Paper Trail

Bill Orleans delivers

by Keith Morrill

Bill OrleansBill Orleans, the owner of PP&D Distribution, turned a volunteer job hanging posters into a thriving Burlington business.

Bill Orleans may be one of the unsung heroes of Vermont’s tourism industry. He doesn’t own or operate any major attractions — on or off the beaten path — but without him, tourists might have a tough time finding those smaller locations. As the owner of PP&D Brochure Distribution, a Burlington postering and brochure delivery business, Orleans builds, fills, and maintains more than 700 brochure racks in 18 regions across Vermont, New York, and New Hampshire, providing information for tourists and locals alike about events and locations in the the three states. 

While his end-users vary widely, Orleans says his clients can be divided into two broad categories. Those in the first category pay him to distribute their brochures and other publications such as magazines and guides. The list is long at more than 200 clients, and includes Magic Hat Brewing Co., Shelburne Farms, and Vermont Teddy Bear.  

“The other client, I don’t get any money from,” explains Orleans. That category includes hotels, restaurants, museums, and grocery stores, or just about anywhere it makes sense for Orleans to place a brochure rack. “Without them, I’m lost,” he says.

Although these clients recognize the benefit of allowing him space to place racks in their establishments, they have nothing to do with the intensive upkeep required to keep the contents timely and tidy. The onus of upkeep lies solely on PP&D.

Distribution businesses of similar size often require a fairly large management team, says Orleans, but he performs all of the management duties himself, and relies on his four full-time and four part-time employees to take the initiative in their work. Although right now he’s advertising for drivers, he’s also working on a moniker that more accurately describes the duties his employees carry out.  

The task of distributing brochures and maintaining racks is trickier than it might appear, says Orleans. “In a perfect world, I’d have the same 50 brochures in that van everywhere we went. It would just make life easy.” 

The reality is that placement requires a discriminating eye, as PP&D plays matchmaker, hooking up the right publications and brochures with ideal venues. 

Brochures for tourist attractions are more likely to end up in a hotel or motel than the local grocery store, where real estate guides and information on continuing education at the University of Vermont might reign supreme on the rack. 

PP&D also does a fair amount of postering. Last year, the average poster job was about 150 posters for each of more than 75 clients. Some of these were for nonprofits to which Orleans donated his services. These days, poster distribution represents a small fraction of PP&D’s total business, but it used to be the only business he did — it’s what got him into business.

Frank DavisonBill Orleans gives his employees at PP&D considerable leeway for managing their work. Frank Davison, a poster, publication, and brochure distributor since 1993, also works in the warehouse and assists in the office.

Orleans began distributing in 198i. The New Jersey native had just graduated from Goddard College with an undergraduate degree in political science and law. Goddard’s nontraditional programs had attracted him to the state.

He moved to Burlington and took a few odd jobs, including working as a bicycle repairman and temping at Digital. While listening to the radio, he heard an ad on WRUV for UVM’s Lane series, offering a free pair of tickets for its next show to anyone willing to put up posters around town advertising the event. Orleans replied to the ad, earned his free tickets, and did the same for the next few shows. 

He wondered if he could get people to pay him for the same service he had been doing as a volunteer. 

It turned out to be an idea with huge potential. “I discovered that in business, people will find money in their budget to pay somebody to do something they don’t want to do,” he says. When Digital laid him off, he was already working out of his garage and walking around Burlington, getting paid to distribute posters for clients like the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, Hunt’s, le Club, “all these names from way back when,” he says. 

Things began to snowball as he picked up more clients. He learned that clients with posters also had brochures to be distributed, and Orleans began taking on those tasks. 

In his early years, he dabbled in publication, putting out Burlington’s Entertainment Guide from 1982 to 1990, and Burlington’s Finest Map from 1982 to 1989. 

Denise Bergman and Paul HamiltonDenise Bergman and Paul Hamilton, poster, publication, and brochure distributors, are at work in the 4,000-square-foot warehouse. Bergman, with the company since 1993, also helps in the office.

Eventually Orleans realized he was ignoring clients one week per month for a venture that wasn’t very lucrative, and he dropped the publishing aspect of business. He says he’s mostly stayed away from it since then, although the recent advent of pocket brochures — the diminutive relative of the regular brochure — among restaurants has involved him in the process once again. 

In the mid ’90s, PP&D acquired several brochure distribution companies, in the Killington area, Stowe, Middlebury, Rutland, and New York state. They represented opportunities for growth and came with lengthy client lists. That’s part of what Orleans needs to get established in an area. 

Things have not been perfectly smooth over the years. Finding employees he can trust with the broad leeway he offers them has been a constant challenge. Because the position is so independent, the wrong employee will use it as a chance “to do just about anything but distribute brochures,” says Orleans. He is, he says, fortunate to have found his employees and extols their skills and work ethic.

Orleans has done well for himself, steadily growing the business every year. He belongs to 12 chambers of commerce and is a friend of just about every museum around. He’s vice president of both the Vermont Travel Industry Conference and the International Association of Professional Brochure Distributors. He’s on the advisory committee of the Vermont State Chamber’s hospitality council, and is the longest-standing member of the tourism committee of the Lake Champlain Chamber. 

Vicky Tebbetts, president of Vermont Attractions Association and vice president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, speaks highly of Orleans and PP&D. “He’s a fantastic resource for the tourism industry,” she says. “He understands the concept that when we all pull together, it’s better for the state.”

Orleans says he does not believe a business must grow in order to succeed. He considers PP&D’s growth to have been reasonable and controlled, and describes it as more of an organic development then a pressing drive. “Maybe it’s the type of business I have, or maybe I’m fortunate in the way I handle my customers,” he muses. 

While his accomplishments seem to belie his philosophy, his leisure time affirms that he’s a man of his word. A resident of Queen City Park in South Burlington, Orleans is a devoted family man to his wife, Sue Trainer, an employee of the city of Burlington, and their four grown children — Megan Kennedy, Kate Culver, and twins Max and Louie. He went to just about every field trip and school event his children had growing up, he says. 

He still finds the time to play volleyball three times a week and act as president of the Green Mountain Volleyball Association. In the winter, he takes advantage of the days he’s on the road helping a client near a ski area to get in a few runs. 

That, he maintains, is the best part about running the business — the ability to do something different every day, whether it’s fixing a rack, talking to clients on the phone, or getting in a few runs on the slopes.•