Newburyport, Mass., is an industry leader, selling premium wood-care products to independent dealers.
From its founding days to the present, every trademarked Cabot product has included a guarantee. Cabot’s vice president of marketing, Gregg Riskin, likens the company to L.L. Bean (founded in 1912). “If a customer says, ‘I’ve worn these shoes for 30 years and they fell apart,’ L.L. Bean takes them back, no questions asked,” Riskin says. “That has become the benchmark in service. It just so happens that we’ve been doing it for over 125 years.”
In addition, Cabot has always allowed customers to “try on” a product by offering samples. Today, that policy continues with hundreds of colors available for sampling in 4-ounce cans.
Cabot’s Total Wood Care System is a series of products that prepare, protect and beautify wood and various other substrates.
Cabot provides a wide range of choices for today’s professional contractor, including some products especially designed to meet their needs. The company’s popular O.V.T (Old Virginia Tints) line is available in 29 oil-based colors and an unlimited palette of acrylics. Problem-Solver Quick Dry Primer and PRO.V.T. Solid Color Acrylic Stain are recent launches “designed to provide the contractor optimum quality while still being time-efficient for job turnaround,” says Reily.
For the past four years, Consumer Reports has rated Cabot decking stains No. 1 in a six-year study of deck treatments that were applied to wood panels and exposed to the weather. Durability, the most important rating factor, was derived from how well the product: resisted buildup of dirt and mildew, resisted fading or color change and adhered to a chalky surface.
The original Samuel Cabot’s formula for creosote stain was by all accounts the first preservative stain for exterior wood — a purely American innovation. Cabot — a chemist — ground pigments and dispersed them in a creosote-based liquid, creating an oil-based product that penetrated into wood and colored it while letting the natural wood grain show. Throughout his lifetime, the company founder developed a wide array of products, including a very successful insulation material made from eelgrass.
His son Samuel then ran the company for 60 years. Time and again — after becoming president of the family business in 1910 at age 22 — his laboratory formulations made chemical headlines. Many resulted in products that have endured to this day.
In 1922, he revolutionized the coatings industry with his patented pigment-grinding process, called collopaking. The machine pulverized organic pigments and then uniformly disbursed the fine particles in linseed oil. This produced extremely durable, fade-resistant stains, which he called Cabot’s Collopakes. The heavy-bodied stains, which retained their preservative quality while offering the rich colors of paint, eventually supplanted Creosote Shingle Stain as the company’s best-selling item. Today, Cabot products don’t contain any creosote.