Vermont Community Loan Fund has loaned in excess of $1 million to Vermont’s small businesses, child care programs, and affordable housing programs during the 1st quarter of 2017. Financing has helped Barton Maple Company, Awakening Sanctuary/Ethan Allen Residence, Butterfly Bakery of Vermont, Green Wolf Logging & Sugaring, Grow Compost of Vermont, Housing Trust of Rutland County/Tuckerville Mobile Home Park, Otter Creek Child Center, Pulmac Systems International, and Vermont Wood Pellet Company.
Synergy has characterized Art LaPlante and Mark Royer’s working partnership for decades. The two have now founded Barton Maple Company.
The two first met years ago when Art was managing a building materials store in Barton. Mark, a customer, was in timberwork, specializing in specialty lumber. “So Mark started buying logs from land owners for me,” Art recalls.
Time went by and Art became manager of Colton’s Hardware in Orleans. Mark was firmly ensconced in his family’s financial planning firm.
Then Barton landmark E.M. Brown Hardware came up for sale. All of Art’s friends told him to go for it. “I was the marketing, merchandizing and retail guy,” says Art. “But I didn’t have experience on the financial side. There was no one who could do the books.”
The two purchased EM Brown in the fall of 2007 and the rest is (very successful) Barton history.
Ten years into it, Art describes his partnership with Mark as knowing instinctively who should handle what. “Something will come up, and I’ll say to Mark ‘Why don’t you take that?’ or he’ll say it to me,” Art notes with a laugh.
In 2013, the old general store next door to E.M. Brown went on the market. Without knowing exactly how they’d end up using the space, the two purchased it, figuring they’d “figure it out.”
Then in 2016, nearby sugaring equipment retailer Lapierre USA suddenly closed. Mark and Art immediately recognized the opportunity: E.M. Brown and Lapierre had a significant overlapping customer base (another synergy!). Opening their own sugaring equipment business made too much sense not to consider.
Plans in hand, they approached the Vermont Community Loan Fund. “We met with Raymond and Dan at the Loan Fund, and talked about our goals, and how we could serve the community with a new sugaring equipment business,” Art recalls. With the closing of Lapierre, sugarers would have to drive at least 25 miles for supplies and service. With plenty of sugaring in their neck of the woods, Art and Mark saw it as a synergistic case of supply meeting demand. The Loan Fund saw it that way, too.
Art and Mark used VCLF financing to purchase inventory, and the Barton Maple Company launched in time for the 2017 sugaring season. In the old general store location, former Lapierre’s employee Patrick Thompson manages the shop while Art and Mark keep E.M. Brown moving forward. Financing helped retain one part-time and three full-time jobs, with another job expected to be created this year.
“Stainless steel tubing, storage tanks, pumps, evaporators. If not for the Loan Fund, we never could have gotten our inventory up in time for sugaring season,” Art reflects. “Now we have it. And if we don’t have it in stock, we can have it within a day.”