Brandon furniture maker at a crossroads after it is sold
By LEE J. KAHRS
BRANDON –– The Vermont Tubbs furniture company here has been sold after an unsuccessful five-year bid by the previous owners to turn a profit. But the town of Brandon and the state of Vermont are committed to keeping the company here and retaining the 90 jobs at stake.
“We’re willing to work with whichever owner wants to work with us,” said Brandon Town Manager Keith Arlund. “The town stands ready to assist in the transition in any way possible.”
A June 4 press release that was vague on details said that BSF Transition LLC, an affiliate of Brownstreet Furniture of Whitefield, N.H., had bought “certain assets” of Brandon-based Vermont Tubbs.
The 168-year-old Vermont Tubbs specializes in handcrafted, hardwood beds and other bedroom furniture, as well as custom-built office furniture. Brownstreet Furniture manufactures high-quality, solid wood cherry, pine, maple, and ash furniture. Tubbs officials stated that they will continue to manufacture in the existing facility on Arnold District Road while Brownstreet assesses future production plans.
“The entrance of Brownstreet couldn’t come at a more opportune time,” said Tubbs partner Jon McNeill in the release. “My partners and I will continue to be involved to provide assistance for a successful sale.”
Calls for further comment from Tubbs officials were not returned by the Friday afternoon deadline for this edition of the Independent.
The move comes after months of wrangling to secure $580,000 in state and local economic development grants intended to preserve the 90 jobs at Tubbs by providing needed operating capital. The Vermont Community Development Program (VCDP) award was announced April 15.
The town of Brandon was going to loan Tubbs another $80,000 is a separate agreement, the maximum amount the town can loan through its revolving loan fund.
The loans were the latest in a series of moves Tubbs has made since 2003 to try to turn a profit. The company was nearly liquidated in 2003, but was purchased at the last minute by a group of investors led by McNeill.
The company has worked with Key Bank to secure loans, and the Vermont Economic Development Agency has provided mortgage insurance to protect Key Bank and encourage loans to Tubbs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office has also insured 90 percent of a $2 million loan.
The town of Brandon has also worked hard to keep Tubbs in town. According to Selectman Richard Baker, the company negotiated a tax stabilization agreement with the town in 1997, under which Tubbs would pay a much lower property tax of $71,000 a year for 10 years. Baker said the agreement expired last year. Now, he said Tubbs is paying roughly $102,000 a year in local taxes.
Town officials have estimated that Tubbs contributes roughly $6 million to the local economy.
Baker said Tubbs has not received any loan money from the town yet, but that there could be future meetings on the subject.
“They have not yet signed the documents and the money is still under our control,” Bakers said. “We would have to meet with Brownstreet and would have to renew approval, but if they came with a viable business plan and it looked like a worthy use of the money, we would be interested in talking to them.”
Brownstreet owners and twin brothers Kyle and Adam Tager acquired Woburn-Mass.-based Mystic Valley Traders, a manufacturer of high-end linens and home furnishings, in 2003 and acquired majority ownership in Brownstreet Furniture from founding partner Elwin Wright this past January.
The Tagers and Wright together own BSF Transition LLC, and they say they plan on continuing production of Vermont Tubbs furniture lines.
“Vermont Tubbs is a legacy company in this industry, with a commitment to crafting authentic, American-made furniture that fits tongue-and-groove with the way we do business,” Adam Tager said in the release. “We plan to maintain a status quo throughout the transition period, and will work to keep the talent that has made this company a significant player in the industry.”
Mike Quinn of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Development said Friday that the state is keen on helping the new owners get in the black and grow the business.
“We’re going to work with them to see that they stay not just in business, but that the business stays in Brandon,” Quinn said.
He said that the previous owners never drew on the state’s $500,000 VCDP grant, but echoed Baker’s sentiment in working with the new owners to re-apply for the grant if they wish.
Quinn said state is committed to keeping Tubbs in business and retaining the 90 workers it currently employs. He added that the state would also work to expand the business to create more jobs.
“Vermont benefits from having a bounty of small and medium-sized businesses like Tubbs that are very important to the Vermont economy,” Quinn said. “Our focus is how we create and retain opportunities for Vermonters to have the best possible jobs they can.”
Baker said despite the work it will take to secure tax breaks and grants, it’s important to keep Tubbs in Brandon.
“At the end of the day, we would be interested in keeping the business going and retaining those 90 jobs,” he said. “Those are 90 of our friends and neighbors and we care about those people.”