August 12th, 2013 by Peggy Farabaugh
One of the best things about running a sustainable furniture business is that our customers are people who care about how we treat the environment and the people we work with. They’ve come to us because they are willing to pay a premium for high quality, American made furniture that’s crafted from sustainably harvested wood– by furniture makers who are paid a fair, livable wage.
Yesterday we received this note from Wayne J:
I appreciated the description of your commitment to sustainability. I would also like to know how you care for the artisans and trades people who build and ship the furniture. What percentage of the price flows to these people? Are they paid a living wage? What is the ratio of their pay to that of the CEO? Are they making enough to create for themselves safe environments for doing their work. For me to do repeat business at this price point, it will be important to have answers to these questions as well.
These are great questions. I would ask the same thing if I was a customer and I thought you might be interested in the answers, so I decided to post them here. I’ll break it down into Compensation and Occupational Safety & Health.
Vermont Woods Studios is set up as a marketing and sales company. We actually don’t build much furniture anymore (we started out with Ken building furniture but as we grew, he couldn’t keep up, so we got him doing the bookkeeping instead). So we don’t directly employ furniture makers. We work with independent Vermont furniture makers, either buying furniture wholesale and selling retail or via commission or referral fees.
From the beginning, we set Vermont Woods Studios up as a mission-driven company, that is: To conserve forests and artistic woodworking while providing our customers with the best selection, value, quality and service available for Vermont made wood furniture.
Because Ken is a woodworker, we are well aware of the amount of time and effort that goes into a piece of handcrafted furniture. We have a middle ground to walk between helping Vermont furniture companies and craftspeople achieve high quality jobs and providing our customers with the best value for their furniture. All the while we must compensate our marketing, sales and web development staff as best we can.
As for the CEO’s salary… well that would be mine. I haven’t actually taken a salary yet, per se. We are in our 8th year at Vermont Woods Studios and as other small business owners will attest, much of the early years involves investing and rolling profits back into the business, rather than taking a salary. For now, I am sustained with the knowledge that if we meet our challenge of creating efficiencies in the Vermont furniture making and shipping system, we’ll end up with a win-win-win-win situation: for woodworkers, customers, Vermont Woods Studios employees (including me) and the environment.
Vermont has the highest environmental standards of any state in the nation. As for the safety and health of the woodworkers that craft furniture for Vermont Woods Studios, I believe all the companies we work with (both large and small) go above and beyond federal and state OSHA and EPA regulations. Prior to starting this company I worked in environmental and occupational health and safety for 20+ years, with my most recent work in this occupation was at Tulane’s Center for Applied Environmental Public Health. That experience, plus the fact that Ken has an active woodworking shop gives me confidence in my assessment of the safety and health protections our woodworking partners employ. I do realize that we have to take a more active role in documenting safety, health and sustainability compliance amongst our partners in the future, though.
If you’re interested in additional details regarding sustainability, livable wages and worker safety at Vermont Woods Studios, please browse through our fine furniture website to learn about:
and give me a call or email me to suggest ways for us to continually improve.
* Not all of our craftspeople have their own businesses. Many work for larger companies, like Copeland Furniture. Read more about sustainability and the treatment of craftspeople at Copeland Furniture here.
considered proprietary information
according tothe Vermont Department of Labor, the average annual salary for a Vermont woodworker is $ 32,440