Bristol's Vermont Farm Table set to expand
BRISTOL — A Bristol business dedicated to high-quality products is expanding with the help of a loan from the Addison County Economic Development Corp.
The ACEDC gave Vermont Farm Table a loan totaling $38,000, part of a financing program totaling $100,000, with additional funds coming from the National Bank of Middlebury. The company plans to use the capital to hire new staff to expand its operations and invest in product development.
“We’re growing purposefully and steadily,” said owner Dustin Glasscoe. “We want to build a sustainable brand that aligns with Vermont’s values.”
Glasscoe founded the company in 2008 in the garage of his Shelburne home. It has grown to seven full-time employees and is now headquartered in the Bristol Works business park. Since 2011, the company has operated a retail store on College Street in Burlington.
Glasscoe said he could have founded his business anywhere, but chose to settle in New England after starting his career in his native North Carolina. After earning a business degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, he moved back to the Tar Heel State. In his 20s, he found himself managing the marketing budget of a large manufacturing company.
But Glasscoe said the work was not satisfying, so he and his wife looked to move to a different part of the country. They decided on Vermont, attracted to the state’s culture of entrepreneurship, locally sourced food and abundance of craftsmen and -women devoted to their trades.
“I wanted to be in a community of innovators, who I can network with and be supported by,” Glasscoe said. “There’s plenty of small examples, but the big examples are the Seventh Generations and the Burtons and the Dealer.coms and Ben and Jerry’s … who have found a way of challenging traditional business models.”
Initially, Glasscoe and his wife planned to work in the local food industry.
“Neither of us had a job when we moved to Vermont,” he said.
But Glasscoe also had an interest in woodworking, a trade he learned from his father while growing up on a farm. This, combined with his interest in quality products that are built to last, led him to create Vermont Farm Table. Using his background in marketing, he saw a niche in the custom table market that he could take advantage of.
“I just recognized a need in the dining room table segment, and an opportunity,” Glasscoe said. “The marketplace didn’t have the makers out there to meet the demand.”
It took two years of meticulous planning to get the company out of his garage and into a suitable manufacturing space. In 2013, Vermont Farm Table moved into the Bristol Works.
The company has experimented with other products and methods of selling them, but Glasscoe said Vermont Farm Table has never strayed from producing the custom-built tables that have been the core of the company.
“We’ve really found our niche is these big, custom, high-quality tables, which are relatively difficult to find in the market,” Glasscoe said.
VERMONT FARM TABLE woodworkers work at the company's Bristol headquarters last Thursday afternoon. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
All of Vermont Farm Table’s production is done at its facility in Bristol. In contrast to many manufacturers, Vermont Farm Table does not keep an inventory of products; instead, every table is custom-made based on a buyer’s preferences.
Half of the wood used at the facility is new, while half is reclaimed, which Glasscoe said is part of the company’s dedication to sustainability. The company also tries to make use of all the wood it does not use, such as by donating sacks of sawdust to farmers to use for livestock bedding.
For Glasscoe and the four employees that work in manufacturing, quality and good craftsmanship matter most. Vermont Farm Table uses neither glue nor metal screws to assemble tables. Glasscoe explained that as wood swells and shrinks with seasonal changes in humidity, these bonds weaken. Instead, Vermont Farm Table uses wooden pegs in assembly.
The woodworkers also pay close attention to the grains within wood. By alternating the direction grains face between planks on a table, the craftspeople can prevent tables from warping. The company also uses a non-toxic, oil-based finish on its products.
The price of a Vermont Farm table can vary, starting at about $1,400 for a 36-by-60-inch table made of cherry, to more than $6,000 using a wood such as teak.
Employee Sam Roache explained that Vermont Farm Table’s customer base varies.
“We do everything from people that live in Burlington that save for three years to get their table with us,” she explained, “to people that have an apartment in Manhattan and house in California and ski house, and have Vermont Farm Tables in all of them.”
But Glasscoe said that his customers seem to have one thing in common — an interest in well-made products that will last a lifetime (and more).
“It’s definitely folks who have frustrations with buying products that fail,” Glasscoe said.
About 30 percent of customers, Glasscoe estimated, are Vermonters. The majority come from out of state, such as southern New England and New York state.
While Vermonters may experience a bout of sticker shock when they walk into Vermont Farm Table’s Burlington store, Glasscoe said out-of-staters often express the opposite opinion.
“Folks that come up to Vermont constantly whisper in the store, ‘I can’t believe how cheap this is,’” Glasscoe said. “Vermonters, it’s a different story.”
Glasscoe said his prices actually beat many competitors’, which he attributes in part to the fact that Vermont Farm Table sells its products directly to customers, rather than through a retailer.
Glasscoe laid out some ambitious goals for this year, but he believes the company can accomplish them. Sales grew a whopping 60 percent last year, and Glasscoe projects consistent growth in the future.
In 2015, he hopes to make commercial sales one-third of all sales; last year that segment was just 10 percent.
But despite the growth, Glasscoe said he isn’t worrying about outgrowing his Bristol Works space, as kombucha producer Aqua Vitea did this year. Vermont Table has plenty of space in its production facility.
“We’re not even close, and we don’t even begin to understand what our capacity is,” he chuckled.
Glasscoe explained that the facility’s machinery can accommodate 100 tables per day, much higher than current production levels.
“We understand what our constraints are here, and we’re not even near them,” Glasscoe said
He said that because the company is relatively new and expanding, and does all the production on a made-to-order basis, it’s difficult to project what demand will be. But Glasscoe is determined to meet it. He estimates that the production from the Bristol facility has already produced $3.5 million to $5 million in sales.
Glasscoe said he wants to foster a track record of success, rather than try to grow too quickly.
“We’re not trying to sell out and we’re certainly not trying to explode our brand,” Glasscoe said. “We want to be a leader in our industry.”