OPERATIONS: Major expansion for VT Country Store

No longer just a folksy general merchandise marketer, Vermont Country Store is gearing up for serious expansion. The Manchester, VT-based company in May broke ground on a $5.7 million expansion project in North Clarendon, VT. The project, which is expected to be finished in the fall, includes capacity for a 175-seat call center and the potential for a 160,000-sq.-ft. distribution and fulfillment center.

Vermont Country Store, which began in 1946 as a store in nearby Weston, VT, mails the flagship black-and-white general merchandise catalog Voice of the Mountains, the Household (home goods) and the Apothecary (toiletries) titles, and Goods & Wares, a four-color home goods and gift book printed on heavier paper, which targets a younger audience than the company’s typical 55-year-old buyer.

The 1999 launches of the Household and Goods & Wares titles pushed the company’s inventory to 16,000 SKUs from 10,000 SKUs four years ago. But that’s not the only reason for expansion project. The company plans to launch a Website this fall, complete with online chat capability, and needed a new facility that could handle the expected increase in business.

A service boost

Then, too, according to Randy Kruml, director of operations and information technology for the $65 million company, “We wanted to make sure our customer service would sustain the future.”

And it’s been getting more difficult to adequately serve customers from the company’s current 72,371-sq.-ft. facility. The warehouse staging area had become so cramped, “we began to lose some efficiencies in the receiving area because we had to move and touch product more than necessary,” Kruml says. The new facility will house up to 23,000 SKUs within the next five years, he says.

At first the new call center will house 110 stations, but it will have the capacity for as many as 175 stations within five years. Once the distribution center is finished, the company expects to hire 240 workers – double its current workforce. But the administrative, creative, and human resources departments will remain in Manchester.