6 Questions for Margi Swett, Vermont Trophy & Engraving

Meet the Marketplace is an interview series designed to go beyond the elevator pitch and help us get to know our fellow Marketplace businesses better, find easier ways to do business locally, and share ideas and insights about what makes Vermont a special place to live and do business.


Tell us about yourself

I was born in Columbus, Ohio, but wanted to live in Vermont ever after a lucky geography assignment in 3rd grade. My husband Steve’s initial attraction was that he’d moved to Ohio from Vermont (my first questions was, “WHY???”).  After we married it took me 10 years to get him here!

In the meantime, we lived in Kansas City, where I ran a credit union and we had our daughter and in Flint, MI., I worked in economic development and helped start and became board president of Habitat for Humanity as well as board member of the YWCA and involved in several other non-profits efforts.

From 1996 – 2013, we moved a number of times within Vermont and loved each location very much. In 2013, Steve, by then retired, relocated to the New North End of Burlington, which is the best small city anywhere. Being local made volunteering much easier and my main focus has been as a board member of VBSR which is the most exciting group I’ve been involved with.

One wonderful thing that has happened for me has been that my daughter, Jessie, chose, in 2010, after graduation from UVM to give our business a chance and she’s still here! In 2015, she became a part-owner. She is the perfect business partner.

How do you balance information and wisdom in our information-saturated world?

In our world, where new products flood the market constantly and we are overwhelmed with information.

Thus we have two mottos, the first, “Recognition is Respect Made Visible” is our guiding light but, the second, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” has a guiding purpose as well.

When thinking of new processes to develop or new items to offer we use both our mottos in our deliberations. If one of us gets excited about some new idea, some staff member is sure to question whether it fulfills motto #1 or falls into the trap of motto #2.

The most important thing is to keep one’s eye on the mission, day-by-day. That is made vastly easier by having a clear mission statement and business plan. We have those but I find our two mottos to cut to the heart of issues and save much valuable time.

What professional fear have you overcome?

I was very comfortable spending my days making beautiful things in production leaving my husband, Steve, to deal with the sales/marketing/HR tasks. When Steve’s health began to fail, I had a very hard time stepping up to the tasks that I needed to do. It’s not at all obvious to most people but I am uncomfortable and awkward in the showroom and in laying out my expectations.

It has taken quite a while to 1st realize the dangerous foolishness of my concerns and 2nd to start getting over them. By making myself go to mixers, by being on the VBSR board, by sometimes writing out what I need to communicate to staff and practicing beforehand, I find the fear I have lessening over time.

What do you think of the headlines that tell the narrative that Vermont is too challenging of an environment for small businesses?

They need to try doing business in another state!

Having been in several in the corporate world, business consulting and economic development, I think I can say with some authority, that Vermont is a good place to do business. Perhaps because we are so small, we treat each other differently. It would be hard to be an immoral used car dealer or mortgage banker in Vermont; word would spread too fast.

We are also close enough to each other to see the results of poverty, violence and drug addiction. Those things make it imperative to us to help – personally – and through our taxes and fees.

The Vermont Brand serves us all well and takes away many challenges if an entrepreneur wants to reach a wider audience in particular. People in other parts of the country assume something from Vermont is a quality product. And within Vermont the same assumption seems to occur.

There is no place I have been that has such a ‘Buy Local’ ethic. My customers appreciate our quality but I think they also appreciate that we pay living wages and are locally owned.

We hear several times a week that someone could get what they need online cheaper but they want to deal local. That – right there – makes Vermont a good place to do business

How do we encourage more empathy and compassion for each other?

Somehow we need to encourage people to generally slow down. Everyone is rushing frenetically from commitment to commitment and on their phones in between.  I think we need a public service effort to preach the idea of calmness, breathing, speaking cordially and dropping the unnecessary stresses in our lives.

If you could allocate one hour of everyone’s time per week to make the world a better place, what would it be?

I’d have everyone go out on the street of their neighborhood for one hour and meet people they don’t yet know.

As they do this more and more I would hope to see trust, empathy and social support grow.

If you had $100 million to do any social change and you were guaranteed to be successful, what would you do?

I would create a mentoring program for every single child in America. Its focus would be to help each child individually determine what her/his strengths are and develop interests that empower those. Each child would also have help throughout the K-12 years in making goals and planning on how to make them come true.

Vermont Trophy & Engraving, Inc., founded in 1959, is now a woman-owned business in Colchester, Vermont, with a small staff of skilled craft and salespeople. Our aim is to help our customer find the perfect item to fill their need, create a superb design and then engrave, etch, sublimate or laser it with precision , completing the project to exceeded expectations every time. You can find them on Facebook also.

Working with Margi has been one of the highlights of my time running the Marketplace. In fact, she was one of the first VBSR members that I cold-called and she invited me to the store to talk local economy and has been a participant ever since! – Amy

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Photo Credits: Margi Swett