Vermont Country Store Plans Sustainable Growth
02/25/13 7:34AM By Steve Zind
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This month, the Vermont Country Store announced the appointment of Chris Vickers as its new President and CEO.
The appointment continues a tradition of appointing a non-family member as CEO of the 3rd generation business.
67 years after their grandfather started the Vermont Country Store, brothers Eliot, Cabot and Gardner serve on the board and as proprietors.
They are all in their 40s.
Eliot Orton says their father, Lyman, began talking to them about taking over the business when they were in their late teens and 20s.
Lyman, who is 72 is now focused on the Orton Family Foundation and serves as an informal advisor to the business.
Eliot Orton says the transition to from their father to the siblings involved dealing with issues unique to family-run businesses.
"It's hard not to go back to when you were six years old and your brother socked you in the side of the head or you had a vicious sledding race on the back hill and not bring that into business," says Orton.
He says the brothers have developed a good working relationship, with each focusing on a different aspect of the business.
The business has two retail locations. The original store in Weston opened in the 1940s. A second location opened in Rockingham in 1969.
The company started as a mail order operation and it flourished in the days of catalogue sales. Orton says today that side of the business is gradually being eclipsed by online sales.
But even as online sales grow, the Vermont Country Store's bricks and mortar locations remain central to the business.
"They create the love affair for so many of our customers," Orton explains." There's no replacement for the physical store, and we're destinations. We're not everywhere. We only have two stores."
More than 40 years after opening what Orton calls the "new store" in Rockingham, he says there's talk about opening a Vermont Country Store in the northern part of the state.
"We think there are a lot of folks who come to Vermont, who travel to northern Vermont who never get to experience that never get to experience us," says Orton. "That's certainly a possibility at some point. It's something that we talk about quite a bit."
Orton says the company is growing at a sustainable pace that has allowed it to operate without significant debt and avoid unplanned layoffs - even during the recession.
And he hopes he and his brothers can pass the Vermont Country Store along to a 4th generation of Ortons.