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Putney sugar makers open retail store after online business success

For more information about Hidden Springs and the store, call 802-387-5200.

PUTNEY—The trend in retailing these days is to close down your “bricks-and-mortar” physical location and sell your products online.

Hidden Springs Maple has certainly followed the online path. The business started selling locally produced, Vermont maple syrup at farm prices, with free shipping, online in 2009. Last year, the company began selling wholesale to restaurants and small stores nationally.

This fall, however, Hidden Springs Maple has decided to open a retail store on 162 Westminster Rd. It will host a grand opening on Friday, Nov. 25, starting at 10 a.m. An open house will be held from 1 to 4 p.m., followed by a reception from 4 to 6 p.m. with food, drink, and live music by The Stockwell Brothers.

The new store is housed in a large barn attached to a renovated farmhouse. The store will offer Vermont maple syrup and other Vermont products in a traditional Vermont setting.

Peter Cooper-Ellis is the owner and manager of Hidden Springs Maple. When asked why he decided to open a farm store, he said the short answer was, “because our customers are asking us to.”

The long answer is slightly more complex.

Cooper-Ellis said that while his family has been in the maple syrup production business for more than 50 years, the farm’s retail business is relatively new.

“We began offering maple syrup over the Internet 18 months ago,” he said. “Our products are available via the farm’s own website and through Amazon.com.

“As a web retail business, we are unique in that we offer farm-direct prices, free shipping, and toll free customer service phone line,” Cooper-Ellis continued. “We advertise on Google Ad Words and we interact with our customers through our blog, as well as through postings on both Facebook and Twitter.”

As a result of all that activity, Cooper-Ellis said that the Hidden Spring website gets approximately 5,000 unique visitors per month, and its web business has grown rapidly.

But, he said, he began noticing right away that customers frequently asked if they can visit the sugarhouse or farm store.

“Frequently, these are people who live in New York City or on the East Coast who are planning a weekend in Vermont and are looking for interesting places to visit,” he said.

But Cooper-Ellis also discovered that his customers were looking for more than just an interesting place to visit.

“What we learned is that people who shop for Vermont products on the web aren’t just buying a product,” he said. “They are buying a piece of Vermont.”

The Vermont brand, he said, stands for quality, exceptional customer service, and honest value. “It also stands for small farm, and family business. Customers want to know the real people behind the business.”

So, Cooper-Ellis added a four-story, post-and-beam barn to the 200-year-old farmhouse that his family calls home.

He said the new store “is designed to give our web customers the ability to connect with us in person.”

“Our farm store is unique because it is housed in the same barn as our maple syrup storage and packing facility and also the web shipping part of the business,” he said.

During sugaring season, Cooper-Ellis plans to offer tours of the farm’s sugarbush in nearby Westminster West.

The store will also carry maple syrup from a number of other local producers, as well as a variety of Vermont-made and artisan products.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #128 (Wednesday, November 23, 2011).

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