Originally published in Business Digest, December 1996

Vermont Week on QVC

by Edna Tenney

December is always a hectic month for Vermont retailers. But this year it is even busier for 43 of the state's retailers and manufacturers participating in the QVC TV shopping network's series, "Quest for America's Best: The Discovery Tour." During the first week in December, Vermont business people will report to various locations around the state for live telecasts, where they will have six minutes each to promote and sell their products with the help of the program's professionals. The shopping network will present 20 hours of live programming from Vermont. For Adelphia Cable viewers who do not subscribe to a package including QVC, the cable company will run the Vermont segments on its preview channel.

QVC's Vermont Week is an outgrowth of a series the shopping network put on last year, visiting every state in the union to feature and sell local products. During the two-hour Vermont segment broadcast from Stowe's Trapp Family Lodge in 1995, more than $1.7 million in Vermont products were sold. Vermont ranked seventh in gross sales among the states, gaining it a place in this year's tour of the eight top grossing states.

The 43 businesses chosen from the 160 who displayed their wares for the network last August in Barre, agreed to sell at least $15,000 worth of product to QVC at wholesale prices. For several smaller businesses, the QVC order is the largest single order ever received and led to a lot of overtime production work to deliver the product by the mid-November deadline. Fulfillment is provided by QVC except for some food products and the live Christmas trees, which will be sent out by the Vermont suppliers.

The shopping network has chosen a mix of products, several from larger Vermont companies, but most from smaller, single-product businesses or craftspeople. Among the larger companies represented are Johnson Woolen Mills, Cabot Creamery, Bennington Potters, Skis Dynastar and John McKenzie Packing Co. QVC isn't offering Ben & Jerry's pints, but viewers can purchase tins of Rainforest Crunch.

A sampling of the Greater Burlington businesses offering unique or innovative products follows.

[tree] Carver Family Tree Farm, Montpelier
Tim Carver isn't nervous about appearing at QVC's Woodstock location to talk about his Christmas trees on the early afternoon live broadcast on Saturday, Dec. 7. "It's what I do," Carver says, "talk about trees. I know my product." The Carver family has been raising trees for landscaping and Christmas use for more than 20 years. The business wholesales live or cut trees and maintains its own mail-order list, which includes a group of dedicated clients who re-order year after year. "We encourage them to give trees as gifts, too," Carver says.

When Carver found out about the QVC show, he attended a seminar in Randolph, "a dog and pony show put on by the state with some of the people who had been on QVC last year," he explains. Then he presented his product -- a six- to seven-foot, fresh cut, balsam fir Christmas tree -- at the Barre show. Carver won't cut the trees until the orders come in, but he did recently cut a couple of 40-foot trees to ship to a school and neighboring country club in Alabama.

Carver ships hundreds of trees each year, so the QVC order won't cause any hiccup in the fulfillment process. Local buyers can choose and cut their trees at Carver Family Tree Farm and get hay rides, all for $20. Carver uses his neighbor, friend and competitor in the Christmas tree business, Burr Morse's farm, as a landmark in giving directions. The Morse Farm has one of the rare signs allowed on Interstate 89, at Exit 8 to Montpelier. "Just follow the signs to Morse's, then go by and look for our sign on the manure spreader," Carver says with a laugh.

Carts Vermont, South Burlington
This manufacturing firm, founded by Terry Wilson in 1989, sold 200 firewood haulers to QVC. Wilson, a former importer, established the business in 1989 after being approached by Gardener's Supply of Burlington to import a garden cart. Wilson's research on the product led him to conclude that the best carts would be the ones he could build here in Vermont.

Garden carts made by the firm are now sold all over the country through mail-order garden supply catalogs like Gardener's Supply and Smith & Hawken. The firewood hauler was designed and introduced more recently as a contra-seasonal item to sell to the holiday market.

The Woodchuck, specifically designed to carry heavy loads of firewood through narrow doorways and balanced enough to be hauled over stairs, is the product that Wilson's daughter, Jessica, will demonstrate on Dec. 2 at the broadcast from Stowe Mountain Resort. Jessica, who was chosen to represent the family business because she was a reporter with WDEV-AM/FM, says she is ready. "We sat down with the QVC producer at a meeting in Montpelier and discussed how many samples to bring, that kind of thing." The Wilsons supply the firewood for the demonstration and a recycling bin, which fits perfectly into the Woodchuck.

New England Overshoe Co. (N.E.O.S), Charlotte
Woody Nash and Scott Hardy established NEOS in 1994 to produce and market a waterproof overshoe.

A NEOS "performance overshoe" has a deeply grooved rubber sole attached to a Codura gaiter-like upper. The boot can be worn over shoes, sneakers, even slippers, then packed away in its own slip bag. Nash, formerly a New York City bond trader, came up with the idea while commuting to his job through a winter storm. Hardy, who was working in product development in Vermont, produced the prototype, and they launched a business.

Nash asserts that his company "has done for the galosh what Teva did for the sandal." The overshoes, which come in two adult styles and a youth model, are now sold in popular mail-order catalogs like Orvis, Hammacker Schlemmer and L.L. Bean. "I think they talk to each other," Nash says, because after presenting his product to one catalog company, he received calls from others. "Last year was our first full year at retail and we did well," he points out. "This year is much stronger," he adds, because of the increase in catalog sales and the "substantial order from QVC." NEOS overshoes are carried by outfitters like EMS, Climb High and Ski Rack in the Burlington area.

Hardy will appear with NEOS overshoes at the opening show, between 6 and 8 p.m on Saturday, Dec. 2, from Stowe Mountain Resort.

Illuminée du Monde Ltd., Bristol
Christine Du Mond had the perfect name to put on the candle molding business she founded in 1984. The specialty manufacturing business rode the crest of the interest in beeswax candles, especially the rolled honeycomb styles, for several years. "We were growing 70 percent some years," Du Mond says, selling primarily wholesale to shops all over the country and filling large private label orders from places like catalog giant Eddie Bauer.

About three years ago, she says, Chinese and South American manufacturers began selling candles made with paraffin and beeswax. "If it's 51 percent beeswax, it can be labeled beeswax," she adds. The importers undercut her prices by 30 percent or more, cutting into her customer base drastically. The second blow to her business has been the recent devastation of bee colonies around the country. "Beeswax is very expensive now," she emphasizes.

To compete, Du Mond has introduced new products, including a line called "Vermont Honey Lites," the product chosen by QVC. The candles, shaped like flower pots and garden urns, are the first products from Illuminee Du Monde that have included reference to Vermont in the marketing. The scented (sage for QVC) pots are cast of paraffin and beeswax with potpourri mixed in. A small glass votive with candle sits in the pot, releasing the scents embedded in the flower pot as it burns.

Du Mond will have six minutes in the QVC spotlight at the broadcast from the Sheraton Burlington Inn on Tuesday evening, Dec. 3.

[pens] Timothy Grannis Studio, Burlington
Grannis, a jewelry designer and metal worker, graduated from UVM with a fine arts degree and has worked in the Greater Burlington area for 20 years, selling from his studio and at places like Designer's Circle in Burlington. In a departure from his jewelry work with fine metals, Grannis has designed "The Wallet Pen," a three-inch, sterling silver pen to fit in the fold of a wallet. "It's the width of a dollar bill," Grannis says. The tiny pen, with a refill and packaging that looks like a wallet to demonstrate its use, was an easy sell, Grannis says, to catalogs like Orvis and the Museum of Modern Art. "It helps to have a unique, really good product," he says. "But Sharper Image, they don't even publish a phone number."

It's The Wallet Pen that Grannis will present in his six minutes live from Woodstock in a segment called "Under the Tree." Grannis admits he's a little nervous; he also hopes that he doesn't have to subtract these six minutes from the 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol said everyone is allotted.

[porridge] Three Bears Co., Warren
This specialty food manufacturer sells fruit-filled porridges (hot cereals combining oats, wheat, rye and bran) packaged in cottage-shaped boxes covered with colorfully dressed, porridge-eating bears.

The company is built on the recipes of its president, Patricia Floyd, a business consultant who travels all over the world from her base in Warren. When friends encouraged Floyd to market her porridges, she turned to Ward Smyth, now chief operating officer of Three Bears, to develop the product.

Smyth has owned several small businesses -- a general contracting firm, a material supply business, a consulting firm -- never anything to do with food production. "I can't even make coffee," he says. Smyth has learned a lot in the last two years as he set up a small manufacturing plant on Vermont 100 in Waitsfield, learned about natural grains, nutritional values, health standards for food production, point of purchase displays and a hundred other things he never thought he'd need to know.

The six porridges in the Vermont Morning line, were introduced at a booth in the Vermont Pavilion at the 1994 Champlain Valley Fair. "People loved them, even on hot days," Smyth says, describing how he would leave the fair to race to Waitsfield to pack additional boxes to meet the unexpected demand.

The product, since modified to remove more of the natural sugars, is now distributed to specialty food and grocery stores in ever increasing semi-circles radiating west and south from Vermont, Smith says, to keep distribution costs in line. The QVC order for thousands of boxes of porridge kept the small production staff hopping in early November. The shopping network will sell a shrink-wrapped grouping of four boxes on its Dec. 8 mid-afternoon broadcast from St. Johnsbury.

Edna Tenney is editor of Business Digest.