This story is part of our 1,000+ Stories campaign. What’s your story?
Name: Peggy Farabaugh
Business: Vermont Woods Studios
Location: Vernon, Vermont, U.S.
Industry: Consumer Goods
Reason for starting? I was approaching 50, got laid off from my job and decided it was finally time to follow my high school guidance counselor’s advice to “do something you believe in”. My heart has always been in forest and wildlife conservation so I was looking for a business I could build on that kind of environmental foundation. Ken, my husband is woodworker. Living in Vermont, we knew many talented furniture makers. They all work with sustainably harvested local wood & have a passion for quality. In contrast, most furniture you’ll find in big box stores today is low quality and made with wood that’s clear cut from vulnerable wildlife habitats like the rainforest. I wanted to raise awareness about the negative environmental impacts of buying it and persuade people to choose eco-friendly Vermont made furniture instead. We use the Internet to find like-minded customers who share our values. It allows us to serve a small niche of customers scattered all across the America.
Related: Read about another eco-conscious entrepreneur here.
How do you define success? Success will be in growing the company to the point where we’re realizing our goal of making Vermont the fine furniture capital of America; delighting 10,000 families a year with creation and flawless delivery of Vermont made furniture to their homes in all 50 states; providing opportunities for Vermont’s young craftspeople to stay in VT and pursue their dream of making a living through their craft; providing our team exciting opportunities for personal and professional growth; utilizing our woodlands and showroom at Stonehurst to demonstrate how sustainable furniture is made; making demonstrable progress on our environmental and social mission. That includes planting at least 25,000 trees/year in vulnerable rainforest habitats and in the Mexican forests where the Monarch butterfly over-winters. We also aim to restore monarch habitats at Stonehurst and in other locations throughout Vermont.
Biggest success: Building a team of professionals who are dedicated to helping each other succeed. I’m so proud to be a part of this amazing team. We come from different backgrounds, locations, religions and philosophies. We have varying types and levels of education and training. We have a wide range of ages and abilities. Our areas of expertise span from woodworking to sales, marketing, website design and development, management and finance, shipping and logistics, to facilities management and more. We often have different opinions on company strategies and priorities. But somehow, through candor and respect we have built a cohesive team that’s largely self-managing and immensely supportive of each other. We are a small, family owned company, facing enormous challenges everyday but we pull each other through. I believe we are better people for it. We push ourselves and each other. It’s fun and exciting to watch our team progress and achieve what others said was impossible.
Related: Kristen Carroll: Team Solutions for Small Businesses
What is your top challenge and how you have addressed it? The Internet is a medium that makes it possible to market and sell Vermont made furniture to customers all across America and beyond. Hooray! But the Internet has a dark side too and that’s been our biggest challenge. Running an online business is kind of like working in the wild, wild West. There are few laws and little enforcement. It’s easy for nefarious people to sabotage their online competition. Many companies and even entire industries have evolved over recent years to serve the destructive niche of online sabotage. We are a small, family-owned business and everyday we work hard to make our website the best it can be. Competitors have taken notice and are often on the attack. All good websites suffer in the same way. We take our lead from Apple and fight back by maintaining state of the art technology, security and a leadership position in our niche (American made, sustainable, handcrafted furniture).
My business was born out of a personal situation. I had a near death experience in 1996, after which my doctor made the comment that I was lucky to be alive. It made me realize how precious and fragile life is. At the time I was perfectly happy working at a university, teaching environmental safety and health. But I began to feel that wasn’t really my purpose in life. My passion was wildlife habitat conservation and I started to think more and more about how I could pursue that through my work. Eventually I decided to leave the worlds of academia and corporations to start my own business. My first attempt was Kids Saving the Planet. It was a non-profit designed to get kids and their parents involved in environmental projects and activism. It never took off. My husband, Ken suggested I try a for profit business that would be driven by a mission of habitat conservation. Vermont Woods Studios was born out of Ken’s love of woodworking & my love of the forest & it’s wildlife.
Who is your most important role model? My mother is my most important role model. She has a strength and a kindness like no one else. When my mother was 40, with 4 little kids, she began losing her eyesight. There were many other challenges in her life at the time, including the fact that Dad was working night and day running his own small business. She never complained. In fact, none of us kids really knew how serious the problem was. I think it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” Well, my mother decided she was not going to lose her eyesight. All of a sudden a brilliant young ophthalmologist moved to town and took her on as a patient. Relatives researched supplements known to improve eye health and she began taking them. Although she lost some eyesight and is legally blind, 50 years later, Mom can still see well enough to play bridge twice/week and read the newspaper. I adore my mother, she inspires me to overcome the obstacles in my life.
Tell us your story!
Read about another entrepreneur here.
Edited by The Story Exchange