The power of consumers

Posted
Wednesday November 23, 2011

VERNON -- Ken and Peggy Farabaugh had a very simple focus when they decided to start a furniture store in the small town of Vernon.

"Fine furniture from sustainable sources" the slogan for Vermont Woods Studios reads. The idea was that everything they sold be from Vermont-based craftsman using Vermont resources, Ken said.

The principal of only buying and selling quality, local products became the cornerstone of the business and eventually the lives of each employee.

During one of the many lunchtime walks, someone was talking about a news program on ABC called "Made in America" that features different ways people and businesses in the United States used, bought and sold local products, goods and services.

In September an idea was hatched: to challenge the seven employees, their families and their friends to purchase only American made gifts during the holidays.

"We have so much power as consumers," Peggy said. "We just need a way to harness it and it starts with education, with breaking down the stigma that American made is more expensive."

Through social networking and the company's blog, they began researching and profiling businesses that have remained in the United States. They also asked others to post suggestions of businesses, products and services to showcase through Facebook.

Last week the employees' Facebook event, "Made in America Holiday Shopping Challenge" caught the eye of a producer at ABC who called Peggy to ask if they could do a story.

"We never dreamed they'd come. I was so nervous when I got the call," she said. "The producer asked how many people we had attending the group and when I said 59, she replied that they still wanted to do the story."

Eric Noll, a producer at World News, said the staff had found the website for Vermont Woods Studios and after seeing their challenge on Facebook knew they needed to tell the story.

"Everyone here seems genuinely committed to the charge of buying American made," he said. "A lot of towns say they're 50/50 on buying things made in America but after a little investigating it's much lower."

During a recent episode, a family in Dallas was interviewed about how many of the goods and services they buy were created in this country. After checking the tags on a number of items they purchased the family was shocked to learn 90 percent of what they bought was from outside the United States, Noll said.

Using a team of economist and figures from the National Retail Federation, which tracks spending, they figured out that the average American spends about $700 during the holiday season. According to World News producers, if consumers devoted $68 to buy American made, local products and services it would create 200,000 jobs in the United States.

Noll and his staff spent the day, Tuesday, touring around Vermont and filming part of the episode which will air next week.

Vernon residents Melissa Ferris and Corinne Scully, who attended part of the filming at the town hall, said they both prefer to buy locally, whether it's at the farmers' markets, hiring an electrician, or dinning out.

"There's plenty of American made products here in Vermont," Ferris said. "The publicity from this show will hopefully give a link to customers beyond just here in Windham County."

Peggy said the selection to be on the show is a great honor and that it's challenged the staff to think beyond just buying gifts locally.

Dennis Shanoff, a marketing coordinator for Vermont Woods Studio, said the process has become a learning experience and an opportunity to analyze all aspects of purchasing locally made goods and services.

"Over the next three months millions of holiday celebrations are going to be held," he said. "What if at those parties people and companies adopted this idea of buying American and using products made in this country?"

The idea can be applied to everything from a local catering company that uses local ingredients for the food served to making the decorations, said sales manager Douglas Fletcher.

Fletcher said that at his home, he and his children have started making decorations for their Christmas tree out of popcorn and cranberries strung together.

"We're learning as we go," he said.

For Peggy and Ken, just as when they started their business, it's been about quality, not quantity.

There's a myth that American made products are more expensive but that's not really true, Ken said. A friend of theirs needed to purchase a new bedroom set for their children and assumed the locally made furniture would be far more expensive so they opted to purchase a build-it-yourself set from a major retailer.

"Within months the drawers in the dressers wouldn't open properly," he said. "So not only have they already dumped a bunch of money into something that doesn't work, they have to buy something else to replace it. If they would have bought the quality product in the first place they would have saved money and the resources it took to make the stuff."

Local photographer Meaghan Fagley is hoping more people will commit to the movement and use her studio instead of going to a large chain.

"(The pledge) shows that small town America is still here even after the bad economy," she said. "There's a camaraderie within a small town you can't get elsewhere."

Fagley added that through the pledge it may be possible to replicate that small town feeling by challenging people to make conscious choices about what they buy and to find out where it's coming from.

"It seems like a daunting task, but if everybody started sharing resources, letting others know where to get locally made products or who to use for local services, we can create the change," said Shannon Albritton, a marketing coordinator at Vermont Woods Studios.

As members of Congress continue to argue and fight each other over what's the correct solution to the country's budget crisis and how to fix the economy, Albritton said the solution is simple.

"We don't have to have politicians tell us what to do, we can do it ourselves," she said. "If seven people can do this, imagine what the millions of us could do. This country's economy can be fixed."

Polly Pond has lived in Vernon since 1966 and said now that people from around the country will see what a small group of residents is doing it'll provide exposure and keep the local economy growing.

Peggy echoed Pond's sentiment.

"Having ABC here means everything. We really needed some power behind us to get us off the ground," she said. "You get dismissed sometimes. There's so much clutter on the Internet and ABC is a huge megaphone for us. Hopefully the other networks will join us also."

Commercials featuring the group of people that showed up at the town hall holding a large "Made In America" banner will be shown this weekend.

The segment is scheduled to air on ABC World News on Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m.

For more information or to join the challenge or to suggest American made products and services visit the Vermont Woods Studios Facebook page and sign-up for the virtual event or visit www.vermontwoodsstudios.com

Josh Stilts can be reached at jstilts@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.


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