Today's post is part 2 of a series on Vermont Woods Studios written by Vermont author, Peggy McKay Shinn. Peggy writes full-time and lives in Rutland, Vermont, with her husband, daughter, and one remaining cat. Visit her website and check out Peggy Shinn's books, including Deluge: Tropical Storm Irene, Vermont's Flash Floods, and How One Small State Saved Itself. Find Part 1 of our story here.
Before Vermont Woods Studios took flight, Peggy Farabaugh’s career path had many twists and turns.
Raised in Plattsburgh, New York, she majored in chemistry in college and from 1980 to 2005 worked in occupational and environmental health and safety at various institutions around the country. A lover of the outdoors and a frequent hiker, her environmental interest soon extended beyond local forests thanks to her two sons. From watching educational TV (e.g., Steve Irwin’s The Crocodile Hunter), the boys became curious about the rainforest, so the family took vacations to Central America to learn about them firsthand. Farabaugh remembers being astounded when they learned that one-and-one-half acres of rainforest disappear every second.
The Farabaughs moved to Vermont in 1997 when Ken, an engineer, took a job at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon. At the time, Peggy Farabaugh worked remotely for Tulane University in New Orleans developing an online masters program in occupational safety and health management until Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, and Tulane closed for four months.
Farabaugh lost her job and couldn’t find one near Vernon. That’s when the business idea hit her. She loved the woods, and Ken loved woodworking. In fact, he had just built a woodworking shop on the back of their house.
“You just spent all our money on this woodworking shop,” she told Ken. “I’m going to put it to work.”
They knew other local woodworkers, like Chad Woodruff in Vernon, Dan Mosheim of Dorset Custom Furniture in Dorset, and Steve Holman, who also has a studio in Dorset. Makers of stunning custom furniture from sustainable hardwood (cherry, maples, oak, and walnut, some of it grown in Vermont), they mostly sold pieces in local galleries and craft fairs. Many had their own websites, but Farabaugh thought she could bring them a wider audience. It was the beginning of Vermont Woods Studios. Or rather VermontWoodsStudios.com, a virtual furniture gallery of “really funky cool stuff” made from sustainable wood in Vermont. While her first customer was a gentleman from Indiana who was searching the Internet for eco-friendly furniture — in keeping with her mission — she soon found that it was simply too difficult to sell enough really unique furniture online to make it worth it.
“How can somebody understand why a custom, one-of-a-kind piece costs three times more when they look the same online?” Farabaugh realized.
Enter Douglas Fletcher, a Vermonter and small business consultant. He convinced Farabaugh to add manufactured hardwood furniture from Vermont companies Lyndon and Copeland to VermontWoodsStudios.com offerings. Both Lyndon and Copeland have manufactured fine hardwood furniture in Vermont and sold it at a competitive price point for over 30 years. Both companies sell furniture in stores across the United States.
With this expanded collection from which to choose, Vermont Woods Studios business began to take off. And it continued to improve thanks to social media (e.g., the company advertises sales on Facebook, and Farabaugh regularly updates a blog). To keep up with demand, Farabaugh hired new staff, people she says share her “passion for the mission.” But that mission was expanding too.