December 22, 2017

Danforth Pewter reaches to new markets

A Danforth Pewter craftsman hand spins an oil lamp on a lathe. The Middlebury company is branching out to new markets with help from the Vermont Community Loan Fund. COURTESY PHOTO

MIDDLEBURY — Danforth Pewter, maker of fine pewter products in Vermont since 1975, hopes to increase its market reach and visibility with the recent opening of new stores in Portland, Maine, and National Harbor, Maryland.

Company CEO Bram Kleppner said that without a cash infusion from the Vermont Community Loan Fund, a two-store opening this year would not have been possible.

“We probably would have had to choose between (Maryland) and Portland. I am really glad we didn’t have to make that choice,” Kleppner said.

Danforth Pewter, based in Middlebury, was among 15 recipients of $5.56 million in loans in 2017 made available through VCLF, a community-focused alternative lender to qualified businesses, nonprofits, child-care providers and developers of housing.

Danforth Pewter produces a wide assortment of pewter items, including baby utensils, table and kitchenware, holiday ornaments and jewelry such as necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Each item is hand-made — cast or spun — at the company’s Middlebury workshop using 100-percent-lead-free pewter made of an alloy of tin, copper and antimony.

Kleppner said Danforth Pewter borrowed $50,000 in a seven-year loan through VCLF at 7 percent interest. The loan provided funding to open a new retail store in a 150-year-old building in Portland, next to Simon Pearce, a Windsor, Vermont-based glassware and pottery store.

The Portland store officially opened May 15 with five employees.

“Opening a new store is fairly expensive in the startup phase,” Kleppner said. “Once you are up and running, the operating expenses are pretty low.”

Danforth Pewter, owned by Fred and Judi Danforth, hired Imhotep in Cornwall, Vermont, to design the 1,100-square-foot retail space and facade in Portland. The VCLF loan also helped pay for major renovations and inventory, and “a lot of the expense was going to designing the store,” Kleppner said.

“Our general approach to growth is we are really small. In broad brush strokes, a lot of our efforts are introducing ourselves” to the public, he said.

To that end, Danforth Pewter spent two years looking for yet another ideal location to increase the company’s market exposure. The search ended with a 1,100-square-foot retail space in a vibrant commercial sector in National Harbor, Maryland, located on the banks of the Potomac River near the nation’s capital.

“The world tells us where to open,” Kleppner said. “It really was the perfect location to open up, and we did it this year,” using the company’s own financial resources.

The store opened Oct. 1, with five employees.

“The first month has been good. The second month taught us we shouldn’t count on a big boost (in sales) because of the holidays,” said Kleppner, noting that sales in National Harbor are “heavily dependent” on tourism and conventions.

Since 1987, the VCLF has loaned over $10 million to qualified applicants that has created or preserved 5,600 jobs, built or repaired 4,000 affordable homes, and created or preserved quality care for over 3,500 children and their families, according to a news release.

The VCLF loan to Danforth Pewter helped in the preservation of 48 jobs, plus the creation of five new ones, according to Kleppner.

Danforth Pewter currently has stores in Middlebury; Burlington; Woodstock; Waterbury; Williamsburg, Virginia; and is in the last stages of acquisition of Vilmain Pewter in Providence, Rhode Island.

Kleppner said Danforth Pewter has no plans to open additional stores in 2018, but “there are certainly a few areas that look pretty attractive to us,” including the Boston area.

 

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