That's one way local businesses can compete in this economic downturn.
Vermont Wood Studios, which was founded three years ago, has almost no overhead at all. It doesn't have a storefront, expensive inventory or a sales staff.
But it does have an award-winning Web site.
Earlier this week, Vermont Wood Studios received the Furniture Web site of the Year Award from FurnitureQuest.com, an online directory of furniture and decor stores.
"This has to be the most impressive Web site we have seen in years and they specialize in fine furniture made of sustainable resources that is made in America," said Joe McKean, general manager of FurnitureQuest.com.
Vermont Woods Studios was founded to promote collaboration and efficiency among Vermont's many small custom furniture makers, said Peggy Farabaugh of Vernon, who owns and operates vermontwoodsstudios.com with her husband Ken.
The online marketing and sales Web site was intended to be a more affordable way of marketing the furniture makers' products to buyers outside of Vermont, she said, with the biggest block of customers being from California.
Vermont Woods Studios guarantees that all its products are sustainably harvested from forests in New England and Pennsylvania, said Farabaugh, which is a big selling point to today's environmentally aware shoppers.
"You could be contributing to global warming
Vermont-made furniture has a long tradition of being eco-friendly, said Farabaugh.
"Before anyone ever though of that word. That's the way we've always done things in Vermont."
The seed of the idea that became Vermont Woods Studios started when Farabaugh and her husband decided they wanted to sell furniture out of their home.
After competing in Brattleboro Development Credit Corp.'s first business plan competition they decided to make the company a true success they would need to bring in other woodworkers. Since then, Vermont Woods Studios has recruited more than 20 furniture makers from around the state and is using its Web site to market their services.
"I'm kind of a matchmaker," said Farabaugh. "I look at what the customer wants and then find the best artisan to meet their needs."
Because of collaborations such as Vermont Woods Studios, custom furniture is no longer a luxury for the wealthy, said Jan Bennett, customer service specialist.
"It's the only furniture site on the Web that allows buyers to customize their furniture to their exact specifications, often at little or no additional cost," she said. "We make each piece of furniture to order and can easily make modifications to suit our customers' needs."
"The guys who build this furniture are salt of the Earth," said Farabaugh. "There is no one nicer to work with than someone who works with wood and makes furniture."
At its Web site, Vermont Woods Studios provides tips and advice to help eco-conscious consumers purchase high-quality furniture that is certified as sustainable by independent, non-profit agencies like the Forest Stewardship Council FSC, said Farabaugh.
The Web site was designed with the help of two graduates of Marlboro Graduate Center's master degree program in Web design.
"This is a site with 100 products and a thousand options," said Barb Ackemann, of IrisLines.com. "It was a challenge to put all of those options out there for people to see."
The Vermont Woods Studio Web site uses an open source content management system called Joomla!, said Ackemann, which she learned during her coursework at Marlboro. Ackemann now teaches Web design at the graduate center and is preparing an online course on how to build Web sites for people with disabilities, are blind, have dyslexia or have limited mobility.
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.