Vermont toy factory a family enterprise
By Dan McLean
Burlington (Vt.) Free Press
By Dan McLean
MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Every weekday, about 1,500 wooden train cars, each in the shape of a letter of the alphabet, are assembled at Maple Landmark Inc.
The brightly colored NameTrains — once the cash crop of the business — remain a big seller, but are now just one of roughly 1,000 items made at the business, a family enterprise with four generations working at the 15,000-square-foot facility.
The owners are company President Mike Rainville, 43, and his wife, Jill, who handles customer service. Mike Rainville's sister, Barbara, deals with public relations and marketing; his mother, Pat, paints items in the finishing room; and his 88-year-old grandmother, Hattie Brown, works on the assembly line. Rainville's children also lend a hand.
The company, using the trade name Maple Landmark Woodcraft, creates wooden products including trains, tracks, trucks, puzzles, picture frames, train whistles, game sets, rattles, yo-yos, blocks and Christmas tree ornaments.
Most of the wood used, including maple, pine and cherry, is from Vermont.
"I like to do the work," Brown said as she assembled train-shaped Christmas ornaments one morning, alongside her 13-year-old great-grandson, Adam.
"I've done almost every job there is to do," Brown said, noting her favorite product to assemble is a yo-yo.
Mike Rainville started creating wood products at his parents' house in Lincoln, Vt., during junior high school. Both of his grandfathers had carpentry skills and dabbled with woodworking, he said.
"There were tools around," he said. "One thing leads to another — and you make a few things."
Rainville made wooden trucks, cribbage boards and spool holders that caught the eye of a salesman who began selling the goods on his behalf.
Shortly after graduating from college, Rainville registered Maple Landmark Woodcraft as a trade name in 1985, and the company was incorporated in 1995 as Maple Landmark Inc. It's named after the family farm, Maple Landmark Homestead.
Now, California is the company's largest market, followed by Vermont, Rainville said.
Many retailers seek foreign products to keep prices down. At the wholesale level, Maple Landmark's goods are typically 25 percent to 35 percent more expensive than those made in China, Rainville said.
But after the federal government recalled a Chinese-made wooden train line last month for use of lead paint, Rainville is hoping Maple Landmark's "Made in Vermont" label will help him win new customers.