By Amanda Kuhnert
In 2020, after five years in business, the owners of Vermont Evaporator Company made a dramatic change to their business model. They moved to 100 percent online sales. Spurred by the pandemic, the new sales approach is “much more efficient than running the fair circuit from May through December to drive revenue,” said Kate Whelley McCabe, who co-owns the Montpelier-based company with her husband Justin and their families.
The Vermont Evaporator Company manufactures and sells sap evaporators for small-scale producers to use in their back yards. Unlike other wood-fired evaporators on the market, their products are portable, don’t require a sugarhouse, and won’t break the bank. And, featuring a removable pan, they are designed to be easily converted to a grill, smoker, or wood-fired bread and pizza oven when sugaring season is over.
The shift to an online sales model is just one way the owners have pivoted since the onset of Covid-19. “We have remarketed our products to drive off-peak sales and annualize revenues, and moved into a facility with a more supportive landlord,” Kate said.
But the past two years have been anything but smooth sailing. Kate sums up the impacts of Covid-19 on their business: “We’ve experienced revenue shortfalls, a layoff and a partial closure, followed by revenue growth, two hires and expansion, followed by supply chain disruptions.”
A strong support system has helped the owners navigate the pandemic and other business hurdles since the company’s founding in 2015. “The Vermont Small Business Development Center has maintained a presence for our business since the very beginning,” Kate said. “Our advisor has seen us through raising capital, starting production, getting ‘banked,’ weathering the pandemic, and now through our expansion into both a larger space and a longer list of product lines.”
The McCabe’s story is an example of how the VtSBDC can help with the continued growth of a business beyond the initial start-up phase, said VtSBDC advisor Charlie Ininger. Along with ongoing support from Ininger, the owners recently began working with Steve Dobrin, a VtSBDC consultant. “Steve was an absolute godsend at the beginning of the pandemic,” Kate said. “He walked us through cash flow management, impressed upon us the importance of keeping tabs on inventory, and was a valuable sounding board for balance sheet management. Always available and always encouraging, Steve was an integral part of our recovery from the darkest days of Covid.”
For more info: vermontevaporator.com.
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