A tweet in February from a Buckfield wood turning mill to the first family has precipitated criticism this week – from the New York Times to late-night talk shows – of how the White House is handling its annual Easter Egg Roll.
It also might have been the perfect marketing ploy.
Simon Varney, co-owner of Wells Wood Turning & Finishing, which has made tens of thousands of commemorative wooden eggs for the event in past years, sent the tweet from the company’s Twitter account on Feb. 20 to President Trump, first lady Melania Trump and the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, saying, “FYI manufacturing deadlines for the Easter eggs are near. Please reach out!”
A story in the Washington Post appeared a week later speculating – partially based on the tweet, as well as a lack of communication from the White House on the event – that the Egg Roll, like the correspondents’ dinner, might be a tradition that Trump had decided to drop.
But soon Wells Wood Turning & Finishing received an order for the eggs and, on March 15, the administration announced details of the event, which takes place Monday on the South Lawn of the White House, where 21,000 children and parents will gather as they have since 1878.
Still, the planning of the event has been under fire this week, including by a New York Times report Tuesday that started by saying the president had received an “urgent warning … of a crucial date he was about to miss,” then quoting Varney’s tweet.
What was that drop-dead date?
“I don’t know that we really had a deadline per se,” Varney said Friday.
Varney, who purchased the wood products company with his brother-in-law in December and before that worked in marketing, said he’s sure there are challenges that come with changing administrations, not that he’d know about anything like that.
“I’m a wood-turning guy in Buckfield,” he said. Or is he?
Varney wouldn’t say when the order was placed or whether it was later than previous years. In fact, he said, last year the White House did not use the Maine company as it had seven of the previous eight years. He didn’t know who made the eggs instead.
“Whether they were ahead or behind, it’s really a question for the White House. We are simply very pleased to have the opportunity to supply these colorful Maine-made eggs,” he said.
Stephanie Grisham, who late last month was appointed communications director for Melania Trump, whose office handles the Egg Roll, did not return an email Friday asking about the planning process for the event.
The New York Times story Tuesday, however, cited Laura Kline, spokeswoman for the White House Historical Association, which sells the eggs, as saying the “limited manufacturing window” resulted in an egg order of 40,000, less than half the usual number.
Varney said the size of the order has varied from year to year – anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000. He wouldn’t say whether the White House order was typically the largest egg order the company gets. It certainly has the highest profile, he said.
He also declined to say whether the company had tried to contact the White House in other ways or whether the tweet was a last-ditch effort to get in touch, but he did say that social media is just one part of the company’s marketing strategy.
Varney’s tweet was retweeted more than 300 times and had received nearly 900 likes as of Friday afternoon, and the company’s Twitter account has gained hundreds of followers. Its website traffic and YouTube views have also been way up, Varney said, as have orders for several of the company’s products.
“I just got a call this morning from someone asking if they could put a logo on a snowman,” Varney said, while others have been interested in its mini baseball bats.
One new customer the situation produced was Natalie Rebetsky, who read that Washington Post story in February and decided to order her own eggs in protest of Trump and to sell them to raise money for PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts, whose funding is threatened by a Trump budget proposal.
The English teacher from Sykesville, Maryland, has collected the commemorative eggs and been to a few of the Egg Rolls herself, when her children were young, and despite her lack of interest in politics in the past, she felt compelled to take action against the new administration. Her 1,000 eggs sold out this week, raising $10,000 total for the two organizations.
At first, Rebetsky was nervous to put in the call to Wells Wood Turning, for fear they’d feel conflicted about fulfilling her order.
“I told them my purpose and asked them, ‘Is this something you would consider?’ ” she said. “Of course, they said, ‘Business is business’ … It’s not their job to judge, it’s their job to make beautiful eggs, which they do so well.”
Varney said the company is “egg-nostic” when it comes to politics.
“Our high-quality product trumps any of those concerns,” he said. (He just came up with that one.)
Now, after the dozens of interviews he’s done, Varney has to figure out how to replicate the response for the company’s other products.
“It’s interesting how a little wooden egg could generate so much interest throughout the country,” he said. “We’ve got to find another wave to ride.”
He’s got a cocktail muddler that he’d like to see take off.
“If we could garner some visibility for that, that would be a good summer project,” he said.
Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: