Editor’s note: This article is by Lou Varricchio, editor of the Vermont Eagle. It is republished here with permission.
MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — A walk-through Maple Landmark’s factory on Exchange Street in Middlebury is a bit like walking through Santa Claus’ legendary workshop at the North Pole. While you won’t find tufted-eared elves at work, you will find very human employees busy constructing wood products that are hallmarks of this award-winning local company.
But Maple Landmark does Santa’s workshop one better. Take a look around; you will see show unique custom-ordered items being produced for customers around the nation. And that’s why we’re sure Santa can learn a thing or two about Maple Landmark’s proud-of-product and attention to detail.
Maple Landmark is a fascinating story of a Vermont family’s dedication to making a niche for itself and building a business model most fledgling entrepreneurs might want to imitate.
It all started when teenage Mike Rainville began a woodworking hobby during the 1970s. According to Maple Landmark’s online history, “Working out of his parents’ basement with scraps from his grandfather’s carpentry projects, Mike duplicated household items, things like spool holders and cribbage boards. Before long friends and neighbors were asking Mike to make things and by 1979, he started selling wholesale. Local craft fairs also provided income and experience.”
As the company tells it, Mike’s best selling products in those days were cribbage and tic-tac-toe games. But my, how times and products change.
A 1984 graduate of Clarkson University, Mike went on to build himself a new woodshop for his growing, full-time business. And Mike began calling the business Maple Landmark Woodcraft.
According to the company’s website, the choice “Maple Landmark” was a natural extension of the name Mike’s family used for their Vermont maple sugaring business and dairy farm, Maple Landmark Homestead. Mike’s grandfather, Fletcher Brown, made maple syrup there for over 65 years.
Fast forward now to 2020.
The COVID pandemic has placed many restrictions on local businesses, but Maple Landmark remains healthy and busy even while following state COVID workspace protocols.
Remember those cribbage and tic-tac-toe boards? Now Maple Landmark includes custom work such as recognition plaques of all types, participation medallions for local sports, keepsake boxes, awards, and even an occasional desk nameplate are just part of the regular custom work throughout the year. There are also bar-tap handles, name tags, presentation boxes, 3D topographical maps, and more wooden specialties as well as lots of items for everyday living.
“We were never only about toys and that holds true today. The fastest-growing portion of our business is custom work. We use our capabilities to meet the needs of a couple of hundred companies and institutions. Custom products start with items like you’ll see in the custom section on this site and extend into completely custom built store displays, component parts, tap handles, and other items that fit our processes.
“The custom work is interesting because it’s out of our ordinary, giving us a chance to think about things differently,” according to George Macedo, Maple Landmark’s graphic designer and member of the product development team. “It’s a growing part of the company. Every local organization has some kind of need and it’s great when we can address it right here in Middlebury.”
By 2017, Mike and Jill Rainville’s older son Adam and younger son Andrew had joined the family business.
Being local is just one of the ways Maple Landmark can make things happen quickly, according to the Rainvilles.
Technology-driven machinery, such as routers, lasers, and full-color printers, coupled with the capabilities of expert local craftspeople, makes working with the folks at Maple Landmark on special projects a rewarding experience, according to more than a few satisfied customers.
Sometimes these rewards are especially sweet. For example, two employees recently participated in and won competitions that worked with Maple Landmark to produce their awards: one uniquely designed trophy and the other a medallion