Bike tours company to leave Bristol for new office in Williston

BRISTOL — After 35 years in its iconic 18th-century yellow farmhouse in Bristol, a well-known company that leads bicycle tours around the world will pedal out of town this spring.
VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations, originally known as Vermont Bike Tours, announced last Thursday that it is moving its headquarters from Bristol to a 14,500-square-foot office space in Williston, probably by the end of March.
“It’s all a tough decision,” VBT Chairman Gregg Marston told the Independent. “All of our preferred vendors in Bristol are just wonderful, wonderful people. They’ve treated us well. We’ve very much enjoyed being part of this community for so long.”
While the move is a loss for Addison County, he said that for VBT it makes good business sense.
“We have simply outgrown the space in Bristol and are consolidating our operations in one place for efficiency,” Marston said in a press release, “plus the new office allows for a more centralized location for our dedicated associates who commute from both northern and central Vermont and can accommodate our anticipated growth.”
Marston is chairman of both VBT and sister company Country Walkers, which will move from Waterbury to Williston. The two companies share management and resources, so the move will consolidate operations under one roof.
VBT operates bicycling and walking tours in 26 countries worldwide.
SALES AND EXPANSION
Up through 2012, the Bristol headquarters housed about 35 employees, according to Marston. But the company’s continued expansion had it bursting at the seams at the yellow farmhouse on Monkton Road. For a year, VBT leased additional office space in the Bristol Works business park. But in 2012, it relocated its sales and customer service staff to Williston.
Marston said he had come close to purchasing more suitable office spaces in Addison County, but that didn’t work out. VBT had also investigated further renovations and additions to its farmhouse headquarters, but that option proved too expensive.
Since moving sales and marketing to Williston, VBT has kept the finance and tour development departments in Bristol — about 15 full-time employees.
“This could have happened five years ago,” Marston explained. “If there’s anybody dragging their feet on this it’s been me. I, in fact, moved from Charlotte to New Haven to be near the business, so my commute goes to Williston as well.”
Marston said that VBT is working on commuting issues with those employees who reside in Bristol and hopes that “everyone will stay.”
“We’re doing it in such a way that any financial impact or other impacts associated with a commute, we’ll work with associates to make it continued employment,” Marston emphasized. “The move was discussed in line with a scatter diagram showing where does everybody live and what location will be the least impactful for the majority of the organization. Everything is from the eyes of the associates. But the fact is that three physical locations in Waterbury, Williston and Bristol doesn’t make sense for anything. A lot of miles get driven back and forth by a lot of people. So consolidating under one roof is going to make life for our associates better.”
COMPANY HISTORY
VBT has had its headquarters at 614 Monkton Road since 1981, according to founder John Freidin. When Freidin started Vermont Bike Tours in 1972 it was the first company of its kind in the United States. The business, consisting of Freidin and one part-time employee, led 75 people on 12 trips around Vermont in its first year. For about 10 years, Freidin operated Vermont Bike Tours out of his home on Munger Street in New Haven, before moving the company to its Bristol location.
“When I bought that farmhouse and barn, that barn was full of hay and we had to — that was part of the deal — we had to get the hay out,” Freidin said. “And then we redesigned the flooring and everything we did inside that barn so that we could store and service bicycles.”
Freidin sold the company in 1986 to Bill Perry, who sold it to Grand Circle Travel in 1999. Grand Circle brought in Marston to run the company, rechristened it “VBT” and expanded its European offerings. Marston purchased VBT in 2005. In 2013, the Colorado-based Xanterra Parks and Resorts bought VBT but kept Marston in place as top executive. In 2014, Xanterra purchased the Country Walkers of Waterbury.
According to Marston, the combined VBT-CW entity has about 65 fulltime Vermont-based employees. He said that both VBT and Country Walkers will continue to maintain their distinct brand identities as they are moved under one roof.
Addison County will continue to host two of VBT’s bike tours and one new walking tour, according to Marston. The Classic Vermont and Champlain Valley and Islands bike tours cycle through Addison County. The Green Mountain Valleys and Inns tour will trek from Stowe to the Swift House Inn in Middlebury and on to Shelburne Farms.
Marston said that VBT will continue to operate its central bike storage and repair shop in the barn on the Bristol property. That facility services VBT’s tours throughout Vermont, the entire Northeast and South Carolina.
The Marston family owns the yellow farmhouse in Bristol, he said, and has not yet determined next steps but is not in favor of selling. it.
LOCAL IMPACT
Kevin Harper of Bristol Works and Stoney Hill Properties in Bristol noted that Bristol has incubated a number of businesses that grew and then moved elsewhere as they expanded. This list includes not just VBT but also Vermont Coffee Co., Danforth Pewter (which started in Lincoln) and his own company, Autumn Harp, which moved after Harper had sold it. Autumn Harp now has more than 175 employees and is based in Essex. Aqua ViTea, based in the Bristol Works business park, will soon be expanding to space in Middlebury.
At its current size VBT would make a great fit for the soon-to-be developed business park in Bristol, Harper said. The business park will be sited on the 10 acres behind the new fire station, currently under construction. Harper says the new facility would be able to house businesses needing upwards to 30,000 square feet. The town and Stoney Hill Properties are “looking for the next anchor business and will build to suit,” Harper said.
Harper said the new business park will be an important step to Bristol’s retaining business as they succeed and expand.
According to the VBT press release, the company hopes to host a farewell gathering in Bristol to thank the community for its years of support.
“Well I think it’s a sign of their great success that they need to be in a place that can accommodate a larger staff,” said Freidin of VBT’s imminent move. “I think it’s also, you know, a sentimental and somewhat financial loss for Bristol and Addison County. But I wish them the very best.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at gaenm@addisonindependent.com.

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