It is safe to say that traditions, family, and a strong, goal-oriented work ethic have been the pillars of Luke’s life. Especially as a 16th generation Suttonian, whose parents are the founders of one of the nation’s last American-Made Christmas studios.
Luke’s education was the first stepping-stone in forming his passions and career goals. He graduated from Worcester Academy (Worcester, MA) in 2001, and continued his education by earning a Bachelors of Science in New Media Publishing and a Masters of Science with concentrations in Contemporary Publishing Trends and Communication & Media Technology from Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY). His hands-on experience with publishing industry leaders helped him to gain an understanding of the interconnectivity of the media (print, new, social, etc) and led to the publishing of Marketing4Digital: A Guide to Print Markets (Advertising), (PIA/GATFPress, 2007) and Interactivity in Advertising: The Key to Furthering Advertising Effectiveness, (Rochester Institute of Technology, 2006).
With his formal education behind him, Luke did not hesitate to return to Central Massachusetts to pursue a career in advertising and marketing (despite having a once-in-a-lifetime offer from Limited Brands as the Digital Asset Coordinator for Victoria’s Secret’s photography library in NYC). True to his parent’s non-stop work ethic, once in Worcester, Luke had his hands in several ventures at a time, including starting WorcesterScene.com, WorcesterFoodies, working full time in the digital department of an advertising agency, and maintaining several freelance marketing clients. Although each job and experience seemed independent of the others, the pieces fit together like a puzzle, and Luke developed a passion in analyzing social media trends, print media technologies, and new media interactions of his clients’ roles in the digital revolution.
In 2007, Luke left his role at web development and joined his parents at their company, Vaillancourt Folk Art (VFA), as the Director for Digital Marketing. An integral part of the family business, Luke has enhanced and revamped the company’s web presence, eCommerce abilities, and business relations in hopes of leaving a footprint in VFA’s piece of the global digital revolution.
Today, while living in his hometown with his wife, Luke continues to expand his understanding of digital trends and consumer interactions. His professional goal is to gain better leverage of his clients’ footholds in their respective industries. Aided by research and his close relationship with many industry experts and friends around the globe, he is most happy to be involved in his local community, such as sitting on the Board of Trustees at Worcester Academy and Worcester Historical Museum, involved as a Corporator at the Worcester Art Museum and sharing his experience at business forums which include the Worcester Business Journal and Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Self-dubbed a “digital media developer and social scene aficionado,” Luke can often be found “researching” how progressive social scenes are best leveraging technology and marketing to leave their own footprints in the global community’s digital revolution.
Legally speaking, “Taco Tuesdays” is a trademark of Taco John’s, but that didn’t stop the Worcester Foodies group from enjoying the national holiday at Plaza Azteca on Lincoln Street.
Tuesday night’s Foodies dinner ended up being one of the largest gatherings of the informal dining group, with over 20 people trying out the delicious food and cocktails at Plaza Azteca.
The Plaza Azteca menu mostly features your classic Mexican-fare, complete tacos, fajitas and table-side guacamole. However, there are some menu highlights, including a fajita that uses half a pineapple as a bowl for the fillings.
Plaza Azteca also serves huge, fruit-flavored margaritas and other sweet alcoholic drinks.
Tuesday’s Foodies dinner was more laid-back and casual, with no special meal or course designed for the group. We were free to order whatever we wanted.
Viewers on the MassLive Facebook page had us order a steak fajita and a passion-fruit margarita for a drink.
Although the pairing was a bit adventurous, and frankly, quite random, the meal was pretty delicious.
Later on in the night, Mass Foodies creator Luke M. Vaillancourt discussed the Worcester dining scene, which in recent years has experienced a renaissance of growth and success. In addition to the already famous dining neighbourhood of Shrewsbury Street, nooks and crannies in downtown have bloomed with new eateries.
Vaillancourt said that in the years since he started Mass Foodies, the Worcester dining scene has become almost unrecognizable, and that is a good thing.
However, Worcester is still missing the ease of walking from place to place that is a trademark of other dining destination cities, like Portland and Boston.
“The dining scene is really strong with what is is now. What’s missing is getting from neighborhood to neighborhood… it’s tough to easily and successfully get to each of the spots,” Vaillancourt said.
Worcester Foodies has held these food adventures every month for the past six years. The location of the next Foodies dinner will be unveiled soon.
For almost 38 years, The Sole Proprietor has operated along a busy stretch of Highland Street, close to Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Elm Park. But last year, owners Robb and Madeleine Ahlquist received an interesting offer from the Mercantile Center.
As the Ahlquists tell it, the developers of the downtown property approached them about bringing a new or existing restaurant to the future office-retail space.
“They were interested in getting local operators into the space,” Robb Ahlquist said. “So they came to us and said, ‘We’ve got space. Are you interested in coming down?'”
The couple – who also own and operate VIA Italian Table and 111 Chop House on Shrewsbury Street through their Worcester Restaurant Group – had a lot to think about. The building housing the Sole needed renovations, and with the other two restaurants closer to downtown, a move from Highland Street could be a good opportunity to be a part of new downtown development.
The Ahlquists knew – from four-decades of experience in Worcester – to be skeptical about any talk of downtown redevelopment, although this development wave seemed different than those in years past.
“This seems like the best chance we’ve seen in our time operating businesses in Worcester where this really stands a chance to succeed,” Robb Ahlquist said. “After you’ve been here so long, you want to participate in the excitement.”
More than $2 billion is being invested in development across Worcester, including the 642,300-square-foot Mercantile Center, and several hotels, like the 168-room AC Hotel by Marriott. In the Canal District, Worcester Railers Hockey Club Owner Cliff Rucker is constructing a 100,000-square-foot hockey facility with 40,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.
This development had created optimism about Worcester’s future, making it an attractive place for restaurateurs, said Christina Andreoli, president of tourism council Discover Central Massachusetts.
“Once you see the cranes and the buildings coming up, you start to see the reality of what the city has been doing for the last 10 years,” Andreoli said.
Today, chefs in Worcester serve everything from strawberry, mascarpone, toasted almond and orange zest crepes at Lock 50; to braised brisket with sour cream, beets and horseradish at deadhorse hill; to the Hangover Pub’s “crab rangoon” – scallion pancakes topped with scrambled eggs, kimchi, cream cheese, fresh lump crab and fresh jalapenos.
All of those restaurants opened in the last year.
According to the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, 60 new restaurants have started the permitting process in the city over the last 18 months. Interest has been city-wide, but downtown in particular is getting a lot of attention, said Andreoli.
“You have the success of Hanover Theatre, the redevelopment of a downtown, [so] you now are seeing all the parts in motion,” said Luke Vaillancourt, the founder of Mass Foodies, a restaurant review and promotion organization. “Worcester is interesting in that each pocket – Shrewsbury Street, Downtown, Canal District, and such – has activity.”
Downtown was a big pull for the owners of deadhorse hill – Jared Forman, Sean Woods, and Albert LaValley – with the Palladium, the DCU Center and the Hanover Theatre driving traffic to their restaurant, which opened on Main Street last May.
Woods, who runs the beverage program, is a musician who has worked at Boston restaurants and cocktail bars. Forman, the chef, is a Brooklyn native who has cooked in New York City, on the Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” and in Boston, where he met Woods. And LaValley, the CFO, is a WPI grad.
Forman was on his way back to cook in NYC when Woods approached him about opening up a restaurant in Worcester, as the trio was attracted to emphasizing quality food and drink in an up-and-coming city.
“The city’s kind of got a clean slate, and we’re kind of on the leading edge,” Forman said. “That was really important to us, to make a big splash in a small city.”
Long-time restaurants like Dino’s Restaurant, Leo’s Ristorante, and the Ahlquists’ Sole and 111 Chop House stood the test of time because of their reputations and consistency, Vaillancourt said. Yet, the turning point started in 2005 with Block Five opening in the Canal District, the first restaurant from the team that became the Niche Hospitality Group.
“Because of Block Five, restaurants and chefs have been able to take risks,” he said.
Today, Niche operates seven restaurants in Worcester, Wellesley and Leominster, including the Fix Burger Bar and Mezcal Tequila Cantina. Back when Niche started, Worcester’s food scene lacked depth, said Owner Mike Covino.
“People in Worcester … traveled outside the area to get more depth with their dining,” Covino said. “After we opened, they were grateful, and they thanked us.”
While Niche served as a turning point for the city’s food scene, downtown started to get attention after Sherri Sadowski and Alec Lopez opened their gastropub Armsby Abbey in 2008 on Main Street.
“Its early focus on beer allowed them to be one of the first restaurants in the country to bring the craft craze to the public,” said Vaillancourt. “They were also able to capitalize on exclusivity in the marketplace which allowed them to introduce two new concepts: local eating and sustainability.”
Sadowski and Lopez opened Armsby after a bad dinner at an unnamed Shrewsbury Street restaurant and felt they could do better. Lopez said he was skeptical of opening on Main Street – he hung up on Sadowski after she said she found a spot downtown – but 10 minutes later called her back, standing in front of what would become Armsby, saying it was perfect.
“Regardless of what North Main Street was, eventually it was going to gentrify in a way where it had to be something,” Sadowski said. “To me, it seemed someone was overlooking this amazing location, and for us it was the perfect spot to do what we wanted.”
The duo also own the Dive Bar in the Canal District and the Crust Artisan Bake Shop on Main Street.
The competition hasn’t hurt existing operators like Worcester Restaurant Group, said Robb Ahlquist, since it attracts more attention.
“Our conversation has been, ‘Let’s get together and get the word out, because Worcester is a happening place,” Robb Ahlquist said.
It helps the city’s restaurateurs have regular meetings at Discover Central Massachusetts, he said.
After about a year of considering the Mercantile Center, the Ahlquists decided not to move the Sole.
Moving the Sole downtown would be an enormous investment, and the area around Highland Street – with its proximity to the colleges and new residential developments – had grown.
“We got hurt in this location when the courthouse moved downtown to Main Street. That hurt, but by the same token, now the [Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences] is moving down to this end, the biotech park continues to operate, the hotels are opening over near the biotech park, and the schools keep investing,” said Robb Ahlquist.
The Ahlquists may be out for now, but Niche might be in. Covino is talking with the Mercantile Center developers about a new Niche restaurant. Although he was tight-lipped on the concept, he expects a potential deal in the next three months.
“My outlook on the future is, look for more retail and more restaurants,” Covino said. “That’s what’s going to round out Worcester as a destination.”
If a Niche restaurant happens, it will open next year, Covino said.
Finaldi, L. (2017, January 23). Why The Sole Proprietor decided not to move downtown. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from http://www.wbjournal.com/article/20170123/PRINTEDITION/301209984
Conley, C. (Producer). (2016, December 6). A Santa Workshop [Television broadcast]. In Chronicle. Boston, MA: ABC
Mattison, A. (Reporter). (2016, December 6). Christmas All Year Round [Television broadcast]. In Worcester News Tonight. Worcester, MA: Charter TV 3.
Ross, W. (2016, October). A Home Made for Christmas. Early American Life, 47 (Christmas), Cover, 14-23.
STURBRIDGE – The chef at Old Sturbridge Village, Bill Nemeroff, would like to take you on a journey. His journey starts with champagne and a horse-drawn carriage and ends with his best dish – fried chicken.
“This is a dinner that allows a chef to ‘put their best dish forward,'” explained Luke Vaillancourt, founder of WorcesterScene. “The Chef’s Best gives carte blanche to the chef to do whatever they want.”
This new series is part of WorcesterScene expanding its reach beyond Worcester. Normally, the Worcester Foodies group order off the menu of a new restaurant once a month and post group reviews on WorcesterScene. This new program allows them to try dining outside of Worcester-proper and opens up the unique experience to the general public.
Tickets to Nemeroff’s dinner, which will feature fried chicken among other Southern delights, are on sale to anyone interested in attending.
“I’m more of an honest cook,” Nemeroff said. “I like to take very ordinary items and try to elevate them.”
Growing up in the south, Nemeroff said this Chef’s Best dinner menu will be an ode to his childhood.
Nemeroff was asked to host the first Chef’s Best dinner after a Worcester foodie asked on social media where to find the best fried chicken. Nemeroff volunteered to make some of his for a dinner with a few friends and the idea grew from there.
When asked what makes his fried chicken the best, Nemeroff described some secrets of southern cooking that make the dish perfect.
“It’s patience,” Nemeroff said. “To get fried chicken right, it’s a 48-hour process. It has a lot to do with seasoning it properly and letting it weep in the flour. It’s a trick we use down south to get a nice crust, but that you’re not breaking your teeth on.”
Nemeroff said he’s excited by the prospect of the Chef’s Best dinner and he thinks diners should be, too.
“With a restaurant and a menu, people generally go for the same things and stay in their comfort zone. With this, you can put something in front of them they normally wouldn’t have,” Nemeroff said. “I’m sure chefs are going to enjoy doing it and, that being said, the diners will certainly reap the benefits of it.”
The $60 ticket to the first Chef’s Best event buys not just a three-course meal, but the entire experience.
The evening will begin with a horse-drawn carriage ride through Old Sturbridge Village to the historic covered bridge that will be converted to a dining room for the night. The three-course meal will kick off with a champagne welcome including local vegetables, cheese and crackers. The meal will include a starting salad and a banana pudding dessert.
Tickets can be purchased online for the Sept. 1 dinner, which will begin at 6 p.m.
Vaillancourt said WorcesterScene plans to host a Chef’s Best event every quarter.
To say Luke M. Vaillancourt is passionate about the Worcester Art Museum is no exaggeration—it’s a fact. When this WAM member, and now a Museum corporator, speaks about it he uses words like “gem” and “world-class.” You could say he is downright smitten.
Although Vaillancourt hails from a family immersed in the arts, he recalls his parents “dragging him kicking and screaming” as a child to art museums throughout the world. “I guess I was too young to appreciate all I was seeing,” he says. “Now that I’m older, art has become a real passion for me.”
When Vaillancourt completed his Master’s degree from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2007, he returned home to Central Massachusetts and joined the Museum. He attended the Third Thursday After-Hours events, which provided “an ideal opportunity to meet like-minded people in a sophisticated setting.” He was hooked.
Soon Vaillancourt was asked to serve a recently completed six-year term on the WAM Members Council, eventually chairing the after-hours programming committee. Now a Museum Corporator, he is involved in planning the Corporators Ball for June 13, 2015. “Our goal is to create a premier fundraising gala, similar to the Met Ball, which will be the social event of the Central Massachusetts area,” he says.
Vaillancourt is the director of digital marketing for Vaillancourt Folk Art in Sutton, a 30-year-old family business, which creates high-quality chalkware Santas and other figures. And if that isn’t enough, he also oversees his two start-up businesses, WorcesterScene.com and WorcesterFoodies, which focus on promoting the growing restaurant, bars and arts scene in the city. “My involvement with the hospitality industry and the arts is all for the betterment of Worcester,” Vaillancourt explains. “As a Museum member, I am thrilled to see how WAM seamlessly involves itself in the cultural and social growth of this city. I’m proud to promote the Museum.”
While attending Worcester Academy, Vaillancourt took computer classes at the Worcester Art Museum. Now, as a gift for Mother’s Day, he and his mother, artist Judi Vaillancourt, enjoy taking classes together. “These classes are a great way to bond with my mom and expand our art skills,” he says. “We really enjoy our studio time together with our instructors. It’s a great benefit to have that opportunity to learn. WAM is a real treasure.”
Allegrezza, C. (2015, February 1). Featured WAM Member. Access Magazine, 33-33.
See Full Magazine: https://issuu.com/worcesterartmuseum/docs/wamaccesswinter2015_3371c2749a0727/1
WORCESTER – A group of 15 people chatter away about work and kids and upcoming trips as they sit down to eat at Thai Time in Worcester. They could be a family or a club or an old group of friends, but when the menus come their purpose becomes clear.
As each person pours over a list of entrees and appetizers, looking for something they’ve never tried and something different than what everyone else is getting, it’s clear they all have a passion for food.
It’s that passion that brings them together as the Worcester Foodies on the first Tuesday of every month to try a new restaurant in the city.
The foodies group was formed by Luke M. Vaillancourt about three years ago and, so far, have visited 47 restaurants in the city.
“I started it because I wanted to find new places to go,” Vaillancourt said. “There’s something like 185 restaurants in Worcester. Many of them are places you always go … I wanted to find some hidden gems.”
Instead of a mysterious customer critiquing the meals for a newspaper column or a television show, the Worcester Foodies group arranges their visit with the restaurant owner a month in advance and looks to support local businesses in every way they can – even taking it into consideration when choosing to dine on a Tuesday night, a notoriously slow night in the restaurant industry.
The reviews, written separately from the point of view of each member, give people a look at a number of different dishes, but also give the perspective of the average person.
“None of us are professional foodies,” Vaillancourt said. “We’re just everyday people from all different backgrounds that love food.”
Vaillancourt, who also operates a website called WorcesterScene that launched in 2009 and publishes the group’s restaurant reviews, said they try to be supportive of the local restaurants.
“We want to support the local restaurant scene,” Vaillancourt said. “This is a way to get publicity for these small businesses that don’t have a marketing budget.”
In January, the group visited Thai Time on Highland Street, a relatively new restaurant picked by a member of the Foodies group.
Vaillancourt asked the waitress to bring him her favorite dish and she brought back something called Khao Soi, noodles in a mix of light yellow curry, chicken, ground peanut, scallions and fried shallots.
Drew Wheelock, the Worcester Foodie who chose Thai Time, said he picked it after trying it outside of the group and loving the food.
“I asked them to make me duck chuchi, it’s not on the menu, but they do it for me, which is a nice touch,” Wheelock said. “I thought everyone would appreciate this place.”
Wheelock joined after asking a couple of his friends who are in the group, but Vaillancourt said the group really grows organically.
Lynn Beauregard joined the group last summer after not knowing anyone in it.
“We went to this southern place that has since closed and I ordered, like, nine things,” Beauregard said. The other foodies laughed about how she dived right in.
Worcester Foodies reviews can be found on WorcesterScene.com.
Corcoran, L. (2015, January 20). Worcester Foodies give unique takes on local plates with group reviews. Retrieved January 20, 2015, from https://www.masslive.com/news/worcester/index.ssf/2015/01/worcester_foodies_give_unique.html
AUBURN — Christmas carols sounded from hidden speakers, and garlands hung from rafters, as Jordan King and Chelsea Jezerski toted bags of purchases through the Auburn Mall last week.
Clutched in their hands were their not-so-secret guides to sales, deals and promotions: smartphones loaded with social media apps.
“Every time that there’s a sale, you will see it on Twitter or any social media,” said Ms. Jezerski, 19, of Webster.
“Sometimes, I even post, ‘I just bought this and this for this much money,’ ” said Ms. King, 20, also of Webster.
Many retailers long ago staked out turf in the whirling dervish of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and other online networks, but the coming holiday season may be a leap forward for social media and shopping, thanks to the practices of consumers such as Ms. Jezerski and Ms. King.
Forty-nine percent of Boston-area consumers surveyed by the accounting and consulting firm Deloitte said they planned to use social media to assist them with their holiday shopping this year.
That suggests more shoppers could be tapping into social networks to read reviews and get discount codes to aide their shopping, according to Kate Ferrara, principal and leader of the New England retail practice for Deloitte. There’s even a word for this online prepping that leads to purchases in bricks-and-mortar stores: webrooming.
“People aren’t just going online or using the internet to make the purchase,” Ms. Ferrara said. “There’s a big trend toward social media for this browsing.”
The National Retail Federation is forecasting that retail sales during November and December will hit $616.9 billion this year, up a moderate 4.1 percent over the same period last year. The Retailers Association of Massachusetts, a trade group that represents mostly smaller retailers, expects to project more modest sales growth when it releases its state forecast Nov. 20.
Retailers hungry for those revenues know that social media will be a force during the holiday season, according to Matthew S. Ong, senior retail analyst with NerdWallet Inc., which operates the personal finance website NerdWallet.com.
“The pie of retail sales has not been growing really fast, so that means retailers are looking to cannibalize each other’s sales,” Mr. Ong said. “One of the best ways to do that is really create a lot of brand loyalty, and create those repeat shoppers that invest in your store and not only invest in your store, but become your own brand spokespersons. One of the ways shoppers do that is over social media.”
In the Worcester area, the Solomon Pond Mall of Marlboro and the Auburn Mall, both owned by the Indianapolis-based mall operator Simon Property Group Inc., have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
“We’re posting everything on there, from store deals and promotions to events, letting customers know what’s coming up,” said Chris Bastien, general manager of the Auburn Mall.
The power of social media was clear to Sheila Hennessy, director of marketing and business development for the Solomon Pond Mall, during Black Friday shopping last year. At one point, she saw numerous shoppers toting purchases from Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch, casual apparel stores favored by younger shoppers.
“I stopped and talked to the shoppers, and they said, ‘Oh, yeah. We got a tweet at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving letting us know what the deals were,'” she said.
Big Lots Stores Inc. of Columbus, Ohio, which has a Big Lots store at the Greendale Mall in Worcester, has stepped up its use of social media in the last year with content created for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and a recently launched Pinterest account.
Andrew Stein, Big Lots chief customer officer, said the company knows its target shopper has a smartphone and is on social media, and it wants to engage her. The company is also promoting the use of the Twitter hashtag #nailedthis.
“We know our customer,” Mr. Stein said. “She talks like this. She’s going to nail it for her family and friends.”
Not all retailers have embraced social media. Jon B. Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said some of the association’s members have been slow to sign on. The association urges its members to at least get on Facebook.
“Most, I think, have finally gotten the word that they need to be in the social media game, at least do that, even if you haven’t gotten into mobile apps,” Mr. Hurst said. “It’s got a low-cost to no-cost (entry) and it’s an important part of their advertising future and practices.”
Vaillancourt Folk Art, a maker of hand-painted chalkware figurines that operates out of a studio in Sutton, initially found its social media efforts getting little response because its core customers were older than the consumers typically using social media, said Luke M. Vaillancourt, director of digital marketing.
But that is changing. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center showed 45 percent of adults age 65 and older who were online were also on Facebook, up from 35 percent just one year earlier.
The same survey found that 60 percent of adults online age 50 to 64 were on Facebook, and 79 percent of those age 30 to 49 were signed up for the network. Younger consumers may have grown up with social media, but older consumers have increasingly signed on, too.
“The demographics of our customer is now reaching the demographics of the active Facebook user,” Mr. Vaillancourt said.
Vaillancourt now uses its social media channels for behind-the-scenes peeks of work in the studio, holiday decorating at the store’s 12,000-square-foot gallery and merchandise headed for retailers such as Neiman Marcus.
“The biggest thing to understand with social media is it’s fluid,” Mr. Vaillancourt said. “You can tweet one thing and get no response. You can tweet it the next week and get an endorsement from a big celebrity.”
Mr. Ong, of NerdWallet, said he expects to see more creativity from retailers on social media this holiday season, maybe more use of Vine, a service that allows users to share six-second looping videos.
Consumers think of shopping and social media as a fun combination, and so should retailers, according to Mr. Ong of NerdWallet.
“They don’t want to be sold to,” he said of shoppers. “They want to be part of the experience.”
Shopping with Hashtags (PDF)
Eckelbecker, L. (2014, November 16). Shopping with hashtags. Telegram & Gazette.
By Sandy Meindersma CORRESPONDENT
SUTTON — Vaillancourt Folk Art has been celebrating Christmas with its chalkware Santas and other figures for 30 years. But while Vaillancourt has stayed true to its original mission, it has also had to adapt to changing business conditions.
Vaillancourt Folk Art launched in the mid-1980s, when Americana folk art was very popular and about 135 Christmas manufacturers operating in the United States.
Today, there are only three, and Vaillancourt’s retail store is one of Massachusetts’ most popular Christmas tourism destinations.
“Chinese manufacturers came in and produced high quantity, but low quality,” said Luke Vaillancourt, director of digital marketing and son of founders Judi and Gary Vaillancourt. “We realized that we couldn’t compete on the price point, so we decided to produce a high-quality product.”
Vaillancourt Folk Art produces handmade chalkware figures by pouring liquid chalk into antique chocolate molds and then they air dry.
“They then become a three-dimensional canvas,” Luke Vaillancourt said. “My mother, Judi, designs all the pieces, about 100 each year, and we have studio artists who do the actual production.”
Gary Vaillancourt said the studio artists and their longevity with the company are one of the keys to the company’s success.
“We have one painter who has been with us 29 years, another 28 years, another 23 years and another 19,” Mr. Vaillancourt said. “It takes 16 people an average of three weeks to make one of our pieces.”
That commitment to quality has paid off for Vaillancourt Folk Art, whose figures are sold in Neiman-Marcus, Bergdorf’s, Wynn Casinos in Las Vegas, as well as the museum gift shops for Colonial Williamsburg and the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
“We also do custom work for each of them,” Mr. Vaillancourt said.
In recognition of the company’s 30th anniversary, Judi Vaillancourt will be bringing back figures found in the company’s original catalogues. Once a month, for the next year, a different figure will be painted and released, as part of a special limited edition of 30 figures.
“Folk art was very popular when we first got started, so the painting is very different than what we are doing today,” Luke Vaillancourt said.
Situated in the Manchaug Mills building in Sutton, Vaillancourt Folk Art is now in its fourth location; the original location was Gary and Judi Vaillancourt’s living room.
“When they decided to expand, they first moved everything to the basement and hired some people, including both sets of my grandparents,” Luke Vaillancourt said.
In 2007, after their first non-residential location became too small and inefficient, the company leased the space in the Manchaug Mills building, which at first was an issue with the post office.
“We wanted to still be able to say that our products were produced in Sutton, but Manchaug has its own zip code,” Gary Vaillancourt said. “But the Sutton post office agreed to come to our location and to pick everything up and deliver it, so that we could still say that we are in Sutton.”
Mr. Vaillancourt said the company had looked at mill space in several area towns, but because Judi is a 13th-generation Suttonian, staying in town was very important to them.
Mr. Vaillancourt said the 12,000-square-foot space has enabled the company to create a large retail area, making it an attraction for tourists from as far as Europe, Florida, California and Texas.
Vaillancourt Folk Art has 20 employees. Luke Vaillancourt declined to discuss the company’s revenues.
While the local store is doing well, Luke Vaillancourt’s e-commerce marketing expertise has broadened the company’s online presence, which has also contributed to its success.
“Even during the downturn of the economy, we saw an increase in business. The past five years have been among the best of the last 15,” Luke Vaillancourt said. “We attribute that to the fact that people like to give quality gifts at Christmas time, and they are looking for traditions.”
Meindersma, S. (2014, September 21). Tradition breeds success at Vaillancourt Folk Art. Telegram & Gazette, p. 9.
The digital landscape changes itself constantly and many small businesses are tempted to try to keep up with each iteration of trends. This distraction is futile, detrimental and beyond our control. This seminar will walk you through the evolution of advertising media in the hopes of identifying where your company’s audience is and how to efficiently reach them.
The CMBE, held each fall at the DCU Center and presented by the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, is one of the largest business-to-business events in New England. The Expo features exhibitors from a variety of industries with events throughout the day including networking opportunities, motivational speakers, and educational seminars.
It’s our annual celebration of up-and-comers in the Central Massachusetts business world. The members of the Worcester Business Journal’s annual 40 Under Forty Class of 2012 grace 22 pages of our current issue.
They all have unique stories to tell: from how they discovered their respective callings, to who inspired them most, to the unique hobbies they engage in outside of work.
This year’s honorees were selected after a months-long call for nominations. We received about 75 nominations, then turned to our panel of judges — Bonnie Biocchi of the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce, Meghan Liddy of Fidelity Bank (and a 40 Under Forty honoree, Class of 2010), Chris Mehne of Bowditch & Dewey and Ron Hadorn of the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester — for their feedback. Each nomination was evaluated based on the individual’s career trajectory, as well as his or her commitment to the local community.
Thirty of the 40 work at for-profit companies, while the other 10 work for nonprofits.
We’d also like to thank Tammy Woodard, who took the portraits of the honorees that appear in this edition.
DIRECTOR, DIGITAL MARKETING, Vaillancourt Folk Art
Company location: Sutton
Favorite movie: “Rounders”
Career highlights: Two accomplishments that I take great pride in actually happened while I was entering into the workforce. The first was co-authoring a book with renowned publishing expert Frank Romano, Marketing 4 Digital: Advertising’s Guide to Print Markets. The second accomplishment, of which my friends never forgave me for and my wife has grown tired of me retelling, was having the ability to respectfully decline an offer to be Victoria’s Secret’s digital asset coordinator (i.e., managing their digital photographs) in New York City.
Community involvement: Part of the reason I decided to move back to Massachusetts was my love for the area, especially Worcester. My timing could not have been more perfect given my passion for the social, restaurant, and arts scenes. I sit on the members’ council at the Worcester Art Museum, chairing the 3rd Thursdays After Hours program. I founded two groups revolving around the hospitality industry — WorcesterScene.com and Worcester Foodies. I am also a trustee at my alma mater, Worcester Academy.
Biggest success: Balance. Many people draw a clear line that separates work from life, seemingly protecting one from the other. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to become obsolete in modern-day business without blurring that line. I have been successful in taking a holistic approach to work and life, as each is mutually beneficial to the other.
Biggest challenge: Staying current. It can be a full-time job staying up to date with the latest technologies, media and tools.
Mentors: As the son working for the family business, my mother’s artistic expertise and my father’s business experience has helped me to think in an analytical manner that merges creativity with methodology. There are also many friends that voice different perspectives, experiences and expectations that shape the way I think.
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Saia, Rick. “Meet Our 2012 40 Under Forty Honorees.” Worcester Business Journal. (2012): n. page. Print. <https://www.wbjournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120903/PRINTEDITION/308309977/1002>.
WorcesterScene.com and Providence-based GoLocal24 have launched a new online news site for Worcester: GoLocalWorcester.com, the companies announced.
The new site will feature contributions from several Massachusetts media and political personalities, notably former State Senator and Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Chairman Matt Amorello, ex-WCVB-TV news anchor Natalie Jacobson and former state treasurer Tim Cahill.
WorcesterScene.com focuses on the city’s hospitality, entertainment and arts industries. Its founder, Luke M. Vaillancourt, said “we are more than thrilled to be partnering with an organization that understands not only the technologies used to deliver breaking news stories, but also understands the desires of the reader.”
GoLocal24 already has a similar website, GoLocalProvidence, that focuses on news within and around the Rhode Island capital.
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Saia, Rick. “New Worcester News Website Debuts.” Worcester Business Journal. (2012): n. page. Print. <https://www.wbjournal.com/news50758.html>.
WORCESTER — They may not be seasoned food critics, but like anyone, really, the group of 14 eaters that piled into Shiraz Armenian Cuisine on Park Avenue knew good food when they ate it, and knew good service when they were getting it.
And at Shiraz, the consensus seemed to be they were getting both.
The group calls itself WorcesterFoodies, and this roving band of semipro restaurant reviewers descend on a different eatery the first Tuesday of every month armed only with empty stomachs and an index card, on which they scribble reviews that are later posted on Worcesterscene.com, the popular local website run by Luke Vaillancourt.
The intent of the WorcesterFoodies offshoot of Worcesterscene.com is to expose readers to a city restaurant scene that “in the past 10 years has become phenomenal,” Mr. Vaillancourt said. The first few months the group met, they hit the more well-known spots, but after a year or so, they’ve started to get more creative.
“The interest transformed into trying to find the next hole-in-the-wall,” Mr. Vaillancourt said.
The group has an advertising and marketing tie-in with the Niche Hospitality group, which owns and operates Bocado Tapas Bar, Mezcal Cantina & The Citizen Wine Bar, and has quarterly tastings at those restaurants. But for the monthly get-togethers, the restaurants are chosen by various members of the group. Mr. Vaillancourt, director of digital marketing for his family business, Vaillancourt Folk Art in Sutton, said there’s a core group of about 15 diners, with 10 or so part-time members. The bulging size of the group has led Mr. Vaillancourt to create a waiting list.
Shiraz, perhaps better known for its brisk lunch business, was chosen by member John Dion, who said he brings his family there. Sitting across from his wife, Charlotte, Mr. Dion said the service is always friendly, and said the Chicken Port Said there is the “first type of chicken they ate that didn’t take the form of a nugget.”
Donna Dufault enjoyed her Chicken Port Said, a popular chicken and mushroom dish, but said after eight outings with them, the WorcesterFoodies group has given her perspective on what really makes a good meal. Service is everything, she said, as other members of the group chimed in with stories of restaurants holding back on complimentary bread and being rushed out by wait staff while trying to enjoy late-night dinners.
“There’s no reason to go out to eat if the service isn’t good,” Ms. Dufault said.
Mr. Vaillancourt said the dining experiences aren’t always great, and it’s clear from a quick online scroll through WorcesterFoodies which restaurants underwhelmed the group.
“We try to do it in a constructive way,” Mr. Vaillancourt said.
The food at Shiraz was indeed good, and the service was indeed friendly. It’s traditional fare, with kebabs of all sorts complemented by rice, citrusy tabbouleh and spot-on stuffed grape leaves. Ms. Dufault’s husband, Scott Erb, widened his eyes as his gyro plate slid in front of him, healthy slabs of ground meat with a bright dollop of tzatziki on the side.
Nadia McGourthy was on her second expedition with the group, and said she has been having fun. She suspects that she was brought along because her dietary limitations make her a tough customer.
“Sometimes I’ll just ask if they can cook me something off the menu,” she said. “Or I’ll ask if I can make a substitution. Most places have some sort of chicken dish I can have.”
But the simply prepared dishes at Shiraz afforded her the opportunity to pick from the menu. She went with the eggplant kebabs, and wasn’t disappointed.
“Eggplant is a good test of a restaurant,” Ms. McGourthy said. “If they do it right, it’s perfect, but you can really screw it up. This is good.”
Ms. McGourthy said she just wanted to come along to try something new, a sentiment that elicited mouths-full nods from other members of the group.
The WorcesterFoodies group knew not to dig in right away after the salads were removed and replaced with the entrées.
Armed with a hefty-looking digital camera (with a new lens to shoot better photos in low light situations), Mr. Vaillancourt hurried from place setting to place setting, snapping pictures.
“Once I take the picture, you can eat,” he said.
The cards the diners have with them are simple — they have to describe the dish as it appears on the menu, and they have to write a short review. That’s about it. The rest is just people enjoying a meal, Mr. Vaillancourt said. Mr. Dion said it’s the total experience he enjoys.
“The people here always make the food better,” he said. “We always have a good time.”
It’s Ms. Dufault’s turn to pick the next restaurant at which the group will eat. She said she’s torn between Baba Sushi on Park Avenue, Joey’s Bar and Grill, which was on Mill Street but is opening soon on Chandler Street, and Hirosaki Prime on Grafton Street. The size of the group can be prohibitive, Mr. Vaillancourt said. He always calls ahead. Being unable to cram the group into smaller eateries means some gems will go unreviewed.
The group initially had a strict policy of having everyone order something different off the menu to get a broader review of the restaurants.
Ms. Vaillancourt said her position at the table would sometimes lead her to try food she’s never had before.
“Where you sit matters,” she said. “I’ve ordered by default a million things I never would have tried.
The People’s Kitchen in Worcester has an identity problem: It serves delicious food, prides itself on local, simple sounding, delicious and technically sound dishes as well as a great wine selection and comfortable atmosphere. The waiters wear vests and ties. They know how to hold, show and pour wine. They know their food. They know their drinks. But the tables have brown paper over tablecloths, and for the price of the dish and the upscale vibe of it all, clean, cloth tablecloths are a must. There is no identity problem for Luke Vaillancourt.
He knows who he is and what he wants to do. He knows food. He loves food. And he is the reason why there is a group of 20 people in an otherwise empty restaurant on a Tuesday night, typically the slowest day of the week for restaurants.
I met Luke Vaillancourt and his Worcester Foodies group at the People’s Kitchen, just above the Citizen, a wine, cheese and chocolate bar on October 4th . We ate and drank. I was there to talk with Vaillancourt, a 16th generation Suttonian, about his return to the family business, Vaillancourt Folk Art, Worcester Scene and moving back to Sutton after college.
The first time I heard about Luke Vaillancourt was when I took a tour of Sutton with his father Gary Vaillancourt in the spring. I just started working at the Chronicle and Gary offered to take me around town and to show me the history of Sutton. I asked him about his business and he mentioned his son, Luke, and his work at the company. He also mentioned how Luke turned down a job at Victoria’s Secret in Manhattan to move back home. He mentioned Luke’s work on the side of being Vaillancourt Folk Art’s online whiz kid.
“It was at a time in my life that a lot of opportunities were opening up here [at Vaillancourt Folk Art], and I wanted to make a difference in the area,” said Luke. “It would have been an awesome job [at Victoria’s Secret], no doubt. But the job can only be as good as the environment around it and you never know how long that will last. So, I figured moving back to the area, being close to the family, and being close to a lot of opportunities here made a better fit. My friends still hate me for it, but what are you going to do?”
What was Vaillancourt going to do? He turned down any single, straightman’s dream job. He turned down living in New York City to move closer to home. He turned down living and working in the big-city, in a tall building filled with lingerie and models and adverting campaigns based on sexy and sleek. He turned that all down to work with his parents at Vaillancourt Folk Art, one of the only three Christmas collectible makers in the United States. He decided to work with Santa rather than Victroria’s Secrets’ models, twice.
“It was an extraordinary opportunity. When I turned down the job the first time they actually counter-offered and made me feel really good. It made me feel like I actually know something,” said Vaillancourt. There is no doubt he loves his family’s business with that kind of dedication.
“I love the fact that it’s a small family business, so I have a lot invested in it. If it fails, I fail, my family fails. So, it’s something you want to work hard and do,” Vaillancourt continued.
And he doesn’t regret any of his decisions.
“I love cities. I love New York. I would have loved that, but I think things have worked out a little more favorably for me,” said Vaillancourt.
Luke Vaillancourt joined the family business and revamped Vaillancourt Folk Art’s online presence. He’s created a site dedicated to the purchasing and selling of the collectibles, and an experience like going to the store and a resource for buyers and lovers of the chalkware pieces. He came into Vaillancourt Folk Art and changed its online presence. And he’s worked at keeping the company profitable and afloat during a time when the market for collect- ible Christmas pieces has crashed.
“An opportunity opened here, and I came in and hit the ground running,” said Vaillancourt. “My first goal was taking a look at the website here and making it a lot more easy to use and making it a resource and not just a store. We wanted to make it an experience that kind of mirrored the experience of coming to the store.”
Vaillancourt has been doing work with computers since he was in high school at Worcester Acadmy. As a senior, Vaillancourt worked with the technology department at the school to set up the network. He studied New Media Publishing at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, where he learned how to combine print design, online, and his IT background into one package.
He has taken that background to the family business and helped it survive during this tough economy. He started a few projects of his own, WorcesterScene.com and Worcester Foodies, when he returned to the area.
When Vaillancourt moved back to Sutton he was looking for places to go out and eat and meet people. He noticed something missing in the market: a hyper-local Internet database with all the information necessary for making a decision when going out. He decided to fill that void with WorcesterScene.
When I first moved back to Worcester I was single and trying to find out what the hotspots were, and at the same time the restaurant scene and bar scene was picking up in the city,” said Vaillancourt.
“There were a ton of restaurants opening, there was a ton of nightlife coming into play and it was contending with the Boston market and the smaller Providence market. So, when I was here I was always trying to find places around and there was no single resource to find restaurants, bars and simple things like phone numbers. When a restaurant opened up it wasn’t immediately in the Yellow Pages or online. I wanted to create a directory – people have called it the Yellow pages on steroids – that is hyper-local and has all the pertinent information and is easy to find,” he continued.
After WorcesterScene got off the ground and running smoothly, Vaillancourt decided to start Worcester Foodies, a group of people who meet on the first Tuesday of the month at a different restaurant. Each person orders a different dish and write a review. The reviews are then typed up and put online for other people to see and read while researching different restaurants in the area. The People’s Kitchen was the ninth restaurant the group had met at. The group was started in the hopes of getting people out of the routine of going to the same restaurants time after time. The goal is to get people to experience new places with different people. And so far it’s been successful. There is a waiting list of people trying to get in on the group, which usually ranges between 15 to 20 people depending on the location and capacity.
“I like food a lot. I very intrigued originally coming from a family business on the restaurant side of things. You have someone with such talent for creating food and then being able to put together a business plan of a restaurant: how it looks, hot it operates,” said Vaillancourt. “And I think that’s how it started. Seeing how it’s translated into a dish is even better. I love eating the food, but the experience of the atmosphere and how it translates into the food, that’s what I think it’s all about.”
The atmosphere at The People’s Kitchen was light, airy, and food centered. People tried new dishes, experienced wine pairings and were guided along a menu specially made for the group, not something the group usually does when it goes to a restaurant. Vaillancourt kept conversation moving with our table. He was interested in how everyone enjoyed the food and the wine. He was in his element eating and enjoying company. He was home.
YouTube is the place to be if you want to watch video. Whether you’re looking for cute videos of kittens or how-to videos on burning a CD, YouTube has it all. Founded in 2005, YouTube earned an early reputation as a place for poor production values and content with little redeeming value. But the website has transformed, and today you’re just as likely to find a slickly produced short film as you are a grainy home movie.
In short, going viral. With the right mix of humor and wit, a cheaply produced video posted for free on YouTube can launch you and your business into the next big thing. Back in the early days of YouTube (2006), Bank of America had a viral video on its hands when two employees earnestly sang the praises of its merger with MBNA to the tune of U2’s “One.” Today, YouTube offers easy-to-use tools for any business to set up a customized channel to house its videos, which can then be repurposed as content for its website. YouTube also now features a number of interactive tools, which allow people to comment and share videos.
If you don’t use YouTube to host your video, you’re probably going to have to pay someone. Video streaming calls for a lot of bandwidth, which in turn costs money. But with YouTube, you get the bandwidth for free. It’s also another way to go direct to your consumers without paying a dime. Short videos of two minutes or less of you and your staff can put a human face on your organization and help form a bond with existing and future customers.
Luke M. Vaillancourt, director of digital marketing for Vaillancourt Folk Art in Sutton, has a leg up on the average marketer. He learned the art of video editing while in college and now employs those skills in the family business. One of the company’s most successful video efforts was documenting the process of creating a 100-pound chalkware rabbit over a period of 16 months. Visitors could track the project’s progress via the company’s YouTube channel, which is featured on its website and distributed via its Facebook and Twitter pages. Eventually the “big bunny” sold for $4,500 to a collector out of St. Louis, Mo. Vaillancourt credits the videos for helping build buzz around the project. “We do a lot of shows around the nation… and people kept telling us that they loved what we were doing with this piece,” he said.
After graduation, Luke M. Vaillancourt ’05, ’06 (print media, cross disciplinary studies) had numerous job offers—including digital asset coordinator with Victoria’s Secret in New York. Instead, he decided to return home.
“The area has a ton of room for growth and I wanted to be a part of that wave,” he says.
Home is Sutton, a small town near Worcester, Mass.
Upon his return, he went to work as a cross-media designer for Palley Advertising in Worcester. In 2007, he joined the family business, Vaillancourt Folk Art in Sutton, as director of digital marketing. The company produces hand-decorated chalkware collectibles, particularly Christmas figures, which are sold through about 500 retailers nationwide, including Macy’s, Bergdorf’s, Neiman Marcus and Colonial Williamsburg.
The company traces its roots to 1984, when Luke’s dad, Gary, gave his mom, Judi, three antique chocolate molds — the beginning of a collection that now numbers around 5,000 (some from as early as 1890). Judi used the molds to create plaster figures, hand-painting the intricate details. The business took off, receiving recognition from publications such as Early American Life and Colonial Homes.
“We offer high quality, American-made pieces that can be passed down for generations,” says Vaillancourt. “Many people really appreciate that.”
Today the company is housed in a 19th-century textile mill. The site includes the studio, gallery and a museum of antique molds. A Collector’s Weekend takes place each April, when people can attend lectures and paint their own figurines. The Christmas season brings additional events.
The company has a high-tech side, and that’s where Vaillancourt comes in. He manages the company’s Web presence, e-commerce and business strategies. Recent efforts in social networking are allowing the company to reach a new generation.
Vaillancourt got interested in technology as a student at Worcester Academy, where he helped to establish some of the school’s first wired classrooms, dorms and computer labs. Sparked by an interest in technology and passion for design and marketing, he and his family set off to visit 15 colleges around the world to find the right program.
“When I got to RIT, it just blew me away,” Vaillancourt says. “The new media publishing program is unbelievable, very hands-on, combining creative, technical, and practical aspects to the industry—something that no other school could offer.”
He focused on the technical side of advertising and marketing and, as an undergraduate, he co-authored Marketing4Digital: A Guide to Print Markets with Professor Frank J. Romano.
Besides his work developing the family business, Vaillancourt is actively involved in the community. In 2008, he founded WorcesterScene.com, an online resource for Worcester restaurants, bars and cultural venues; it has been described as “Yellow Pages on steroids” because of its integration of video, promotions, social media and geo-targeted information. Vaillancourt remains involved in the Worcester community, sitting on the Members Council at the Worcester Art Museum and, this year, being elected to the Board of Trustees of Worcester Academy—as one of the youngest board members in the 175-year history of the private school.
He marked an even more important personal milestone this year. In October, Vaillancourt and Anna Dufault were married in Newport, R.I.
For more information, go to www.valfa.com.
The Worcester Academy Board of Trustees has elected two new members: PATRICIA Z. EPPINGER and LUKE M. VAILLANCOURT. Both will serve three-year terms on the private high school’s board. Eppinger has worked as a consultant with McKinsey & Co. She has a bachelor’s degree in economics and government from the College of William & Mary and an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Vaillancourt is director of digital marketing for Vaillancourt Folk Art in Sutton, one of the last companies to make Christmas decorations and collectibles in the United States. He handles the company’s advertising, Internet and e-commerce efforts.
James J. Pietro, president of the Worcester Academy Board of Trustees, announced that the board had elected two new members at its spring meeting. The new trustees are Patricia Z. Eppinger of Grafton and Luke M. Vaillancourt ’01 of Sutton. Each was elected to a three-year term on the board.
Eppinger is an adjunct professor of management communication and a former consultant with McKinsey & Company. Vaillancourt is director of digital marketing for Vaillancourt Folk Art (VFA) in Sutton.
Complete bios for each follow.
Patricia “Patty” Z. Eppinger is an adjunct professor of management communication and a former consultant with McKinsey & Company. Most recently, Eppinger taught in the M.B.A. programs at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
Eppinger received her undergraduate degree in economics and government from the College of William & Mary, and her M.B.A. from the Tuck School of Business. She is the current chair of the Ecotarium Board of Trustees in Worcester, is an overseer of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts, and is a founding trustee of the Worcester Education Collaborative. She is active in the Women’s Initiative of the United Way, and served as a trustee of Touchstone Community School for three years.
She and her husband, Fred, live in Grafton with their three children, including Kathryn ’16.
Luke M. Vaillancourt is director of digital marketing for Vaillancourt Folk Art (VFA) in Sutton, MA. He is responsible for managing VFA’s Web presence, its eCommerce capabilities, advertising, and its business relationships. The company – one the last American-made Christmas studios – sells to 300 stores nationwide, including Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, and Macy’s.
Mr. Vaillancourt attended Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where he received a bachelor of science in new media publishing, as well as a master’s degree in contemporary publishing trends, and communication & media technology. Following graduation, he worked in the digital department of an advertising agency, as well as having worked as an independent digital media developer.
In 2008, Mr. Vaillancourt founded WorcesterScene.com, an online directory, calendar, and entertainment Web site. He published “Interactivity in Advertising” (RIT) in 2007, and “Marketing4Digital: Advertising” (PIA / GATFPress) in 2006. Currently, his specialties include leveraging technology and marketing – in particular, those areas related to research, social media trends, print media technologies, and new media interactions.
Mr. Vaillancourt became a member of the Worcester Academy Board of Visitors in 2007, and is a longtime supporter of Worcester Academy, and of the Worcester Art Museum.
A resident of Sutton, he is engaged to be married in the Fall of 2010.
Worcester Academy is a co-ed day and boarding school for grades 6 to 12 and postgraduates. Our urban setting, diverse community, and challenging curriculum provide students with a solid, real-world education. Information at www.worcesteracademy.org.
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History — particularly Christmas history — is alive and well at Vaillancourt Folk Art in Sutton, where artists work year round to create exquisitely detailed, hand-painted holiday figurines that have their origin in folklore from more than 100 years ago.
Vaillancourt Folk Art, which is owned by Gary and Judi Vaillancourt, has been producing American-made collectors’ items since 1984. It is also one of a dying breed of such companies.
“This is all done here in the states,” said Gary Vaillancourt, co-owner and president of Vaillancourt Folk Art, talking of what transpires in their studio — the creation of what are essentially Christmastime works of art. “There are only a handful of companies left.”
His wife Judi, the other owner, is the creative force behind their unique product line. Completing the family circle is their son Luke, who is director of digital marketing. Luke joined the family business about three years ago after spending some time working in the advertising world. Vaillancourt Folk Art is located at 9 Main St. in Sutton at the old Manchaug Mills.
Keeping their business profitable when foreign companies flooded the United States with cheap knock-offs has been just one of the challenges the business has faced over the years, said Gary. Surviving the Chinese inundation of lower quality Christmas figurines is a test that the company has been able to meet head on. Vaillancourt Folk Art made a decision that has kept their business alive and flourishing.
“We decided to triple the quality of our pieces and double the price,” said Gary, crediting Judi with the idea. “It was a strategic move that meant the pieces that she created became works of art.”
Judi, who has formal art training, began creating her holiday pieces of art many years ago, when her husband gave her three antique moulds. She transformed the moulds into chalkware figurines with detailed and expressive facial features, and a business was eventually born. Judi creates the originals and a team of artists work off of her original pieces to produce the final product.
“We did not plan to start a business,” said Judi. She began casually working on the figurines, investigating the history and the folklore behind the moulds, some of which are 100 to 125 years old. Judi has always loved history and she particularly enjoys the historical connections her pieces have with other parts of the world. While Judi creates figurines for other holidays, such as Halloween and Easter, Christmas is definitely the focus of the business. A tour of their Sutton business quickly reveals the overwhelming Christmas theme.
“All the moulds are antiques and she is capturing what happened at that time,” said Gary. “She is not trying to fabricate something that didn’t exist.”
“I am really capturing the history of Christmas,” said Judi of her artistic work. All of her pieces are signed and numbered. Collectors of the figurines always keep their eye out for the low numbered pieces, said Luke.
Vaillancourt Folk Art has a retail store at its Sutton location and also sells its products wholesale to hundreds of stores, including big department stores such as Macy’s, Nordstroms, and Neiman Marcus.
Of course, after September 11, 2001, their business, like many others, had to adapt to a changing world and changing economy. Quite a few of the stores that they once sold to had closed their doors.
“We lost about 60 percent of our customer base,” said Gary. But, they were able to adapt once again.
“Judi focused us into the museum and historic worlds,” he said, and they now do business with places like the Ford Theater and the Lincoln Museum.
In addition to a retail store, Vaillancourt Folk Art has its own museum on site, which allows people with an interest in the history of these holiday figurines to educate themselves a bit. During the holiday season, people can stop by and see the place all decked out in old-fashioned Christmas decorations.
As to what the Vaillancourts want to produce, well their goal is pretty simple. They want to create a hand-made work of holiday art that is also a bit of history, something special that can be handed down from one generation to the next.
“Our philosophy, our goal,” said Gary, “is to create a piece of art that you can pass onto your children.”
WORCESTER — Crystal Anson’s phone beeped and chirped and buzzed as it sat on the bar at the Armsby Abbey on Main Street on a recent afternoon.
She picked it up a few times, but didn’t answer it.
“This device I’m holding in my hands that makes phone calls,” she said, holding the BlackBerry with one hand as she ran her other hand along the front, as if performing a product demonstration. “I don’t use it for phone calls.”
According to its website, Foursquare ( www.foursquare.com) is a cross between a friend-finder, a city guide and a game that rewards you for doing interesting things. Sounds simple, but it’s attracted the attention of Facebook, which is reportedly rumored to be working on a similar check-in “geo-locator” system.
Sort of a cross between Twitter and Google Maps, Foursquare is a social networking tool that combines GPS locating with micro-blogging, and even includes a treasure hunt-style game that gives users badges and other rewards.
For example, perhaps unbeknownst to the proprietors, Ms. Anson is the “mayor” of the Abbey, along with several other places, including Jumpin’ Juice & Java on Chandler Street.
The way it works is simple: Users sign up for an account that can be used via texting, but it seems to work best with phones such as BlackBerries or iPhones that have Internet access. Foursquare uses the phone’s GPS technology to bring up a list of nearby places in its database. Users then can “check in” when they arrive at a destination. Ms. Anson, for example, checked in at the Abbey, using the Foursquare application on her phone.
“I have a 4:30 interview with reporter from Telegram about Foursquare (@ Armsby Abbey),” the blurb stated.
The check-in basically serves two purposes: It lets users’ Foursquare friends know where they are if they want to, say, join them for a drink. And if business owners, who are also invited to participate with Foursquare, choose to use it, they can offer specials and get a unique picture of who is coming and going.
There’s also a tips function that allows users to make recommendations.
“You can say, ‘Hey, there’s really good stuff here,’ ” Ms. Anson said. “Or, I’m at (Citizen Wine Bar on Commercial Street), go there and try this, or I’m at the Abbey, try this and that.”
Ms. Anson admitted she felt Foursquare was encouraging consumerism.
“You’re going out to dinner, you’re shopping,” she said.
Luke Vaillancourt, who manages the digital marketing and e-commerce branch of the family business, Vaillancourt Folk Art in Sutton, was described by Ms. Anson as a “fellow Foursquare junkie.”
Mr. Vaillancourt called himself a casual user of social media and said he likes to use Foursquare mostly to keep in touch in real time with college and professional friends and select media news sources.
He also runs www.worcesterscene.com, a website that promotes local bars and restaurants. He said local businesses should embrace websites like Foursquare, which allow them direct, real-time access to how their customers operate. He set up a Foursquare site for Vaillancourt Folk Art, and offers discounts on certain items for every third check-in.
Foursquare hasn’t taken off with the typical Vaillancourt Folk Art demographic, but Mr. Vaillancourt said that as the business tries to grow among younger consumers, it could catch on. He said he looks at Foursquare as something that complements the marketing and advertising already used by the family business. For small businesses without big marketing and advertising budgets, sites like Foursquare help get the word out, he said.
“We do Foursquare, we do Facebook,” Mr. Vaillancourt said. “You have to, just in case someone ever does use it. Just to see if there’s viability there.”
When asked whether it’s a little creepy to broadcast where you are at all times, Ms. Anson said she’s not so concerned about that, although she mentioned the Foursquare community was abuzz recently after a site started up that aggregated Foursquare locations with the intention of letting burglars know when people weren’t home.
Ms. Anson said that more than anything, she feels that websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare have left her a bit lazy in the friendship maintenance department.
“Foursquare is my lazy way of getting people to come hang out,” Ms. Anson said.
Social networking has had the strange effect of getting people closer together and farther apart at the same time. Ms. Anson said her mother and grandmother are even starting to text.
“My mom doesn’t call me anymore, she just texts me 20 times a day,” Ms. Anson said.
Being hyperconnected means never having to be out of touch. Ms. Anson said that wipes out a lot of the small talk that typically happens when friends get together.
“When you haven’t seen people in a while, you don’t have to catch up,” Ms. Anson said. “You already know what your friends are doing.”
Foursquare CEO and co-founder Dennis Crowley, who is originally from Medway, said in an e-mailed response to questions that Foursquare is “pretty careful about who sees what.” He said only friends can see other friends’ locations.
“And we only know where you are when you tell us where you are. We take privacy really seriously.”
Mr. Crowley said Foursquare has taken off quickly in other areas.
“Well, we started with big cities first (New York City plus 10 others) and then went to 20, 30, 50, 100… and then it just kind of took off everywhere.”
Mr. Vaillancourt said users should absolutely be concerned about their privacy. He predicted that privacy concerns that started with MySpace, and more recently with Facebook, could reappear as Foursquare gains popularity and piques the interest of advertisers.
Still, he said, he’s amazed at how savvy some businesses have become. For example, he had a customer service issue recently with a national company.
He said he blogged about his issues on Twitter and a customer service representative from the company quickly contacted him via Twitter to try to resolve the issue.
“You’re getting direct responses from individuals,” Mr. Vaillancourt said.
Christina Andrianopoulos interviews WorcesterScene.com founder, Luke M. Vaillancourt, on Dining Out Metro West with on WCRN 830AM
Charter TV3’s Hank Stolz speaks with WorcesterScene.com founder, Luke M. Vaillancourt, on the emerging Worcester scene on Wake Up Worcester.
Sutton, MA — Artist and designer Judi Vaillancourt of Vaillancourt Folk Art introduced the company’s new line of home décor and giftware at the studio’s silver anniversary event last week. Joined by co-designer Luke Vaillancourt, Judi unveiled “Vaillancourt Et Cetera” that incorporates her work into canvas prints, Christmas dinnerware and gift items such as Knickerbocker wooden tribute boxes.
Luke M. Vaillancourt, director of digital marketing for the operation, says he has brought another, very different aesthetic to the company.
“I realized that my friends in their 30s would not be as inclined to buy something for their homes from us,” he said. “Their taste has been influenced by different concepts and retailers — IKEA or Crate & Barrel, for instance. I wanted to help develop a line that incorporated Judi’s artwork and appeal to “the next generation.” What we’ve come up with is this home décor and giftware line that we are calling Vaillancourt Et Cetera.”
Under-30s are using technology to full advantage in their quest for a place in the new American economy. Enter the “Gen Y” set, a new type of entrepreneur defined to a large extent by the modern gadgets with which they are building businesses of every kind imaginable.
Take Luke Vaillancourt, for instance. Son of Gay and Judi Vaillancourt, whose folk art enterprise in the Manchaug Mills building in Sutton is world-renowned and thus an entrepreneurial success story in its own right, Luke, just 25, recently launched a website, www.worcesterscene.com, that captures his passion for the city of Worcester.
The younger Vaillancourt is a graduate of Worcester Academy and Rochester Institute of Technology. He turned down a job as a “digital asset coordinator” for Victoria’s Secret in New York City (“all of my friends hate me for it,” he says), opting instead to work for his parents in their store as “director of digital marketing.” In this capacity, he constructed Vaillancourt Folk Art’s new web site…. Read Full Article [PDF]
The gifts from The Red Envelope have arrived. So have the purchases from The Wine Enthusiast. The Lord & Taylor cash-mere? Well, that didn’t work out so well for Mary B. Lucius. The retailer shipped her the wrong items.
Despite that setback, Mrs. Lucius of Worcester has been clicking her way through her gift list, often browsing through catalogs first for ideas and steering clear of malls. It’s a routine that the busy business owner, wife and mother has followed for several years, and she has no reason to change it this year.
“I started a business of my own last October, so I’m quite overwhelmed with that,” said Mrs. Lucius. “I have wireless (Internet) at work, so if I have a break there, I’m shopping almost exclusively online, trying to avoid the stores.”
So are many other consumers, and their clicking and buying is likely to pick up in the next week. Forget the hype about “Cyber Monday,” the Monday following Thanksgiving. Although Cyber Monday is a busy day for online retailers, the real surge in online shopping in recent years has typically occurred the second and third weeks in December. If the same holds true this year, the biggest day for online holiday shopping could occur as soon as tomorrow, and retailers are angling for customers.
At stake are billions of dollars in sales: books, toys, clothing, electronics, you name it. Retail and technology experts expect that online shopping, fueled by retailers’ discounts and promotions such as free shipping, could push online holiday sales up 20 percent or more over last year.
“There are still more big days to come,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, a Forrester Research analyst who has forecast that consumers will spend $33 billion online this holiday season, up 21 percent over last year. “There’s probably more discounting to come. We’re still early in the game.”
Online shopping is so ordinary that it’s easy to forget it was a new frontier just a few years ago. In 2003, online shoppers spent $14.5 billion during the holiday months of November and December, not including travel purchases, according to comScore Inc. Last year, shoppers spent $27.17 billion online during the same period, nearly twice as much.
So far this holiday season, online purchases total $17.29 billion, comScore reports. About $733 million of that purchasing occurred on Cyber Monday, up 21 percent over last year.
It’s also true that shoppers are doing a good bit of their buying at work. ComScore reported that about 45.5 percent of all nontravel online shopping during November took place at shoppers’ work locations, suggesting that people may not always want to buy at home, even if they’ve secured high-speed Internet connections.
Retailers have embraced shoppers’ growing online presence, sometimes in surprising ways. Some retailers have stepped up their catalog efforts, recognizing that shoppers use the glossy publications to guide their online buying. About 34 percent of 2,521 consumers surveyed in September by Forrester Research said that catalogs encourage them to shop online. Sears Holding Inc. brought back its holiday “Wish Book” this year, and luxury retailer Neiman Marcus mailed out catalogs that were larger than last year’s catalog.
The surge of catalogs has been noticeable at Toni Ballard’s home in Shrewsbury. But it has also helped guide her shopping, sending her online to buy from Franconia, N.H.-based Garnet Hill, an apparel and home furnishings company.
“Every manufacturer on the planet seems to have my address, and I’ve been getting five or six catalogs a day for the last month,” Ms. Ballard said. “Garnet Hill kind of attracted me because it had a really pretty cover and nice graphics, so I decided to go on the Web site.”
Ms. Ballard has also ordered a bocce set online from L.L. Bean of Freeport, Maine, after viewing it in a catalog, and recently purchased clothing at a Coldwater Creek store after receiving the company’s catalog.
“I went in and tried on a few things I saw in the catalog and ended up buying them,” she said.
Other retailers are offering free or reduced shipping, discounts, coupons or special items to lure online shoppers. About 61 percent of shoppers surveyed by Forrester Research said they would be more likely to shop with an online retailer that offers free shipping.
Vaillancourt Folk Art, a privately held maker of hand-painted chalkware that operates a store in Sutton and sells through other entities such as Colonial Williamsburg, has experimented successfully with low shipping fees of $2.50 per order this year and “broadcast” promotions to potential customers by e-mail.
Sales through the company’s Web site have been lower this holiday season compared to last year, said Gary F. Vaillancourt, co-owner of the business, but the average ticket price has jumped to $183 from $143. Shoppers love the discounted shipping, he said.
“We get a better response with free shipping and reduced shipping than we do with discounting product, which is fascinating,” Mr. Vaillancourt said. “And we would prefer not to discount.”
Sales are also strong through the Web sites of Vaillancourt Folk Art’s partners, such as Colonial Williamsburg, Mr. Vaillancourt said.
For some retailers, juggling stores, a Web site and catalogs is nothing new. Staples Inc. of Framingham, the world’s largest office supplies retailer, has been using all three channels to sell goods for years. The company usually offers free shipping for online orders over $50, but it is offering free shipping for all orders during the holiday season this year.
Customers, many of them already among Staples’ regular business customers, are purchasing technology gifts such as laptops, GPS devices, shredders, printers and digital cameras, including those in flashy colors such as pink, according to Chris Madaus, vice president, marketing for Staples Business Delivery, the arm of Staples that includes online sales.
“Most of the products tend to be more than $50 anyway, the technology products, but it tends to drive excitement,” Mr. Madaus said of the free shipping.
Other retailers must tread more carefully. Learning Express Inc. of Devens, which franchises educational toy stores across the country, sells toys online but tries to do so in a way that will not harm its store operators. Three stores in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Nebraska fulfill the online orders for recipients and share the revenues with stores near the buyers, said Meghan S. Powderly, Learning Express director of communications.
“We’re very concerned. Without our franchisees, we wouldn’t be in business,” Ms. Powderly said. “We don’t want to take advantage or take business away from anyone.”
Learning Express is not offering special promotions for the holidays, she said. Still, the company’s online business is growing.
“Our sales continue to exceed last year,” Ms. Powderly said. “For 2007, we are up.”
Not all online shoppers are ready to give up bricks-and-mortar purchasing. Ann M. Lindblad of Rutland purchases toys online for nephews but heads to the museum shops at Old Sturbridge Village and the Worcester Art Museum for other gifts.
“My brother-in-law has said, ‘The kids want this,’ and I could be driving around forever,” said Ms. Lindblad. “I find that (online shopping) saves time, but I like the museum shopping for the entertainment value.”
Mrs. Lucius of Worcester, however, is plotting her remaining shopping with an eye toward avoiding stores. She has already torn out pages from the Sundance, Williams Sonoma and Chefs catalogs for more “power” online shopping. Online retailers offer the chance to buy unique gifts, she said.
“I mean, it’s all basically the same merchandise, just packaged a little bit differently,” she said of mall retailers. “It’s nice if you can get something different.”