From time to time, customers at Farm-Way, Inc. in Bradford, Vermont, will ask employees if there are plans in the works to open another store. But, as staff respond, there’s only one Farm-Way, which serves as much as a community gathering spot as it does as a place to buy everything from farm equipment to hiking boots to kayaks.
Farm-Way officially opened in eastern Vermont in 1983, and its backstory prior and journey since illustrate one of the region’s most inspiring business success stories. Located in a former feed mill, Farm-Way started off as a place where customers could buy tack, saddles, and other farm supplies and equipment, just as its name suggests. Carol Metayer was the first official employee, and the owner gave her the reins to expand inventory into more outdoor-oriented merchandise to better meet the needs of customers.
“Somebody would come in and ask for something, and you’d say, that’s a good idea, and then we’d have that product,” Metayer says. “We took a lot of lead from our customers for our products. It was just a lifestyle reflection of the people that live around here and what things they need. The typical Vermonter or New Englander, they ski, ride horses, snowshoe, and kayak, and a lot those things they need also make sense for me.”
About four years later, Metayer had helped built the business up enough that she and husband Skip and her parents eventually pooled their money to buy it from the owner. (The land itself, however, was owned by other parties, including a railroad company.) Farm-Way continued to expand its offerings and customer base, and in 1990, the railroad company sold the family the land on which the original building stands.
Then came the real dirty work: Cleaning the land up after years of contamination thanks to neighboring businesses that included an oil and gas plant, fertilizer mill, and two creameries. “We had to do an environmental assessment and as soon as they started drilling down, we could smell gas,” Metayer says.
The reason? A railroad tanker full of oil, buried in the ground. Another was soon discovered, and between them, the cars held about 19,000 gallons of oil, which had to be carefully removed and recycled.
“We were just thinking, this is gonna be complicated, and it was,” Metayer says. “Initially, the responsible parties weren’t receptive to doing anything about it, so we had to litigate with them to get them to clean up their part.”
The process has been slow and arduous, but after nearly 20 years, it’s almost finished, Metayer says. Along the way, Farm-Way has also added solar panels, which supply the business with 43 percent of its power. A series of real estate purchases over the years have brought the company’s total on-site acreage to 18, as well as the purchase of the original building and another house that the company reimagined and renovated into the Gift House, offering furniture and housewares. In 2005, the company unveiled a 15,000-square-foot addition to its “Bootroom,” which stocks more than 15,000 types of footwear.
Over the years, Farm-Way has become a go-to spot for outdoor lovers in the central-east Vermont region, with an impressive selection of gear and gadgets for camping, hunting, kayaking, snowshoeing, and hiking, from crampons to hydration packs to camping stoves. In addition, it’s also added an online store, which falls under the Farm-Way name but has a URL—www.vermontgear.com—that better reflects its outdoor focus for both vendors and customers.
Whether customers shop online or in the store—which is easy to spot thanks to the giant red chair out front, a promotional item from a Canadian furniture line sold inside—they can count on the same personalized, customer service that’s been around for more than 30 years. Just like the early days, staff—which includes 36 full-time employees and three part-time—are always paying attention to what the customer needs.
Says Metayer: “They always tell you what they need, and if we don’t have it, we always say that we can order it for them. And if that customer, for whatever reason, doesn’t want you to order it, if you order it anyway the next customer may want it too.”