Shaw & Tenney

A Traditional Oar Maker Expands Production

MERC award – Manufacturing consulting


“Working with MERC ended up being a great team-building exercise that also helped maximize our efficiency.”


increase in production capacity

increase in the amount of equipment on the shop floor

decrease in material handling times

Shaw & Tenney have been making traditionally-crafted oars, paddles, and poles from their storefront in Orono, Maine since 1858. They are the 2nd oldest manufacturer of marine products in the U.S, and one of the only companies left in the country that manufactures wooden flagpoles.

While Shaw & Tenney value time-honored traditional craftsmanship, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t looking for ways to grow and improve their business.

Shaw &  Tenney had moved into their “newest” mill in 1950, and since then the shop floor remained relatively unchanged. The layout suited their needs until 2023, when the company purchased a line of new oar-making equipment. They were looking for ways to better utilize their shop-floor layout and maximize efficiency to accommodate for an expected increase in production.

Shaw & Tenney worked with MERC consultant Bill Whittier, Project Manager at Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The project started with detailing the current equipment layout. From there, Bill Whittier helped them incorporate the new equipment .

Neil and Jennifer Gutekunst, the fourth family to herald the Shaw & Tenney brand, had heard of the MERC program from the previous company’s owners. They continued working with the consultant to help them develop a new layout that could accommodate a sharp increase in production.

From the beginning, it was clear to both Shaw & Tenney and Bill Whittier that the shop floor team should have input on creating the most efficient layout. As owner Neil Gutekunst says, “As the owner, I have a lot of opinions but I’m not on the shop floor making the sausage. It was important that our team members who actually use the equipment have their viewpoints heard and listened to. Bill Whittier did just that.”

The project was ultimately a success, and allowed Shaw & Tenney to implement the new line of equipment, which is expected to start producing oars this Spring. The company’s long-term goal is slow and steady growth, and having an efficient shop floor helps them achieve that goal. As Neil Gutekunst puts it, “Working with MERC ended up being a great team-building exercise that also helped maximize our efficiency.”