December 17, 2017
May 2011 | Vol. X - No. 5
Maple Landmark Woodcraft: The Classic Wooden Toy
Maple Landmark Woodcraft, a Vermont-based wood toy manufacturer, has grown from a small business to a large award-winning company that sells to over three thousand dealers. Famous for the personalized NameTrain and Hang-A-Name, this quaint "toy factory" turns out Railblox, games, rattles, and their own Vermont Country Blocks, a line of country, decorative letter blocks. Their train engine cribbage boards are unique. In 2001 they acquired the Montgomery Schoolhouse, another wood manufacturer, boosting their success.
Owner Mike Rainville started woodworking in grade school, making items he sold at flea markets and craft fairs. By the time he entered high school he was selling to regional gift shops. Wood was a natural choice because it was readily available. From hand tools to power tools and machines, he learned his trade. Rainville attended Clarkson University, focusing on business and engineering. After graduation in 1984, he built a new woodshop and turned his skills into a full time profession.
In the early stages he made gift products such as jewelry boxes, clocks, and cutting boards in addition to toys, which became a specialty ten years ago. He’s been in business for twenty-five years. "I think a key element of our success has always been our flexibility. We weren’t built on a single product, but on our capabilities," Rainville explains. "Making new and different things keeps life interesting for us. While we like our high volume products, we are also willing to carry items that may only sell a couple hundred units a year. Since we make it ourselves, volume requirements are less of an issue."
When TDmonthly spoke with Rainville for the first time in 2004, he lamented that production had been driven to lower cost countries. Recently, however, he’s noticed a shift in the market. “I think one of the changes we're seeing is with other countries. Their costs are going up, and there are people who have dismissed American products for awhile that are coming back around,” he explained. “Either they've experience problems with products made elsewhere, or they're seeing the price differentials aren't as big as they though they were previously. I think there's some opportunity for people to reconsider their notions about price and value a little bit.”
Some of the change has to do with new regulations on toy safety and testing. “The whole issue has been a benefit to us because we're not manufacturing in China. People are looking more at domestic products now,” he says, referring to the lead paint scares in 2007. While the new regulations have “had some impact on the design of our products,” Rainville says that Maple Landmark was “already doing voluntary testing that met most of the new regulations,” and that stricter regulations have made their wooden toys more desirable.
Having been in business for over a quarter of a century, Rainville offered some advice to those looking to get into the industry. “Work hard. It's not the easiest industry to work in, certainly as a domestic manufacturer... but hang in there. Things change. You never know what's around the corner.”
This is an update of an article previously published in TDmonthly in Jul. of 2004. The original article can be read here.
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