As in the tales of many new enterprises, the story of Vermont Woods Studios begins when founder Peggy Farabaugh got laid off from a totally unrelated job. As she was casting about for new opportunities, her husband was finishing an addition for a hobby woodworking shop, and they considered turning it into a business. As they explored more they encountered lots of people who built furniture in small shops in Vermont, but most did not have an effective way to market or sell their work. Add to that a local business plan contest and a passion for forest conservation, and the seed for a new business was planted.
That idea grew into a sophisticated marketing business that combines the power of the Internet with the creativity of Vermont furniture makers to better promote and sell a wide range of furniture products made from sustainable materials and manufactured by more than a dozen companies.
How it works
The core of Vermont Woods Studios is its website at www.vermontwoodsstudios.com. Filled with lavish photography and organized by styles, the site presents a unified online showroom representing a wide range of furniture options.
“We have two different business models,” says Farabaugh. “One is strictly custom high end. We put products up on the website for free and charge a small commission (for referrals). The other side is customizable. We put the products up, do the pricing and transaction.” For that side of the operation, VWS purchases the furniture wholesale from makers and sells at retail. Makers also save because VWS handles all of the shipping.
“Another advantage is customers pay for all of the furniture up front,” says Farabaugh. “With the Internet, customers are use to paying in full at the point of sale.”
Not all online
Vermont Woods Studios is not an exclusively Internet operation. The company also maintains a small brick-and-mortar showroom in Vernon, Vt., that is open by appointment. They also connect customers directly with makers who may have their own showrooms.
The company also aggressively promotes itself beyond the World Wide Web. It has been featured on Fox News, in the New York Times and other newspapers, as well as in a wide range of consumer and trade magazines. That promotion has fueled steady growth for the company, but it hasn’t been easy.
“It’s starting to come together now,” says Farabaugh. “This is our fifth year. The first years were very difficult, and we were having to just kind of feel our way. But we tripled sales in year four, and we’re on track to double sales this year.”
She sees further positive trends in the way consumers are buying furniture. “People want to return some kind of authenticity to their lives,” she says. “They are looking for quality workmanship and American made furniture.”
What it means for makers
Besides providing an additional marketing outlet for custom shops and small manufacturers, Vermont Woods Studios provides other advantages, says Farabaugh. Up front payments mean improved cash flow for shops, and the Internet marketing means sales can happen 24/7/365.
One very high-end custom shop that participates is Dorset Custom Furniture, operated since 1980 by Dan Mosheim with five employees in Dorset, Vt. He was picked up by VWS after doing a show with other Vermont wood manufacturers in Woodstock.
“The last couple of years I’ve been looking for ways to get my stuff out there more,” he says. “I think she’s getting us out there a little bit.”
He says that is especially important in light of the current economic downturn. “Every little bit is a piece, but it’s not something that’s going to double your business,” he says.
Because of the nature of his highly custom pieces, Vermont Woods Studios just passes on potential customers directly to him. He pays a referral fee when it turns into a commission. Of working with Farabaugh, Mosheim says, “She’s very reasonable and very good to work with.”