If all goes as planned, the VermontMapleSyrup.com website, which is operated by Viking Farms of Guilford, will serve as a cyber-based farm market for Vermont-made products. The goal of the website is to provide one-stop, online shopping for a wide variety of Vermont products.
Currently, there are 33 vendors on the site and seven more will be added by the end of the month, according to Chris Willett, operations manager for Viking Farms. Willett is in charge of the website development and ongoing maintenance and recruiting vendors for the site.
“We thought that it would be a great idea to create and online marketplace for Vermont only vendors,” Willett said. “We know it is not inexpensive to build a website and then spend thousands of dollars on digital marketing to get your products seen online by the millions who hit the ‘search’ button every day. We are hoping to create a strong online marketplace for Vermont vendors and help them get their products viewed throughout the country. Our goal is to incorporate all things made locally here in Vermont into one location. Think of us as your online Vermont farmers market.”
The website has been live only for about two months, according to Willett, so it does not yet have a sales track record.
Visitors to the site order products from the various vendors and Viking Farms handles the sales transactions, contacts the vendors with the orders and the vendors send the products to the customers.
“We take care of everything here for the vendors. We build them into our website with a mini store, we drive the traffic, we charge the customers, we send the vendor a purchase order and a pre-paid shipping label. All they have to do is ship out the purchased goods,” Willett said.
There is no upfront cost to join the site. To cover its costs, Viking takes 20% of the revenues. “If the margins are too slim for some vendors we increase the costs on the site accordingly to help compensate,” Willett said.
Even though most of the vendors on the site have their own websites and online sales, there is still an advantage to be listed on VermontMapleSyrup.com, according to Willett.
“This is basically free advertising for our vendors. Yes, they have a site but why not get onto another one that has zero costs to them and the tech and funds for a big online push. We develop everything for them on our site, they do not have to do a single thing except wait for their email confirmation to log in and look over their profile setting within the dashboard and then wait for orders to be placed,” Willett said.
“We have the software tools and funds to really help drive traffic to the site. It would cost thousands of dollars for each vendor to generate the type of traffic we aim to generate. We have the proprietary software built to help maximize traffic and clicks through SEO (search engine optimization),” Willett said.
Jessica Markowski, office manager for Olivia’s Croutons of Brandon, said that company signed on because the website “promotes Vermont products” and there were no upfront costs.
Same for Vermont Village of Barre. “Part of the reason we signed on is because the site promotes Vermont-made products,” said Elizabeth Heeter, customer service and sales support director. Vermont Village is a producer of premium organic applesauce and apple butter, raw & organic apple cider vinegar, organic sipping vinegars, organic vinegar shots, functional vinegars and drinking vinegars.
TreTap of Milton signed on to the Vermont Maple website to increase it’s online presence, according to Aaron Harris, director of distribution. TreTap produces maple-based sparkling water products. According to Harris, TreTap plans to launch its own e-commerce site. In the meantime, Vermont Maple provided an opportunity to get online now.
According to Willett, the reason the site is named Vermont Maple Syrup is because maple syrup is the most recognized Vermont product.
“Before purchasing the domain we did some market research to see how we could best utilize search engines and traffic,” he said.
Viking Farms operates a 800-acre maple operation in Guilford, and the owner is Pavel Belogour, founder of BMFN (Boston Merchant Financial).