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Made in America

Specifically, made in Massachusetts.

One of Judi Vaillancourt's original chalkware Santas made in America in the early 1980s.

One of Judi Vaillancourt’s original chalkware Santas made in America in the early 1980s.

In 2010, the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism featured our studios among an elite list of Massachusetts’ staples; Cape Cod Potato Chip factory, Sam Adams Brewery, and Fenway Park, for best “factory tours” in the Commonwealth. What surprised us most was that there were not more on this short list. Since the early 2000s, there has been a hopeful resurgence and recognition that the American economy will be stimulated if more jobs come back to the United States. We are just happy that we have never left.

During America’s Bicentennial, the heyday of “folk art” and Americana craft shows, you found hundreds of individuals creating handcrafted items. This was the birth of many small businesses from Burt’s Bees, Eldred Wheeler, Simon Pearce, Byers’ Choice, and us. Before the days of digital and when fairs and shows were common for unique artistry; it was common to travel across the country to sell, and buy, one’s products at a retail show—how Vaillancourt Folk Art planted its roots. These “heydays” found show promoters competing for vendors on the same weekend, offering lavish (well, for the 1980s, at least) incentives to choose their show over their competitor’s show. With the customers buying by the arm full, many artists were lured by the demand and made the decision to hire employees to create more and more to sell; to the point that their businesses were at maximum capacity and still unable to meet the potential demand for their wares. Many began investigating going overseas to take advantage of the lower costs. Some companies that did not, quickly found products from overseas, looking very similar to their own, making their way to the same shows at significantly lower prices. It seemed that the only way not to be forced out of the market was to join the trend of overseas manufacturing.

The kitchen at the Vaillancourt's home acted as the first "pouring room" in the early 1980s. Not just made in America, made at home!

The kitchen at the Vaillancourt’s home acted as the first “pouring room” in the early 1980s. Not just made in America, made at home!

By the time Vaillancourt Folk Art was in full production—having moved from our home studio basement to the former Armsby Road location which included the studio and retail store—Judi Vaillancourt began to see copies of her chalkware figurines coming from China and at a price that she would never be able to compete with. It was then that she realized that she should turn the tables… she could not compete with price, but they could not compete with quality. With that, she increased the quality, which in turn increased the price—taking her chalkware Santas to a new level.

Seemingly, by the 1990s, many American retailers overlooked quality when they saw the margins that overseas products garnered. Moreover, many consumers made the conscious decision that in a “disposable world” it was easier to buy and replace than invest and enjoy. That was until the 2000s when America was attacked and the economy was hard hit. During this time of panic and uncertainty, many small retail shoppes around the nation closed their doors while some large stores and companies consolidated—at the cost of their employees. It was this that made Vaillancourt Folk Art have to make changes—not to save the business, but to protect its employees.

Vaillancourt Folk Art moved from a 1800s farmhouse, that many customers hated to see go, into a historic stone mill just miles down the road. This move enabled the company to act more efficiently and to create an “experience.” Instead of a quaint retail store, the new location allowed group tours to come see the artists working in their studios, it allowed for the Vaillancourt Christmas museum to display the timeline of the Chalkware Santa, and the expanded retail gallery allowed for displays that rivaled any classic department store’s nostalgic display.

Judi Vaillancourt signing one of her pieces during a gallery opening earlier this year.

Judi Vaillancourt signing one of her pieces during a gallery opening earlier this year.

There are challenges and obstacles inherent to being a business in America and, in particular, in Massachusetts. The high costs of health insurance, unemployment taxes, and worker’s compensation continue to make it nearly impossible for a small businesses to survive. Nevertheless, these challenges enable businesses to have to step outside of their comfort zone; it forces business to make changes and evolve. While the nation continues to make headlines like CNN’s ‘Made in America’ revival gathers pace, it’s often overlooked that the real key to success doesn’t stop at having manufacturing in the States, but having dedication in the community.

In 2012, the Worcester Business Journal named us #15 in overall ranking for Top Tourist Attractions because of tens of thousands of visitors that visit us to experience a true American tradition. In 2014, we begin celebration of our 30th anniversary in business. With employees that we consider family, we are happy that they each have the same passion that Gary and Judi have had since the first sale in 1984. In addition, with support from our collectors—both casual and serious—that share in the passion of tradition, we hope that business in America continues to grow but with a stern focus on quality, tradition, and creativity. We are made in America. We are made in Massachusetts.

A local group enjoying a guided tour through the artist's studio.

A local group enjoying a guided tour through the artist’s studio.