January 5, 2016

Wild Apple Graphics passes 25-year mark

Provided Wild Apple Graphics employees are shown during a company rafting trip last summer.

The lure and excitement of becoming entrepreneurs compelled an local couple to follow a new path 25 years ago.
Leaving the corporate world behind, John and Laurie Chester moved from Boston in 1989 and bought an old farmhouse near Woodstock.
“We kept having the idea of an entrepreneurial business,” recalled John Chester. “One idea was the art world.”
After six months writing a business plan, in March 1990 Wild Apple Graphics Ltd. was incorporated, and the product — art reproductions — was out to market by June.
“All of a sudden we had a written business plan but hadn’t thought out space requirements,” he said. “We were operating out of a spare bedroom in our house. A converted closet became an office, as did a repurposed bathroom. The electrician would walk in and see six-prong and two other six-prongs hooked to computers, lights and the printer.”
Renovations to an old barn on the property served from 1993 to 1995, housing 11 people.
“That was supposed to last us quite a while. By 1995 we began building the space we’re in now in West Woodstock,” Chester said. That’s been expanded too.
The artist that early on fueled the company’s growth was Vermont’s Warren Kimble, whose art painted on boards became posters. Following a 1990 recession, there was as back-to-the-farm mentality and a nostalgia for simpler times.
“Folk art had a niche category in our world. This ended up hitting a cord and then went very main stream. Kimble would appeal to both sophisticated and less sophisticated buyers because he was so approachable and quirky, and the colors were right,” he said.
Another important artist for the growing company was Cheri Blum, master of floral imageries on a neutral palette. Her work was also licensed out for home products such as rugs and shower curtains.
“We were doing primarily print on paper, but there was a huge canvas market that grew. We were probably a little late to that party,” he mused.
Sales are business-to-business only. The company is represented on such websites as Art.com, AllPosters.com, FulcrumGallery.com and canvassgalleryart.com.
Because art is all intellectual property, Chester became immersed in copyright protection issues. China poses challenges.
“With some of my competitors we go to some of the biggest home decor shows in China, walk the show and confront the counterfeiters. This is one of the places I spend a lot of money,” he added. However, an emerging middle class in China represents sales opportunities.
Usually the antics of Washington don’t get jumbled into art. But just for fun, Chester has registered himself to run for U.S. president.
“This is a shameless publicity stunt,” he said, “and my one topic is copyright protection. It’s been and gotten some industry attention. It spreads the word about copyright.”
He likes building a company that for the past five years has been tapped as one of the best places to work in Vermont. There are 35 on staff.
Laurie Chester likes working with independent artists.
“People are seeing more art now, including works of contemporary and younger artists. They have dramatically influenced the industry. Right now, for a certain demographic, the millennial, there are a lot more bright colors, water colors and abstracted looks,” she said. Spotting trends and colors used to mean forays to Europe. “Now artists are in Brooklyn and here in the Upper Valley. Sam Falls Is a young contemporary artist who grew up in Woodstock. I just found out he was the inspiration for a blog on color. People pick colors based on what Sam Falls is doing. Young American (U.S. and Canada) artists are just super powerful at this time. They are leading the say in home design. But we have to watch what clients, designers and artists are doing all over the world. Sometimes we’re a little ahead of ourselves and a little lonely in our mass market world.”
John Chester’s tips for would-be entrepreneurs include: put every conceivable cost into a budget, then double it; financial risk can be an energizer; and do bring your personal values to the workplace.
Wild Apple Graphics Ltd. is located at 2513 W Woodstock Rd, Woodstock, VT 05091. The telephone number is 802.457.3003, and the website is www.wildapple.com. v

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