Chamber holds annual breakfast meeting

LEWISTOWN – Members of the Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce met Monday morning at Lewistown Country Club for the chamber’s annual meeting breakfast.

Chamber President Jim Tunall welcomed the group and gave an overview of the projects the chamber and visitors bureau are developing. Peter Ort, of Kish Bank, gave the invocation.

After breakfast, Mark Partner, chairman of the board of directors, reviewed last year’s meeting minutes and financial information. The group approved both reports.

Ryan Sheetz, director of brand development for Pennsylvania-based Sheetz Inc., presented information on the company and its growth strategy. Sheetz has been with the family business for 12 years. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Penn State University and is the youngest member of the Sheetz family’s second generation in business.

Sheetz gave an overview of the company history. He said the original family business was Harshbarger Dairy, a wholesale milk distribution company that operated “dairyette” stores – neighborhood shops carrying milk, bread and other basic necessities – from the 1920s to the 1950s. “Uncle Bob” convinced Sheetz’s grandfather to sell one of the dairyettes to him for $900. The first Sheetz Quick Shopper opened in 1952, on Union Street in Altoona.

In October, Sheetz’s cousin Joe became president and chief executive officer of Sheetz Inc. There are 472 stores in six states which serve more than 1 million customers every day, bringing in revenue of more than $6.6 billion per year.

Sheetz said there are three primary principles contributing to the company’s success: execution, innovation and customer focus.

Execution is not just saying, but acting upon the corporate mission statement. For Sheetz Inc. employees, that means providing “fast, friendly service and quality products in clean and convenient locations.”

Innovation means making constant improvements to the business. Sheetz said one of the common sayings for the Sheetz family is, “Create the Sheetz that will put the Sheetz of today out of business.” That means the Sheetz of tomorrow should be so much better than it is now that if the two were competitors, the new Sheetz would put the old Sheetz to shame every time.

“If you’re not innovating, you’re not growing. If you’re not growing, you’re regressing,” Sheetz said.

The company is based on a total customer focus philosophy for each employee. If an employee doesn’t directly serve customers, then he or she should be focused on aiding the customer indirectly. That could mean keeping supply levels up so people don’t have to wait for food or keeping the stores clean for customers to enjoy.

Several years ago, a survey of Sheetz employees resulted in seven “DNA markers” that best describe the Sheetz corporate culture: high energy, connected, real, dependable, driven to win, pioneering and respect.

Of all these words, Sheetz stressed that respect – for each other, for the company and for the customer – is what has really made Sheetz Inc. so successful.

Four of the states in which Sheetz Inc. operates conduct “Best Places to Work” surveys. Year after year, the company scores in the top 10 in all four states. For 2014, Sheetz Inc. was 87th on Fortune Magazine’s national “100 Best Companies to Work For” list.

When it comes to products, the Sheetz family has looked at the business as a three-legged stool, the legs being tobacco products, gasoline and food service. The first two legs of the stool are weakening; sales of those items are in decline because of changing social and economic climates. So in order to move the business forward, they are focusing on food and Sheetz said it’s working.

The business philosophy is to continually invest and make decisions based on long-term profitability instead of making a quick dollar. Over the years, Sheetz Inc. has developed its own transportation for fuel, a distribution center, and a commissary where its food is made. A second distribution center is set to open in August in North Carolina, which will serve the southern portion of Sheetz Inc.’s market area and allow for more growth.

Sheetz had no information on the development of store locations in Burnham and Reedsville.

“They never let me into store development,” he said. “I think they realized I’d do more harm than good there.”

An inquiry with the company was not answered as of press time Monday.

Chamber awards for 2013 were presented by Tunall, Chamber Administrative Coordinator Rhonda Moore and John Breneman, a representative from state Sen. Jake Corman’s office. Breneman also gave each award recipient a senatorial letter of congratulations. The recipients were:

Robert Lepley, Lepley Electrical Contractor Inc. – Community service award, given to an individual or organization demonstrating outstanding achievement in public and community services;

Barbara Harer, South Hills School of Business and Technology – Ambassador award, awarded to an individual who fosters a positive image of the chamber;

Jim Kreitzer and Launa Snyder, Chestnut Manor Bed and Breakfast – Emerging business award, presented to a business that opened or changed ownership the previous year and represents the best of the area’s future;

Corvette America – Spirit of the Juniata River Valley award, honoring a business that best exemplifies honesty, fairness, ethical business practices and concern for employees and customers;

Tim and Nancy Collins – Volunteer award, given to individuals who demonstrate exemplary commitment to the community and chamber, above and beyond business contributions; and

First Quality Baby Products – Pride award, given to the business that has made notable physical improvements or expansions to its facility.

Tunall closed with a summary of upcoming events in the area and an appeal to chamber members. In previous years, RiverFEST has been the source of funding for Lewistown’s fireworks display. Since RiverFest is not being held this year, other sources must be found to pay for the pyrotechnics.

“There’s not a huge financial return on this investment,” Tunall said. “But, there’s a huge personal return on it.”

Tunall said the fireworks show costs about $7,500 each year and encouraged members to contribute.

Anyone interested in contributing to the fireworks show can mail checks payable to JRVCC to Historic Courthouse, 1 W. Market St., Lewistown, PA 17044.