A Sturdy Soul in Vermont
How the catalog was started: Vrest Orton had vivid memories of growing up in the general store started by his father in 1897. He and his wife, Ellen, eventually assembled those memories into a catalog, which was printed in their garage and mailed just to their Christmas card list in late 1945. And so began the success story of a family business.
Not all in the family: Bob Allen joined The Vermont Country Store in 1982. He held various positions within the company, and in 1994 he was the first non-family member to be named president. Two years later he was named CEO. Allen will retire from cataloging next year.
Grew up in: Long Island, NY
Education: B.S. in mathematics from University of Rhode Island.
Early experience: Before joining The Vermont Country Store, Allen held management positions with Eastern Mountain Sports, a retail and catalog company.
Responsibilities: In addition to spearheading The Vermont Country Store’s overall strategy, Allen is actively involved with the merchandising process and maintaining the company’s focus.
Role models: John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. “I am a baby boomer and child of the ‘60s,” Allen explains. In terms of an industry hero, Allen thinks highly of Gordon Segal, founder and CEO of Crate & Barrel, whose famous motto, “stay humble, stay nervous,” has remained with him for years.
Keys to catalog success: Allen credits the company’s commitment to hard-to-find products as well as its high degree of in-stock merchandise.
Favorite catalogs: Since Allen tends to shop for outdoor products — he’s a cycling and hiking enthusiast — REI’s catalog ranks highly on his list. “REI has become the direct-selling authority on outdoor sports,” he says. He also is fond of Sierra Trading Post for its “simple and straightforward product presentation.”
His management philosophy: “Personally and in business, my philosophy is to treat people well, and they, in turn, will treat customers well,” says Allen. “That’s the only way to create a long-term business.”
Goals: Besides seeing The Vermont Country Store as an incredible branding opportunity, Allen also sought to establish a strong management team that could be integrated into the family business. He has accomplished both feats throughout his tenure.
Retirement plans: As noted, Allen will step down as president in January 2005. His plan? “I still have energy to put into a new career,” says Allen. He says he has always wanted to teach math, a subject he studied in college.