Celebrating 70 Years of
And Still Growing...
complimentary commemorative edition
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70th Anniversary Commemorative Booklet compliments of
Owner/Publisher Chad Beatty General Manager Robin Mitchell Managing Editor Chris Vallone Bushee Design and Production Director Alyssa Jackson Advertising Design Morgan Rook Andrew Ranalli Advertising Sales Erin Boucher Jim Daley Cindy Durfey Photography Mark Bolles Francesco D’Amico Unless noted otherwise, all photos provided by Stewart’s. All Articles Written by Maureen Werther A special thank you to the Marketing Department at Stewart’s for all your help! Maria D’Amelia Melissa Kreider Jeff Vigliotta ...and the Greenfield Historical Society Published by
Saratoga TODAY Newspaper Five Case Street, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866 tel: (518) 581-2480 fax: (518) 581-2487
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Simply Saratoga is brought to you by Saratoga TODAY Newspaper, Saratoga Publishing, LLC. Saratoga Publishing shall make every effort to avoid errors and omissions but disclaims any responsibility should they occur. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written consent of the publisher. Copyright © 2016, Saratoga TODAY Newspaper
TABLE OF CONTENTS Intro 18
The New Church Avenue
The Dake Brothers
After The Flood
Surviving the Ice Storm
Partners Share Their Stories
Fresh and Local
Tour the Plant
Stewart’s Shops By The Decades 1950s Your Ice Cream Shop 1960s Your Dairy Shop 1970s Your Gas Station 1980s Your Coffee Shop 1990s Your Beverage Shop 2000s Systems & People 2010s Your Restaurant www.saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
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Giving Back to Your Community 83 Hi, I’m Susan
President Gary Dake
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Stewart’s Shops is celebrating 70 years of continued growth and success.
Come along as we take an intimate look into how it all began and the evolution of this beloved family - and employee - owned business. This is the story of the Dake family, Stewart’s Shops, its employees, (called “partners”) and the company’s legacy of philanthropy and community involvement. 18 | STEWART’S SHOPS 70 th ANNIVERSARY 2016
An interview with William P. Dake, Chairman of the Board of Stewart’s Shops as told to Maureen Werther
When we think of Stewart’s Shops, different things come to mind for different people. Some of us immediately think of delicious ice cream cones, sundaes, and fresh and local milk and eggs. And yet others imagine a quick and easy meal on the go… like chili, hot dogs, or a fresh sandwich, all while stopping for a tank of gas. In many communities, the local Stewart’s shop is the place to go for morning coffee, the newspaper, and conversation with old friends. For others it’s the local convenience store and the place to buy their lottery tickets. In some hamlets and villages, it’s the only nearby grocery store. While providing various services to their local neighborhoods, part of the company’s uniqueness continues to be the generous contributions to their communities. The company, sharing the successes of their business with those who have helped make it possible. For most people, however, one word that is NOT likely to be associated with Stewart’s Shops is “disruptor”. However, for William P. Dake, Chairman of the Board of Stewart’s Shops, this word defines and epitomizes how this local business has grown and evolved into the hugely successful corporation and vitally important member of our business and philanthropic communities we know today. In a nutshell, it means identifying and implementing a better way of doing things ahead of everyone else. A disruptor is an innovator. According to Bill Dake, the history of Stewart’s Shops’ rise and undeniable success is peppered with numerous instances of disruption.
But, let’s begin with that day in 1917, when Charlie V. (known as CV) and Percy Dake, decided to go into dairy farming...
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IT ALL BEGAN WITH
THE DAKE BROTHERS
Dake Family from Left to Right: Charlie, Percy W, Charles V (CV), Bill It was quite obvious, soon after brothers Percy and CV Dake purchased the family farm from their father, that they were innovators who carried the early seeds of “disruption”.
national – and eventually worldwide – distribution. On October 29, 1929, he purchased Dake’s Delicious Ice Cream and changed the name to Dake’s Dairy Products.
The year was 1917.
McMullen promptly moved the Dake’s ice cream operation from its location at King’s Station into a new, “state of the art” ice cream plant that he built in Greenfield.
“Like all dairy farmers, Percy (Bill Dake’s Uncle) and CV (Bill Dake’s Father) didn’t feel they were getting paid enough for their milk,” Bill Dake begins. “So, they decided to make butter and ice cream. They had the milk for it, and they also happened to have a bright red Model T Ford truck.” The Dake brothers capitalized on the combination of mechanical refrigeration and transportation to expand their market. By the end of their first year, Percy and CV had sold 4,000 gallons of Dake’s Delicious Ice Cream, delivering to customers in Saratoga, Ballston Spa, Schenectady, Albany and Troy. By 1929, Dake’s Delicious Ice Cream had become a regional household name and the brothers’ business expanded from 4,000 gallons in their first year to a whopping 100,000 gallons. During this time, a Canadian millionaire, Robert McMullen, became interested in the Dake brothers’ operation. McMullen’s goal was to vacuum pack ice cream mix for 20 | STEWART’S SHOPS 70 th ANNIVERSARY 2016
By 1932, McMullen had sold Dake’s Ice Cream to General Ice Cream Company, a division of National Dairies and better known as Sealtest. CV and Percy each were paid over ten years, in exchange for signing a non-compete agreement with the company. In addition, McMullen gave them a note that eventually turned into the ownership of the plant. “They were basically paid not to make ice cream,” recalls Bill. Then, in 1935, New York State passed a law requiring all milk to be pasteurized. Many dairy farmers in the area couldn’t afford the cost of modernizing their farms in order to comply with the new law, and the smaller farms simply didn’t generate enough milk to even consider adding a pasteurization component to their existing facilities. The Dake brothers approached local dairy farmers with a proposal to set up a facility that would pasteurize and bottle their milk. An old dairy barn on Franklin Street became Saratoga Dairy and home to their pasteurization plant. www.saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
The Dake brothers sell 4,000 gallons of ice cream the first year.
A few years earlier, the millionaire McMullen had purchased a large swath of land that ran from Greenfield Center into Saratoga Springs. However, McMullen’s financial setbacks made it impossible for him to build his dream resort. So, instead he decided to farm the land, erecting a state-of-the art barn that could hold over 100 cows.
CV and Percy convert a railroad freight station into an ice cream manufacturing plant
Ironically enough, not one cow ever set foot inside that barn. When McMullen ultimately went broke and found himself unable to pay off his debts, he deeded the land and barn to the Dakes as repayment of the note they held for the sale of Dake’s Delicious Ice Cream.
“IF IT AIN’T GOT MILK IN IT, STAY OUT OF IT!” (One motto that was eventually forgotten!)
CV and Percy purchase a bright red Model-T delivery truck to deliver ice cream
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The modern processing plant of PW & CV Dake
The Dake brothers’ facility was years ahead of its time. In addition to transforming the cow barn, the Dake brothers also leased the former Dake’s Delicious Ice Cream plant – which McMullen had sold to Sealtest. It was there that they began producing butter. In 1938, they purchased the building from Sealtest and continued to expand the butter side of the business. During World War II, butter was at a premium and was rationed by the federal government. The Dake’s butter business expanded rapidly, ultimately becoming the largest producer and supplier of butter, east of the Mississippi.
CV and Percy get back into the dairy business and create Saratoga Dairy
Toward the end of the 30s, Percy and CV moved the milk bottling part of their process over to the former Saratoga Springs City Water Works on Excelsior Avenue. Production of pasteurized milk steadily increased from 5,000 quarts per day during the 30s and 40s to more than 100,000 quarts per day by the mid-70s.
The Dake brothers purchase building that becomes the butter plant
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HOW STEWART’S GOT ITS NAME... In 1945, the Dake brothers purchased Stewart’s Ice Cream Company from Don Stewart, and kept the Stewart’s name. He had a small ice cream manufacturing facility on Church Avenue, in Ballston Spa which had been owned and operated by the Stewart family since 1918. Because NY state licensing laws limited which townships a dairy could sell their milk in, purchasing the Stewart’s dairy allowed the Dakes to expand their area of operation. Circa 1945
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YOUR ICE CREAM SHOP The ice cream part of the operation, had been forced to close during the war because of the sugar shortage. When CV’s son, Charlie, returned from the war in 1945, he became very interested in re-opening the ice cream side of the business. The non-compete between the Dakes and Sealtest had expired and, as a veteran, young Charlie had early access to sweetened condensed milk. This allowed him to produce ice cream during his summers off from Cornell. The Dakes re-opened the storefront of their plant, which became their first Stewart’s shop. Customers stood in line waiting to buy the delicious treat that they had gone without during the war.
The original Stewart’s Dairy on Church Ave
As part of their deal with Don Stewart, the Dakes continued to employ an ice cream maker from Switzerland, who distinguished himself with great standards. Both ice cream production and milk bottling operations continued to grow and, by the time young Charlie left Cornell in 1947, the Dakes had opened several more ice cream shops. Charlie, who majored in Economics, continued to be very involved in the ice cream side of things. Along with his new wife Philly, they began developing a number of strategies to grow the business. “Stewart’s was one of the first to use a rectangular two quart package for ice cream, instead of a round seal-right container,” notes Bill.
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Folding paper ice cream carton
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Phyllis Dake, Charlie’s wife, introduces the “Make Your Own Sundae,” which becomes a trademark of Stewart’s Shops.
Charlie decided to deliver ice cream directly to people’s homes. “We had panel trucks with wooden freezer cabinets full of ice cream.” They would slide the wooden chests onto the trucks and hit the road. Another idea that became wildly successful, and is still a tradition today, belonged to Charlie’s wife Philly. Philly’s idea was simple: instead of employees spending time making ice cream desserts for their customers, why not just let the customers do it themselves? It would free up the employees to do other tasks and the customers would be able to create the exact sundae they desired. Just like that, Stewart’s “Make Your Own Sundae” was born. “Make Your Own Sundaes” was an idea that was ahead of its time, and iterations of the “make your own” concept would be seen throughout the next several decades. During the 50s, Stewart’s began seriously evolving as an ice cream business. They expanded the number of shops, initially renting the locations and later purchasing them. In 1950, they incorporated Saratoga Dairy, Inc. and Stewart’s Ice Cream Company, Inc. 1950 also saw the relocation of the ice cream plant to the “big barn” in Greenfield. Eventually, the milk bottling and the ice cream manufacturing were both under one roof in 1994.
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Young adults enjoying Make Your Own Sundaes
While Stewart’s ice cream was wildly popular, as Bill says, “there wasn’t a whole lot of business for an ice cream store in the winter, especially in upstate New York. So, we wanted to put our own milk into our own stores from our own plant.” Even though it sounds counterintuitive, the NYS department of Agriculture and Markets did not allow milk producers to sell their own products directly in their own stores. The law as it stood required a business to purchase a separate license to sell in each town or village, and it protected the milk monopoly. “So, we took the department of Ag and Markets to court, and Stewart’s won, with lots of publicity surrounding the case. Overnight, we had a dramatically large proportion of the milk business and we were able to sell it cheaper because we didn’t have to go through all the steps that our competitors did to get it to people.” A fundamental change occurred with the demise of home delivery, and aggressive sales put forth by supermarkets. Over time, other dairies could no longer compete. Up until this point, Sealtest, Borden, and Normanskill Dairy were the three largest dairies in the Capital Region. But today, these three businesses no longer exist.
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STEWART’S SHOPS IN THE SKY While looking back on the company’s history, how can you forget the helicopter? Back in the 50s, Stewart’s Shops purchased a model 47G-2 helicopter for $39,000 and started Adirondack Helicopters Incorporated. In part, the helicopter was used for business travel, but it was primarily a promotional gimmick. Customers fondly remember how exciting it was to earn a ride by collecting 500 Perky Points with their purchases. Holiday events and drops were also held with the helicopter, before it was eventually sold in the 60s. 28 | STEWART’S SHOPS 70 th ANNIVERSARY 2016
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YOUR DAIRY SHOP “If the 50s were the decade of ice cream for Stewart’s Corporation, the 60s was the decade of milk,” says Bill. Bill says his uncle, Percy Dake, decided to build “the most modern dairy plant in the country.” But, there were many functional problems and the plant quickly became unprofitable. The huge expenditure for the facility crippled the company financially, and the prospect of bankruptcy loomed.
Throughout the rest of the 60s, Charlie and Bill were involved in adding more stores. In addition to the Stewart’s Ice Cream Shops, they had also purchased the Farmer in the Dell chain of drive-thru stores. Several of those stores were free-standing, which meant that they had easily accessible parking right on the property. It became evident that people were impatient, and the country was turning towards the expectation of self service. A change that proved fitting for the “Make Your Own” Sundae and being able to pick up your own milk.
It was during this period that Bill entered the family business. Bill’s resume included an engineering degree from Cornell and two years in the Navy. By the time his brother, Charlie, recruited him to work for the company, the milk plant was in serious trouble. “Many times, when you’re working on the cutting edge, you bleed,” says Bill. Charlie asked his brother to come back because Bill had the engineering expertise that was so urgently needed in the plant. One of Bill’s primary functions was to straighten out the kinks in the plant. Once the plant was set, attention moved to distribution, and the Perky Milk Company was created to handle it. In order to comply with the Ag and Markets approval deal, Stewart’s was required to set up contract haulers to deliver their milk. They provided drivers with rental trucks and drivers were paid on a per unit basis for each item delivered to the shops.
New expanded dairy and warehouse is built in Greenfield
“This one thing probably had more to do with the future of our business than anything else,” notes Bill. “All of our delivery evolved over time on an incentive basis and it created the vertical integration of the business with the driver. If the driver didn’t sell more units, he didn’t make more money. Naturally, the drivers developed a tremendous interest in the success of the stores. This vertical-integration-of-operations and proving our shops support is a huge part of how we became so strong.” (The term, vertical integration, is “where you do the manufacturing, distribution, and the retail. There’s more efficiency and makes it easier at the same time.” See the article about Vertical Integration as an integral part of the operations and Stewart’s as a whole, starting on page 70.)
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YOUR GAS STATION While the 50s were all about ice cream and the 60s were all about milk, the 70s were all about gas. The company’s entrance into the gasoline business was almost serendipitous. “We were trying to buy a property in Hudson that was owned by Mobil, and they refused to sell it to us unless we sold gas. So, just like that, Mobil created its largest competitor.” During this period of time, all the major gas companies that owned stations occupying less than 200 sq. feet wanted to sell those properties so they could respond to the changing needs of the market. “The days of the two-pump island and the two-bay service garage were becoming a thing of the past,” says Bill. The gas corporations needed to get rid of their smaller locations and begin building the modern-day gas stations. “So, all of a sudden, we could buy a lot of former gas stations,” exclaims Bill. “We could fit our shops on the smaller lots because gas was only a small part of our operation.” And to top it off customers could “pump their own gas.” Increasingly, people were doing less walking to do their errands and more driving. They wanted to go where they could easily park their car, hop out to buy their coffee or milk, and get back in their car and be back on their way. The brothers continued to buy free-standing stores during this time. Then in the early 70s, they built a Stewart’s Shops on the corner of Circular Street and South Broadway in Saratoga. “It was the original “Stewart’s” design, with the mansard roof, the brick exterior and floor to ceiling windows. Believe it or not, it won an award for the best new building in town that year.” They remodeled, remediated any pollution issues, and – in some cases – they added on to the existing buildings. During this time period, Stewart’s Corporation was adding 20 stores a year. They also bought out some chains, such as Sunoco’s Stop ‘n Go and the Normanskill Dairy chain. By the end of this period, the total number of Stewart’s Shops had grown to 70.
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YOUR COFFEE SHOP The decade of the 1980s saw even more expansion of Stewart’s product lines and the addition of more shops. Coffee, along with other - more immediately consumable foods - became the big focus. Just as “Make Your Own Sundae” had been a disruptor, now “Make Your Own Coffee” was causing a disruption of its own. “You wouldn’t believe how much initial resistance there was to the idea of letting everyone pour their own coffee,” Bill notes. “After all, nobody makes a drink better than you do yourself, right? But, you would think it was absolute heresy!” As it turned out, the partners broke many more coffee pots than the customers ever did. “The piece here that’s meaningful,” begins Bill, “is this: we certainly have more ice cream shops than anybody in the area; there sure aren’t too many other milk stores around; and we probably have more gas stations than anybody else, as far as ownership goes. With the growth of the coffee side of things, it’s pretty safe to say that we now have more coffee shops!” Stewarts probably sells more coffee than most other coffee stores for a couple of reasons, according to Bill. “For one thing, most of our customers are busy working people who are in and out reasonably quickly. People who go to Starbucks or other coffee shops are renting a seat and a WiFi connection. “Every time you pay a buck or two extra for a Starbuck’s coffee, you’re paying for the real estate.” And, of course, the self-serve component also plays a huge part. Bill estimates that a Stewart’s shop probably serves several customers by the time Starbucks sells one cup of coffee – because they can do it all themselves. Having a strong presence and efficiency in many areas– like coffee, ice cream, and milk – was also a strongpoint. “We could do them all well, without the high prices you may see in a specialty store,” says Bill.
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YOUR BEVERAGE SHOP The 1990s saw continued growth, with shops carrying a lot of things to make your life easier. “The main thing that occurred during this decade was a gradual shift toward being more of a convenience store,” says Bill. As a result, Stewart’s began to add more beverages and other related items. They also developed a new line of beverages, which they dubbed “Refreshers.” The new line included juices, milk, iced tea, lemonade, and other drink products. The beauty of them is that they are packaged and sold as individual servings. As such, they’re the perfect size and they also appeal to the person who’s looking for something more “refreshing” than the standard sodas or sugary drinks. They are also, quite literally, “fresher” than other commercial beverages that may be months old. In order to accommodate the new product line, they added a section to the existing plant to bottle and package the Refreshers. Using a blow molding machine allows them to make all of their own plastic bottles. “If you know anything about the beverage industry,” says Bill, “then you realize the excessive amounts of money the industry pays for advertising and packaging. So, the Refreshers are probably one of the best deals around”. He goes on to say that it is also “an example of the vertical integration that occurs throughout the plant.” The term, vertical integration, is “where you do the manufacturing, distribution, and the retail. There’s more efficiency and makes it easier at the same time.”
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SYSTEMS AND PEOPLE The first decade of the 21st century saw a tremendous increase in the refinement and integration of many of their systems, all adding to the efficiencies and profitability of the company. Again, it’s all about the vertical integration and their embrace of the self-service model. But more importantly, it is the friendly nature you find at a Stewart’s that sets their shops apart. That pleasant atmosphere is fueled in part by the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). This level of ownership for Stewart’s partners allows for a sense of pride, involvement, and long term security. During this decade, the company increased its profit sharing plan so employees own a third of the company (now, at nearly 40%). They got their employees more involved in their business, while others were automating out of business; replacing people with ATMS, self-checkouts, and travel websites. It’s another example of Stewart’s Shops choosing to go one way, when the rest of the business community goes another. “This ownership and job stability enhances the uniquely pleasant atmosphere in our shops,” says Bill. On top of the company contributions, participants have seen double digit growth on their existing accounts. “It may be why you see them smile so much!” Hear some stories of success from several Stewart’s partners starting on page 48.
A group of Stewart’s Partners gather outside the corporate office www.saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
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YOUR RESTAURANT As the 2000s made way for the 2010s , Stewart’s has continued to play a large and ever increasing role in providing fast, convenient, fresh food and beverage products to the rapidly-expanding community of two-career families, people traveling more frequently for business and family, and – in general – to most of us who have to function at a faster pace. “All these factors, combined with a new attitude toward food, have an influence on the direction we will take the shops during this decade and the next,” says Bill. Bill points out fast food experienced a significant drop in business “partially because they lacked the variety of food that people are looking for.”
Beverages are the other large piece of the new food mentality. Bill refers to it as “liquid grazing.”
And while more complex foods are added, such as prepared entrees, at same time there are pre-packaged offerings, like a parfait or cheese and crackers. “We even see many customers pairing these items,” says Bill. “Eating out of one of our shops becomes very cost effective.”
“Many people come into the store, thinking they’re looking for a food item, when in reality they come in for the beverage, and then they pick up a food item. The point is you’re not telling the customers what they have to buy – they have hundreds of choices.”
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FROM MODEL T TO MODEL BUSINESS Over the years, Stewart’s Shops has had a strong market position in many areas - ice cream, milk, gas – because they chose a different approach and anticipated a marketing change.
That decision – made early on in the company’s history to forego absolute homogeneity in favor of flexibility and responsiveness to the unique needs of each community was and remains the prevailing concept upon which they have grown and flourished.
“The fact that we do each of these things allows us to do them more efficiently, and provide outstanding quality and value in each category,” says Bill.
Brothers Charlie Dake (left) and Bill Dake (right)
One of the things that makes Stewart’s such a uniquely successful business model is its owners’ ability to listen to what the customers need and want - and then respond to that need. “We allow the customer to take us in the right direction.” They also realized early on that there was a big difference from one area to another, as far as what a customer wants. “In some small towns, we are seen as the gas station. And then, there are places where we have a hard time getting approval to build a shop, while other communities are begging us to build because they DO need a grocery store, or gas station. Heck, in some towns, we have everything but the pot-bellied stove,” Bill jokes. (see Dave C article page 49)
In 2003, Gary Dake becomes President of the company, and his father, Bill, becomes Chairman of the Board. Working side-by-side in the office they share.
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THE FUTURE... As they move toward a new decade, Stewart’s Shops will continue to adhere to the concepts and principles that have guided them throughout the history of the company. They are currently remodeling - as well as building new and slightly larger shops, with more of the same likely in the next decade. “We haven’t yet seen just how far the food issue will take us. We are building the larger shops to accommodate the growing needs of our customers. But, we also have a number of extremely profitable stores that already serve a great need in their communities; but, they are on very small lots. So, one of the challenges we will grapple with over the next decade is to figure out how we will offer all the functions that people want.” Despite these and other challenges that are certain to emerge, Stewart’s Shops will continue its careful observations of markets, industry trends, and the changing needs of its customers. And, as Charlie V and Percy did before them, they will continue to listen to their customers, help their partners succeed, and remain an integral part of the community.
Speaking of Remodeling... flip the page to see the NEW Church Avenue Shop in Ballston Spa!
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“OUR THIRD TRY IN 70 YEARS” – BILL DAKE photos by Francesco D’Amico
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The evolution of Stewart’s Shops is unmistakable as a brand new shop now stands where the very first Stewart’s Ice Cream shop opened just over 70 years ago on Church Avenue in Ballston Spa. The new shop was built just inches from the old one, making this project a bit tricky! The new shop officially opened on May 18th and the outside portion was completed later in June. Additional space now makes way for a wider variety of Easy Food items including fresh-made pizza and subs, plus more seating and even a beer cave. Outside, you’ll find a larger parking lot and increased fuel service. While its history will be remembered, this Stewart’s Shops is moving forward - meeting the ever changing needs of its customers.
photo by MarkBolles.com
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HURRICANE IRENE AFTER THE FLOOD “Stewart’s has been and continues to be a very important part of our community. It’s the place everyone goes in the morning for their coffee. And, it’s the place where people stop on their way home from work. The reason for Stewart’s success in our area is because they relate to and understand the community, and they provide the best in customer service.
Remember, this is a community that hasn’t had a major grocery store since the 90s. Stewart’s has taken a lot of chances and made a big investment in our rural area, and you’ve got to love them for all they’ve done to help revive our local economy.” Christopher Tague, Town of Schoharie Supervisor (as told to Maureen Werther)
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, Stewart’s Corporation was instrumental in helping to secure the resilience of this community and instilling confidence in the midst of crisis. Their commitment to rebuilding, and the speed at which they accomplished their task, helped people believe that rebuilding our communities and returning to normal were possible. It’s fair to say that their actions, post-Irene, were the starting point for the rebirth of the village of Schoharie. Within two or three days after Irene hit, Stewart’s was back up and running. Another six to eight weeks after that, they had completely rebuilt. This was a huge help to our residents, who had been forced to travel to Duanesburg or Cobleskill for food and necessities.
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ICE STORM OF ‘98 Scanned from The Press Republican – Plattsburgh, NY: Ice Storm ’98, A North Country Disaster magazine.
“January 1998. Five days of freezing rain. Ten thousand utility poles down. All power distribution lines disabled. Roads impassable. Trees snap with a sound like gunfire. Five counties in northern New York are brought to a standstill – almost.” This snapshot is part of North Country Public Radio’s retrospective of the horrific ice storm that incapacitated the “North Country” more than fifteen years ago. Jim Botch, a warehouse manager at the Stewart’s plant, vividly recalls the days and weeks in the storm’s aftermath. “We had no way of communicating with any of our store managers. The phone lines were completely down. So, we
had no idea what their shortages were or what kind of supplies they needed for their stores. So, we just loaded our trucks with staples and other things we figured people would be running out of and would need. And we headed up there.” Most of the roads were still impassable and – on the few that were – the state troopers were only allowing NiMo repair trucks and a few other critically needed service vehicles to get through. But, they did let the Stewart’s trucks through. Stewart’s was new to that part of the upstate area in the late 90s, and people there were not so familiar with the company. Now, more than fifteen years later, many of the small grocery or convenience stores are gone. But, Stewart’s remains an important part of those upstate communities.
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LET’S MEET SOME
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FILLING DIFFERENT NEEDS IN DIFFERENT PLACES Dave Caruso freely admits that he loves talking about Stewart’s Shops. And he is
certainly qualified to do so. With 30 years under his belt come this September, Dave began as a District Auditor and was soon promoted to District Manager. His job has been all about traveling to every Stewart’s Shop, and now, as Senior Vice President for Stewart’s Shops, he is still on the road and still loving it. For Dave, the three main ingredients that differentiate Stewart’s Shops from convenience stores or grocery stores are the partners, the products, and versatility of each individual shop. “Our story is so unique,” he says, “because even though we started out as a local ice cream and milk shop, as we grew, we ended up in parts of this region that are very different from others, with very different needs.” He uses the Adirondacks as an example. “Some of these towns have no supermarkets and no small grocery stores; so, we end up filling two roles there. We’re both a convenience store and a grocery store.” Dave continues, “We have product lines that many convenience stores are limited in or they just don’t carry. I mean, who else do you know that carries 50 flavors of ice cream and fresh local dairy products and gasoline?” Dave also talks about the changing housing trends. In more suburban and urban areas, with condo- and apartment – living becoming so prevalent, locations that were more “traditional” Stewart’s Shops have now become that “immediate need” grocery store. He points to the renovation and expansion of the original Stewart’s Shop on Church Avenue in Ballston Spa. “The Church Avenue shop has always been driven by milk, ice cream, and our more traditional line of products. But, as the area grows and more people are eating on the run, we can now offer a whole range of prepared food to eat at the shop or take home – such as pizza, fresh made subs, and our new “Now & Then” entrees.” Other areas serve more as “commuter” shops, giving people the ability to fill their gas tanks and grab a quick soda or Refresher www.saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
drink for the road. Dave goes on to note that each store in these different communities are marketed and merchandised differently, in response to the needs of the particular shop. “In ‘commuter’ shops, for example, we make more room on our shelves, in our coolers and on our counters for our ‘on-the-go’ customers.” Dave cites Stewart’s outstanding production and distribution components as a key reason why the company is so successful. Because the Stewart’s plant is, in effect, multiple companies operating under one roof, it can be more flexible and more diverse in its product lines. It can also individualize the product orders for each shop, responding to the needs of the location and the customers. (Be sure to read the article about Stewart’s
plant tour on pg 69.)
The final component, and – for Dave – the most important, are the partners. “Whenever we talk about products, we must talk about our people – our partners,” says Dave. He goes on to say that Stewart’s ESOP program (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) is hugely instrumental in the success of the shops, particularly in smaller, more rural areas. “We are actually providing careers to our partners,” he says. This is a really big deal, especially in smaller, more remote communities, where people would either have to drive long distances to get to a job; or, they would work as employees of local businesses, without ever having the opportunity to become a part-owner. “We are making an economic impact on that town, while also filling a need as customers’ ‘Go To’ place to shop.” “This makes all the difference in the world,” says Dave. “You see it in our partners’ commitment to excellence, to customer service and to the community.” “I can travel to a little hamlet like Indian Lake and the partners are so involved in the community,” he adds. “It takes the philanthropy part of the equation to a whole new level, and that’s a big part of why we become that ‘stopping place’ in the community.” “It’s one thing to send a check to an organization, but I love it when I see our partners participating in the local firehouse’s fundraising event.” At the end of the day, Dave feels blessed that he has been able to travel throughout the region for the last 30 years, getting to know the partners and the customers, and becoming a part of each community he visits. “I love it,” he says. “Whether I’m in Kingston or Cambridge, I know people by name and they recognize me as being a part of their community. I couldn’t ask for a better job.” STEWART’S SHOPS 70 th ANNIVERSARY 2016 | 49
THE QUEEN OF CONSTRUCTION: A WOMAN AT THE HELM OF FACILITY AND MAINTENANCE OPERATIONS With nearly 46 years on the job (…and counting!) Nancy Trimbur says that only Bill Dake has put in more time. “Although,” she adds
jokingly, “those Dake boys began working as soon as they could walk!”
Getting her start in the accounting department soon after graduating with a degree in Business from Skidmore, Nancy rose steadily through the ranks and is now a Senior Vice President of Stewart’s Shops. One of her guiding principles is, “once you commit to something, you see it through.” Not surprisingly, she has a hard time understanding why some people don’t give things a chance, and she says, “Life isn’t about instant gratification, after all.” That being said, Nancy began her college career, planning to go into nursing. “I think I was influenced by those ‘Golden Books’ – remember them? One of the characters in them was ‘Nurse Nancy’ and I thought that was going to be me.” After enduring a few weeks in Skidmore’s nursing program, she realized this was not going to be her path in life, and she made the decision to switch her focus to business. Since then, she’s never looked back. After finishing school, Nancy needed a salary and immediately accepted a job working for a small CPA. She recalls that it was a “mom and pop” business and, during her interview – which was
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held in the couple’s home – they served her a bowl of ice cream. You could say it was a sign. Nancy remembers her first week as “the worst 37 ½ hours of my life”. Fortunately, a position opened at Stewart’s Shops shortly thereafter. This was back in the day when wages were $2 per hour. Stewart’s offered 40 hours per week plus healthcare. She accepted the position and, within a short period of time, she was promoted to the position of Office Manager, where she was in charge of accounting for the entire company. “Keep in mind that everything was done manually back then,” she says. There were no computers. “I was responsible for preparing the monthly Profit & Loss statements for all 45 stores”. It literally took her the entire month to complete them, only to immediately begin the next month’s. As Nancy grew with the company, she continued to learn more about business than she ever learned in college. “I may have gotten my BS at Skidmore,” she says, “but I earned my PhD at Stewart’s”. She adds that, while she was initially intimidated by Bill Dake, she also realized that he was a “natural born teacher,” who used every opportunity to make it a teaching moment. Bill has been a fabulous mentor,” says Nancy. “Reading people, knowing that there are two sides to every story, and looking for the long term solution are basic premises that have served me well.” He taught me very early on to focus on what is important and to do the hard things first. One of the most
valuable lessons he ever taught me was that you can manage anything if you understand the numbers.”
attention to the different needs of each community is one of the things that has made us so successful.”
With many different roles and almost 46 years under her belt, Nancy says that she has the best job in the company. As a single mom, Stewart’s gave her the flexibility and latitude necessary to manage the dual demands of parenting and a career. She now oversees all of the construction and expansion programs, and she is excited about this year’s goal to build nearly 20 stores for the first time in the company’s history.
One of the many side benefits of Nancy’s job is the opportunity to use skills she has learned at Stewart’s to help local and regional non-profits and other community-focused organizations.
Their expansion includes moving west. They opened their first shop in Syracuse in 2014, with others on track to be built in Utica and the surrounding area this year. In addition to the new stores, there are plans to renovate stores along the way. And, it’s not just about putting up new stores. One of the important aspects of the job is building the right store for each location. “We pay a lot of attention to how the store flows and the particular needs of the customers who shop there”. Echoing something said by Bill Dake, she points out that, “This kind of careful
“It’s so gratifying to work for a company that believes strongly in giving back to the community and encourages its staff and partners to do the same.” She adds that her involvement in organizations like the YMCA, Wellspring, Soroptimists and Saratoga Hospital “opened a whole new world to me.” Nancy’s community involvement includes eight years on the board of Wellspring, serving three of those years as its President; she was also a member of Saratoga YMCA’s board for 10 years, again serving as President for three years.
Nancy will be retiring at the end of 2016. She is confident and proud that her staff is in a strong position to take over. Hopefully her next chapters will be as rewarding as the previous ones. In an era of dwindling returns on investments and poor performance of IRAs and 401ks, “Stewart’s commitment to its staff and partners, as evidenced by the shared ownership program and the ESOP, have made secure retirement possible for so many people.”
Saratoga County’s 2015 Women of Influence
She also sits on the board of her homeowner’s association, where they benefit from her extensive business expertise and knowledge.
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FINDING SUCCESS ...AND SHARON!
year olds when I started working there,” he reminisces. “Now, they’re coming in with their own kids, buying them ice cream cones.” Ballston Spa, back in the 80s, was still a “small town,” and Bill recalls that the Church Avenue store was a place where members from the community met, shopped, and exchanged news and conversation. As Bill sees it, Stewart’s Shops filled an important role in the fabric of the community, and – as regional manager – he sees that same feeling of community in so many of the other stores he visits each week. Bill attributes his longevity with Stewart’s Shops, in large part, to the people he has met, worked with, and served as customers throughout the years.
A lot of things were racing through the mind of Bill Triola when he walked through the door of the Stewart’s Shop on Church Avenue in Ballston Spa for his first day of work. Would he like this job, would he do well, would he get promoted? Nearly 34 years and several promotions later, Bill is the regional manager, overseeing the store operations from Albany to Saratoga. The shop on Church Avenue is still near his home and he loves stopping in to say hello. “To this day, I still see people coming in for their milk and eggs who were five-
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Stewart’s has also played a big role in Bill’s own family. In fact, it was in the Church Avenue store that he met and began dating his future wife, Sharon. Thirty years later, Bill and Sharon have three sons, one a graduate of RPI, the other a student at SUNY Plattsburgh, and the youngest a junior at Saratoga High. Sharon has also enjoyed a long career with Stewart’s - in a number of different shops throughout the years, and always having the flexibility to work reduced hours when she was raising her kids. “They were so great with Sharon when she was having our children. When she wanted to work part-time so she could be home with them, they adjusted her schedule.” “We never had to hire a babysitter,” he adds. Now that their children are grown, Sharon is once again a full-time partner in the West Avenue store. As with so many other business issues, Stewart’s Shops made decisions that were always ahead of the curve, keeping
the best interest of their partners in the forefront. “Stewart’s recognizes and values the hard work and contributions made by its partners,” says Bill, “and they go out of their way to support them. That’s one of the reasons people don’t leave.” Bill calls the company’s ESOP, “a real retirement that I can count on,” says Bill. “It’s not like those ‘fake’ retirements, where you go to work part-time just so you can make ends meet after you’ve retired from your real job.”
STEWART’S EMPLOYEES ARE CALLED “PARTNERS” BECAUSE THEY OWN NEARLY
40% OF THE COMPANY.
Bill goes on to explain that, unlike traditional 401ks, this plan is 100% company paid and contributions into the plan are based on year end company performance. Bill adds that, “the account also grows based on the valuation of the company – and the value has always grown.” Bill acknowledges that, like any job, there’s a lot of hard work that’s necessary if you want to be successful. But, in looking back on the last 33 plus years, he knows that the experiences he’s had, the people he’s met along the way, and the security for himself and his family, have made all of the hard work worthwhile.
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RETIREMENT photo by Mark Bolles
When she first began working for Stewart’s Shops, Arletta Stephenson really wasn’t all that interested in the company’s shared ownership and retirement program. She was, after all, only in her twenties and not yet thinking about things as distant as retirement. She did know that she was working in a very busy and very profitable store, located in downtown Saratoga, and she knew she would do her best to keep that job. Arletta recalls that she had a very good manager. He understood and embraced the Stewart’s culture and corporate philosophy of sharing in the company’s success, and he made it a point to educate the young workers on his team. “Once I did understand, I was totally on board,” says Arletta. Her manager also knew that Arletta was a good worker who was an asset to the store. “He was great about working around my schedule. I had young 54 | STEWART’S SHOPS 70 th ANNIVERSARY 2016
children and I needed a job where I could balance both work and kids.” She became an “opener,” working from 4am until noon, a schedule that worked out wonderfully for her and her family. “I did that for years,” she says. Arletta also recalls that she got a raise in her very first year and, before long she had been promoted to assistant store manager. “That was 29 years ago, and three years later, I was made manager of the Stewart’s location on Grooms Road.” During this period of time, Stewart’s Shops was expanding steadily; buying out chains and building brand new shops like the one on Grooms Road in Clifton Park. Arletta became its manager – and remained there for the next 24 years. Arletta says that, what she loved the most about remaining in “her own store” for all those years, “were the customers – getting to know them and making such good friendships. I loved the camaraderie.”
She also loved the company’s fairness and support. “They gave me the tools to learn the business and the support when I needed it. You always knew their expectations and they always gave people a chance to grow.” A few years ago, when Arletta was in her late 40s, tragedy struck her family. Her daughter was killed in an automobile accident, leaving Arletta responsible for raising her grandchildren. Again, Stewart’s was there for her. They reduced her hours so she could take care of her young grandchildren, but still work enough hours to remain eligible for the annual plan contributions. Arletta retired from Stewart’s Shops last July, with nearly thirty years accumulated in the company’s ESOP retirement plan, equaling nearly $700K. Last year, Stewart’s Shops had been so profitable that, for the first time in the company’s history, they issued dividends to their partners. Arletta had the option of putting her dividend into her ESOP or taking a lump sum. She www.saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
decided to take it, and she received a check for nearly $8k. She has since moved to Rhode Island with her grandchildren. “That money has been supporting my grandchildren and me, here in Rhode Island. I can enjoy my life and raise my daughter’s girls,” she says. Arletta recently became a certified teacher’s assistant so she will be able to work a few hours while the girls are in school. Meantime, the remaining balance that is in her ESOP plan will continue to accrue interest every year. For Arletta and her grandkids, the future looks bright and secure.
THEY GAVE ME THE TOOLS TO LEARN THE BUSINESS AND THE SUPPORT WHEN I NEEDED IT. YOU ALWAYS KNEW THEIR EXPECTATIONS AND THEY ALWAYS GAVE PEOPLE A CHANCE TO GROW.
photo by Mark Bolles
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Co-written by Maureen Werther and John Greenwood
& FLYING MILKSHAKES John Greenwood is another one of the many longtime Stewart’s Shops partners, but his association
with the Dake family goes all the way back to childhood. John is also an avid writer, blogger, photographer, and amateur historian in his leisure time. So, when I requested an interview for the magazine, he was ready with wonderful memories and reminiscences that he had already written down for me. He dedicated those reminiscences to the memory of Philly Dake, whose kindness and generosity, in John’s words, “provided me with a lifetime of fond memories.” While John has been on the Stewart’s payroll for 32 years, in actuality, his first paid job was raking leaves for Charlie and Philly Dake in 1964. “Charlie would offer me $5 for three hours of raking leaves. He knew that $5 sounded like a lot more money than $1.67 an hour.” John goes on to say that this was also Charlie’s way of getting a 10-year old boy to agree to a three-hour business contract. “You only got the five bucks if you worked the full three hours.” John adds that Charlie gave all of the Dake boys weekly chores too, and set amounts of time that they needed to work on them. John also helped Philly do a variety of chores at the big mansion the Dake family had bought years before from Robert McMullen. The Dake home was referred to by everyone as “The Hill,” because it was situated high above the road with a beautiful sloping lawn.
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One of his favorite jobs was helping Philly take out the summer lawn furniture and clean it off with a garden hose. John says that “It didn’t seem like work at all.” It was late in June, and the cool water from the hose made it more fun than work. Throughout his childhood and adolescence, John worked in a variety of jobs for Stewart’s Shops, and remembers one summer working with John Beaudet, who made all of the Stewart’s Shops signs. “Back then,” he says, “Stewart’s signs were made of individual wooden letters that were cut out using a saber saw. They would then be shaped, sanded, and mounted on a plywood board that was then attached to the front of the shop.” One day he was driving down to New Paltz with Beaudet to deliver a sign. They were on the Thruway, towing the sign on a trailer behind the truck, when they heard a noise behind them. When they looked back, John recalls, “we saw the plywood shedding letters behind us like autumn leaves, landing on the road.” An S, an E, and a T didn’t make it to New Paltz in one piece; but, with a little Stewart’s “magic,” they were able to make them look “almost like new,” he says. A few years later, as a Saratoga Springs High senior, John worked after school at the Stewart’s corporate offices then located on Circular Street. It was his job to clean the offices, empty the trash, vacuum, dust, and do general tidying up. John also worked at the Circular Street Stewart’s when he was a senior at Saratoga High in 1973. At the time Circular Street was a “Soup and Sandwich Shop.” The shop had
waitresses who took orders and brought them right out to the table. John was the only busboy. His job was to clear tables and do dishes in the hot, narrow backroom. He says, “It was a hectic place.”
John has had “just about every job you can imagine,” from receiving milk and cleaning the tanker trucks, to making butter, yogurt and ice cream, to his present job, in charge of transportation and trucking for the company.
One day they were shorthanded and one of girls asked him to run the register. “There’s nothing to it,” she says. John said, “I didn’t believe her and, I proved her wrong.” Moments later an unsuspecting customer asked him for a milkshake. It was busy and the girls didn’t have time to stop and show the new kid what to do so he rolled up his sleeves and grabbed a metal shake cup.
He talks about the spirit of collaboration and pride of ownership that pervades every corner of the plant. And he says that he wants to continue working for at least another five or six years before he retires.
Milk, ice cream, and a squirt of syrup, how hard could it be? He said he wanted a happy customer so he gave them their money’s worth. “I filled the cup to the top, shoved it up in to the shake machine, and let her fly.” Fly she did. Milk and ice cream sprayed ten feet in every direction. John said it would be the last time he’d work the counter, but not the last time he’d get dish pan hands at Stewart’s.
“We’re continuing to grow and the plan is to build more shops per year than ever before. I want to stick around to enjoy the excitement of the next few years. ”
John says, “I’d wash lots more Stewart’s equipment in the next 30 years, but I haven’t made a milkshake since!”
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FOLLOW US TO SOME
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Stewart’s Shops purchases all of its milk from more than 30 family run dairy farms. One of them, GettyVue Farms, has been operating since 1853 in the village of Hebron, in Washington County. Brian Getty is a 7th generation farmer and prides himself on selling fresh milk to local businesses – something they’ve been doing for 70 years. In fact, Brian says, “It’s a pride issue for both our businesses.” Stewart’s has been doing business with GettyVue for more than 12 years. In reality, the Getty’s relationship with the Dakes goes back to the 40s, when Brian’s maternal grandfather shipped milk to Charlie Dake in exchange for butter during the war. Today, Stewart’s Shops knows and appreciates the high quality of care GettyVue cows receive, along with the well-maintained equipment and facilities. Brian’s mother, Carolyn, is 82 years old and still handles all the farm’s bookkeeping, instilled in her children the qualities of honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity, and Brian is proud to carry that tradition forward today. GettyVue is owned jointly by Brian, his two brothers, Terry and Kevin, and one sister, Diane, who “still milks the cows every morning,” says Brian. Out of 53,000 dairy farmers nationwide, they’ve entered the National Milk Quality contest twice and, in 2013, they ranked among the top ten dairy farms in the country, plus a Super Milk award winner for 26 consecutive years.
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FRESH & LOCAL
COME TAKE A FARM TOUR! “Stewart’s is an independent buyer of milk,” explains Brian. “Because of that and because they are also the retailer, they are able to offer better pricing to the producer.” It’s just one more example of Stewart’s philosophy of vertical integration: by going directly to the producer they can pay a better price for the milk and still pass on a savings to the consumer. Last year alone, Stewart’s purchased over a half million gallons of milk from GettyVue. Their trucks arrive every other day for pickup and transportation to Stewart’s processing plant in Greenfield. Brian also appreciates the way Stewart’s Shops runs its operations and the high level of communication and input that occurs between Stewart’s and their suppliers. “Every year, we all attend a production meeting, where we get the opportunity firsthand to talk to Gary Dake and (Vice President of Plant Operations) Jim Norton. That’s not something you see a lot of in this industry,” notes Brian. “We get the chance to voice concerns and raise questions and issues,” he adds. “Stewart’s runs an extremely fine-tuned business from top to bottom, which leads to better efficiencies and better work.”
Carolyn Getty, mother of Diane, Terry, Kevin & Brian (from Left to Right)
From left to right:
Jacob Getty, Brianna & Winston Getty, Jessica Getty, Raymond Harrington www.saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
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A smaller, yet equally important supplier of milk to Stewart’s is Willow Marsh Farms, located on Hop City Road in Ballston Spa. The family-owned farm has been supplying milk to Stewart’s for the last 35 years. Willow Marsh is owned and operated by Chuck Curtiss, a 5th generation dairy farmer. Although they are a smaller facility, the milk they supply to Stewart’s represents one-third of Willow Marsh’s annual output, and Stewart’s trucks arrive there like clockwork to pick up the milk and transport it back to the plant. “Their structure is ‘farmer-oriented,’ and they are over-the-top good to us,” says Chuck. “They supply us with milk marketing forecasts and outlooks, as well as holding the annual meetings for us. We get the opportunity to talk to Gary, who is a very people-oriented guy and very up-front and honest with us. He shows that he is concerned about our well-being and he also visits the farms on a regular basis.” Chuck adds.
Milk Facts Pasteurized, not ultra-pasteurized (which gives the fresh flavor vs other milks with that cooked flavor) Our farmers pledge not to use artificial growth hormones Always antibiotic-free! 64 | STEWART’S SHOPS 70 th ANNIVERSARY 2016
FRESH & LOCAL
COME TAKE A FARM TOUR!
Chuck and Darlene Curtiss with one of their 10 grandchildren.
Chuck Curtiss was selected to sit on a panel along with the headliners of Farm Aid before the concert at SPAC on September 21, 2013. www.saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
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The Thomas Poultry Farm is located in Schuylerville NY. Jared Thomas Jr. and his wife Eleanor Sherman Thomas started the poultry operation on land that was originally part of her family’s farm in 1948, with 500 chickens. Today, the farm is owned and managed by Jared and Eleanor’s son, Brian Thomas, along with his wife Jennifer and their partner, Ken Bean. Several family members work there as well, including a brotherin-law, four nephews, and a daughter. Over the years, the farm has grown dramatically, going from hand-collecting and packing eggs to overseeing a modernized facility with highly sophisticated computerized equipment, including a conveyor belt that takes the eggs from the hatching barns, through a sorting belt, to a scanning screen. Stewart’s Shops purchases approximately 4,500 dozen eggs every day. That’s 54,000 eggs per day. To borrow one of the Thomas’ “poultry” jokes, “that ain’t no yolk!” Jennifer tells me that there’s a lot of bird puns flying around the place (please, stop me now!). In order to wrap your brain around these numbers, here’s another fact: it takes approximately 60,000 birds alone just to keep up with the Stewart’s orders.
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FRESH & LOCAL
photos by Mark Bolles
COME TAKE A FARM TOUR! On a recent visit to the Thomas Farm, I was able to see firsthand “eggs-actly” what goes into the care and maintenance of more than a quarter million chickens, as well as the state-of-the-art facility where eggs are inspected, separated out by size and color, and readied for shipment to customers. Recalling the Thomas family history, Jennifer tells me that their relationship began when Stewart’s opened its first shop on Church Avenue in Ballston Spa. They have been selling eggs to Stewart’s ever since and, over ten years ago, they became the sole supplier for all Stewart’s Shops locations. “That was a big step for us, and a notable change for Stewart’s,” mentions Jennifer. “By having just one supplier, they have all of their eggs in one basket, so to speak. But, Stewart’s has a lot of faith in the Thomas family and their dedication to providing the highest quality eggs possible, in an “im-peck-ably” clean and well-run facility!” Jennifer tells me that Stewart’s Shops is a great company to work with, and it has become a symbiotic relationship for both businesses. Stewart’s drivers pick up their orders daily, and fresh eggs are delivered to stores, literally within 24-48 hours of being produced by the hens. When customers buy eggs from Stewart’s Shops, they know they are getting some of the freshest product around, short of having your own chicken coop. This is an important reason why Stewart’s works exclusively with the Thomas Farm. The other reason is Stewart’s dedication to buying locally in order to support area farms. As a family of farmers themselves, the Dakes understand firsthand the challenges farmers encounter in growing, producing, and selling their products at a fair price. The Thomas Family truly appreciates their relationship with Stewart’s Shops throughout the years. The growth the farm has experienced over the past 70 years is due in part to Stewart’s commitment to the Thomas Family Farm. Through the decades the farm has built additions to existing buildings, added barns, upgraded their feed mill and egg packing facility and now employ 18 people full-time to keep up with Stewart’s growth and the demand for their product.
From left to right:
Joshua A. Thomas, Sr., Jeremy Pettis, Jennifer Thomas, Brian Thomas, and Chelsea (Thomas) Skarka holding Jackson Skarka www.saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
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VERTICAL INTEGRATION 101: IT’S ABOUT QUALITY, CONTROL, AND COSTS
My first introduction to the concept of vertical integration came during a recent conversation with Stewart’s Chairman of the Board, Bill Dake. 70 | STEWART’S SHOPS 70 th ANNIVERSARY 2016
He explained it to me as a way of developing systems and processes that builds upon itself. And, while I’m sure vertical integration is a common operational model for many manufacturers, Stewart’s Shops has broken down every component of what it takes to build a store, fill it with goods, service that store, and sell to the customer. All those layers build on each other to create the business… and it’s all done under one, well actually two, roofs.
Unless noted otherwise, all photos provided by Stewart’s.
THE PLANT The plant sits on 60 acres of land and has two buildings with a combined total of 261,500 square feet. The two buildings house manufacturing, distribution, facilities maintenance and repair, print shop, IT department, quality control, the list goes on. The plant employs over 400 partners, whose role is to support the more than 330 shops located in 32 counties across NY State and in parts of Vermont. As I learned during my tour, the distribution and warehouse segments operate 24/7, and 75 percent of what you see in a Stewart’s shop comes directly from the plant. Jim Norton, VP of Plant Operations, has been with the company since June 2002. Jim agrees that the implementation of vertical integration in virtually every step of the manufacturing and distribution process is key to the company’s continuing success, exponential growth and profitability. “We are so much more integrated than other businesses,” he says. “How many other companies do you know that actually have their own equipment and materials onsite to build their own stores?” he exclaims.
Jim Norton, VP of Plant Operations
The other key component are the partners. “We have a team here that supports each other and all the different shop locations.” And Stewart’s supports its team, through monthly safety training, productivity incentive programs and – of course – shared ownership.
The Stewart’s Manufacturing and Distribution Center The Stewart’s Manufacturing and Distribution Center, or more commonly called, “The Plant,” is located in Greenfield, NY. It’s built around the original cow barn that Robert McMullen erected in the late 20s, soon after he purchased Dake’s Delicious Ice Cream from Percy and CV Dake. Today, the ice cream operation occupies the only remaining portion of that original building. www.saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
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THE PLANT A Walking Tour of Vertical Integration in Action
photo by Mark Bolles
Our tour begins in a relatively small, modest-looking room that houses the print shop. While it may seem unassuming at first, upon second look, it is a carefully organized and highly functional space. It’s in this small room that every sign, every label, every promotional flyer – in short, just about everything that needs to be printed – is produced here for every single store. By purchasing their own paper, ink, and printing machinery, and with repair capabilities onsite, they control the quality and the costs – Vertical Integration 101. Next, we make a quick stop at the Lab. It is here that every product is tested – whether it’s a product made onsite or brought in from another distributor. The next few stops are where it gets really good. We approach a large, complicated-looking area with conveyor belts suspended overhead and along the far wall. It’s the Blow Mold area, where every Stewart’s plastic bottle – in every size they offer – is made. The resin materials enter a machine and come out looking like an amorphous blob and then, seconds later, as fully formed bottles. From there, they travel on their conveyor belts into the filling room, where they are filled with milk or other beverage, capped, and transported back out to be cooled and shipped.
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THE PLANT We Moo (Make Our Own) For You • Stewart’s manufactures approximately eleven million gallons of milk, juice, and other beverages annually; 85 percent of that number is milk. • Raw milk is purchased from 30 family farms across Saratoga, Rensselaer, and Washington counties, and is picked up by Stewart’s trucks and hauled to the plant either daily or every other day. • It takes roughly 3,000 cows per day to fill Stewart’s daily orders. • Stewart’s employs two part-time farm inspectors to support the farmers as needed; the milk is tested before it leaves the farm and again, when it arrives in the plant before it can go into the holding silo. • Milk is produced six days/week, usually taking 24 to 48 hours to go from cow to store shelf. • Stewart’s milk has won the Best Milk award four times by Cornell Agriculture and Markets. From farm to plant to shop, vertical integration plays a critical role in assuring high quality at the best value.
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photo by Mark Bolles
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THE PLANT It’s Flavor Time! What comes next after milk? Ice cream, of course. Cream from the milk is piped over to the ice cream plant, where it is mixed with other ingredients to make over 55 different flavors. On the day of my tour, they were making Peanut Butter Pandemonium, that smelled amazing! After the ice cream is packaged, which – by the way – takes less than a second per half gallon, it quickly travels to the “hardening room,” and sits at a temperature of minus 30 degrees for several hours before being shipped to the shops.
What’s Cookin’ in the Stewart’s Kitchen? In response to the ever-increasing demand for easy, delicious, and convenient food choices, Stewart’s recently expanded its kitchen operation in 2015. From a small, 300 square foot space with 6 partners working in it, the space has been expanded to 3,000 square feet, with 20 partners working full-time. Over 16 different kinds of hot foods are produced daily, including chili, soups, meatballs, and the newest addition to the line: “Now and Then” entrees. This newest addition to the Stewart’s line of food includes chicken Alfredo, penne marinara, mac ‘n cheese, and other items. In total, over 2 million pounds of food are shipped to the stores annually. Of that number, half are chili and meatballs …that’s a lot of meatballs! As well as hot foods, the Stewart’s kitchen makes its own yogurt and pudding parfaits, deli salads, and its latest edition, green salads.
photo by Mark Bolles
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THE PLANT PURCHASING DEPARTMENT
photo by Mark Bolles
For all the items that Stewart’s Shops doesn’t make themselves, there is a team of buyers who work directly with vendors. Dan Brooks moved to the purchasing department in 1982, and things have scaled up significantly in purchasing over the years. “When I first started in the job, we purchased about 350 items that we kept in the warehouse. Now, we buy 5,500 items,” he says. A big part of our job is also balancing the products both into and out of the warehouse.
Picking and Shipping One of my favorite stops on the tour is the distribution warehouse. This is where nearly all of the inventory for the stores is located. Unlike many of Stewart’s competitors – who rely on outside distribution networks to maintain their inventory levels – Stewart’s manages a majority of the process itself.
photo by Mark Bolles
Most competitors must buy inventory in case quantities. For smaller shops, this means needing additional storage space for items that don’t fit on the shelves. It also means higher labor costs in moving products multiple times, from truck to storage and from storage to shelves. This method also increases the amount of product “shrinkage” a store must absorb, affecting its profitability and contributing to waste. (“Shrinkage” refers to items that must be disposed of, either because they have reached their expiration date or they are defective.) But it really comes down to making it easier for the partners in the shops.
photo by Mark Bolles
Stewart’s uses a “single picking” process. Shops place an order, or a “shopping list” of sorts every three days. The lists are translated into digital voice commands, using Stewart’s own software developed by their IT team. Advanced Vertical Integration? You betcha! This is where it gets fun… Using headsets, the warehouse partners log into the system, which is fully integrated into the database and operates by digital voice recognition. The voice tells them what item number, where it is located, and how many items to pick for that particular shop. The items go into numbered totes, which are then transported over to shipping. The technology is totally hands free, allowing partners to pick items more quickly and efficiently. The accuracy rate is a whopping 99.95 percent. 78 | STEWART’S SHOPS 70 th ANNIVERSARY 2016
I was given the opportunity to do some “picking” of my own during my tour. Heath Mattison, one of the warehouse managers, showed me on the computer screen how the live system tracks activity. At any given time, you can see how many items are on the pick-list for that day, how many items have already been picked, and the average number of “picks” per hour. On an average day, over 140,000 items are picked at a rate of over 350 pieces per hour. Another important piece of the distribution process is prepricing. The majority of products sent to the shops gets a price sticker affixed to it before getting shipped out to the stores. This step saves the store partners and managers huge amounts of time and greatly reduces pricing errors.
photo by Mark Bolles www.saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
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THE PLANT Support Comes in All Shapes and Sizes From the partners’ hats to the signs that hang in front of the shops, the Shops Services Warehouse has all the supplies to help maintain a shop including the kitchen sink. The same picking method is in place here, and partners pick approximately 19,000 items a week for shipment to shops. If a store needs a new broom, it comes from Shops Services. One corner of the warehouse is dedicated solely to building the shops’ countertops. It takes roughly 24 hours to build the countertops needed for an entire store. Another area has its own “Hauling Repair Center,” complete with a mechanic’s bay to repair trucks, forklifts and other machinery. Can you say efficient? The second floor of the warehouse holds the Tech Center. As a technical call center for the shops, when something goes wrong with a computer terminal, an ATM or other electronic equipment, shop partners don’t need to wait on hold for some outside support network to answer their call. All of the troubleshooting takes place directly with another Stewart’s partner, who has a vested interest in getting that shop back up and running.
photo by Mark Bolles
The Tech Center receives approximately 40,000 calls each year and 90 percent of the problems are solved over the phone. Down the hall is the Appliance Repair Center. Every coffee pot, every milkshake mixer and every toaster has been through this center at one time or another. Malfunctioning appliances are shipped in from the shops, where they are repaired, refurbished, cleaned and returned to the shop. Approximately 10,000 appliances come in and out of the shop each year.
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photo by Mark Bolles
Fuel Efficiency Want to know the going rate for crude oil? Stewart’s Shops certainly does. On the other side of the plant is a team of partners, who analyze the crude oil and gasoline markets in order to purchase more efficiently. Working collaboratively with the District Managers, they also develop a long term gas strategy for each market and set pricing for the shops. In addition, the team handles all of the accounting associated with fuel and any associated maintenance costs. And, they also support shops with delivery needs, pricing, regulatory compliance and all fuel equipment maintenance. “We have our own fleet of fuel delivery tankers who deliver over 60% of our volume 24 hours a day 364 days a year, except Christmas,” says Chad Kiesow, Director of Fuels and Facilities, “Where we need it, when we need it.” Stewart’s Shops sells approximately 5 million gallons of gas each week.
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THE PLANT Did You Know? By the end of the tour, I have realized that there were so many things about the company that I didn’t know enough to even ask about, such as... Did you know… That the plant has three different cooling areas, ranging in temperature from 36-38 degrees for produce, to minus 10-15 degrees for frozen items, all the way down to minus 30 degrees in the ice cream hardening freezer? Throughout the freezer areas are “warming huts,” which house computer equipment and provide a place for the partners to pop inside on a regular basis to “take the chill off.” Did you know… In 2013, Stewart’s added 15,000 square feet, doubling the existing frozen storage capacity? And, in 2014 they upgraded and improved their entire refrigeration system.
Did you know… That Stewart’s has over 100 CDL drivers who log in more than 3.1 million miles per year? Did you know… Solar panels produce 7% of the total annual electrical usage at the Plant? Did you know… Stewart’s recycles over 4 million pounds of cardboard, paper, and plastic each year? To see the concept of vertical integration being put into action in a manufacturing plant is to witness something so simple, yet so complex, but definitely brilliant.
Did you know… That Stewart’s is only one of about four corporations in the state that have a beer warehousing license, which gives them an advantage over the competition by cutting out the middleman?
Vertical integration is, indeed, a layering of systems and practices in order to produce the best service and the best product. But, it’s only a success when you have the best ingredients and the best team to put it together and deliver it.
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A LEGACY OF
Susan and Bill Dake
YMCA leaders reflect upon years of support “Bill Dake understands, perhaps better than anyone I know, how the contribution of his time, talents, and treasure enrich our community. And he is willing to give those three things in great quantity.” These words, spoken by long-time colleague, fellow YMCA Board member and friend, Michael Toohey, epitomize the philosophy and philanthropic mindset of the Dake Family and Stewart’s Foundations. Kelly Armer, Chief Operations Officer of Saratoga YMCA, agrees. “I have had the pleasure and honor of working with Bill and Susan for more than twenty years. Since 1971, when Bill was elected to the YMCA Board, he has been an integral part of the Y’s programs and expansions, working tirelessly to promote and fulfill our mission of helping to build a healthy mind, spirit, and body for all.” 84 | STEWART’S SHOPS 70 th ANNIVERSARY 2016
In addition to their generous donations to the Y’s programs and fundraising initiatives, they have also supported the Y through the contribution of their time, energy, and expertise. Bill was personally involved in the Saratoga Springs expansion, serving as Project Manager. In that role, he oversaw and had a direct hand in the selection of contractors for the job, and in 2005, he and Susan served with Mike and Linda Toohey as co-chairs of the Y’s Capital Campaign. Bill was also instrumental in the successful renovations at both the Battenkill and Wilton branches. “We can say without hesitation that Bill’s insights and ‘hands on’ expertise played a huge role in the success of those expansions,” says Kelly. Bill currently sits on the Y’s Board of Trustees, where his advice and support continue to be invaluable to perpetuating the programs and fulfilling the its mission. “He and Susan are truly committed to our community and to helping the YMCA remain such an integral part of it. Susan and Bill believe in the Y and they exemplify our mission every day,” says Kelly. www.saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
Other gifts helped create an immunization program at St. Mary’s Hospital, a new Patient Care Pavilion at St. Peter’s, and – most recently – a $1 million gift went to the construction of a new wing at Samaritan Hospital in Troy. Sunnyview Rehabilitation Center was also the recipient of a $100k gift to purchase a “Re-Walk,” a robotic ‘suit’ paraplegics can wear that allows them to get out of their wheelchairs and experience a range of motion and movement that would be otherwise impossible. Peter adds that Susan has also been a vitally important part of the Community Hospice Board, where Stewart’s has given generously to provide palliative care to patients at the end of life.
Stewarts creates a legacy of learning Dave Smith, Vice President of Philanthropy at Siena College, talks about the impact that Stewart’s and the Dake family has on the college. “In the Capital Region there are a handful of leadership philanthropic community partners who are on-going supporters on a sustainable basis. But very few do it at the depth and breadth of the Dake Family and Stewart’s.”
St. Peter’s Healthcare Partners share Stewart’s commitment to community One particular organization that Susan has worked with for over 20 years is St. Peter’s Healthcare Partners and Capital District/Community Hospice. Peter Semenza, VP of Philanthropy with St. Peter’s Healthcare Partners agrees that Susan has been an invaluable asset to St. Peter’s Healthcare Partners. He calls the Dakes and Stewart’s Shops “one of the most generous benefactors to have supported St. Peter’s over the years.” He goes on to say that, “Stewart’s and the Dake family have, quite literally, supported St. Peter’s programs from cradle to grave,” an achievement he calls an “outstanding tribute to the Dakes.” Whether it is through the Holiday Match program or donations made from the Dake Family Foundations, monies received have funded St. Peter’s pediatric and children’s programs – with a focus on underprivileged and “at risk” youth – across the entire region. Some of the equipment purchased with donations from Stewart’s and the Dake Foundations, include Isolettes for St. Peter’s neo-natal intensive care unit and a mobile dental van that travels to schools in the south end of Albany, providing dental care for children.
Susan Dake has served on Siena’s Board of Trustees since 2004 and she is currently Chair of its Development and External Affairs Committee. She also served as co-chair of the college’s recent comprehensive campaign, “Living Our Tradition: The Campaign for Siena College,” which raised $65 million. Dave cites The Stewart’s Foundation’s recent investment in SAINT Center (Stewart’s Advanced Instrumentation & Technology Center), explaining that the Center will expose Siena students to cutting-edge scientific instrumentation equipment that is typically only available to graduate, postdoctoral, or medical school students. Dave continues to say that “Access to this kind of technology will be invaluable in preparing students for careers in emerging fields. But, Susan said it far better than I could, during the recent SAINT opening ceremonies: “The Center will close the gaps among theory, education, and execution and will also increase the likelihood that all our graduates will get not just a job, but a meaningful job.” The Dake Family and Stewart’s Foundation also support the Financial Aid Fund, a program that helps students who otherwise might have to leave Siena due to hardships that have occurred while students are currently enrolled there. They are also lead donors of Siena’s Academic and Community Engagement program (ACE) which encourages students to become involved with non-profits. This generosity is part of their philosophy of giving back by providing support and advancement to the community. At a recent Siena event, Susan voiced that philosophy: “The Greater Capital District runs on Siena talent. And certainly, Stewart’s has benefited from the expertise and the talent of many Siena graduates.”
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A LEGACY OF
PHILANTHROPY “Prior to the recession, SPAC was in line to receive several million in grant funding from the State. But, once the recession hit, grant monies dried up and New York State was unable to fund the planned renovation of SPAC’s façade. Susan and Bill Dake stepped up and funded our new and much needed façade.” Today, Susan Dake serves on the Board, continuing the family’s tradition of leadership and service to SPAC. This year, to celebrate SPAC’s 50th Anniversary, Susan and Bill Dake underwrote the painstaking restoration of SPAC’s 50-year-old acoustical orchestra shell.
The Dakes shared SPAC’s journey from an idea to a reality Marcia White, President and Executive Director of Saratoga Performing Arts Center describes the Dake family’s SPAC legacy as “extraordinary”: “The Dake family’s SPAC story and its legacy of philanthropy date back to the time when SPAC was just an idea – a dream -- and continues to this day. It’s a commitment that has spanned generations and remained steadfast through changes in SPAC’s leadership and direction. To say that we are grateful is an understatement; we simply wouldn’t be where we are today without the support, vision and generosity of the Dake family.” Charlie and Philly Dake were two of SPAC’s original champions and, in 1963, they hosted the first SPAC fundraiser in their home to assure Governor Nelson Rockefeller there was sufficient local support to build the Performing Arts Center. But their leadership didn’t end there. Charlie Dake was a member of the SPAC Board until his passing, and Philly Dake – who also served on the Board for many years – was one of the founders of SPAC’s Action Council. Marcia fondly remembers Philly’s “profound love of SPAC” and its importance to the region Marcia also recalls that, when SPAC faced the most challenging time in its history in 2005, Bill Dake accepted the responsibility of serving as Board Chairman and worked hand in hand with Marcia and other board members to rebuild, revitalize and reinvent SPAC. During that critical time, Marcia notes that Susan and Bill Dake were part of a circle of Saratoga leaders who donated $500,000 over five years to help stabilize SPAC’s finances and fund investments in programming, audience development, and technology. 86 | STEWART’S SHOPS 70 th ANNIVERSARY 2016
Over the years, the Dakes have also funded technology upgrades including the acquisition of a multi-media screen to enhance classical performances, new speakers and – this year -- new LED stage lighting to heighten the visual impact of performances. “At the heart of the Dake’s philanthropy is a commitment to this community and its families. Their example is particularly meaningful in this landmark 50th Anniversary year. We will be remembering and celebrating their contributions, and those of all our founders, throughout the summer.”
“HI, I’M SUSAN” Susan Law Dake was making a difference in the lives of people throughout the Capital Region long before she became President of the Stewart’s Foundation. For anyone who knows Susan, it’s not surprising that one of her passions is helping children. Long before she began working for Stewart’s Shops, she worked to enrich the lives of children as a school teacher. Originally from New Jersey, Susan first came to the area to attend Skidmore College, where she majored in Drama. After graduation, she decided to make Saratoga her home, and landed her first job in 1971 as an Assistant Teacher at Katrina Trask Nursery School. A year later, she began teaching children at Greenfield Center Elementary School in the Saratoga Springs School System. In 1981, Susan was brought on board at Stewart’s Shops to star in TV commercials and develop in-house training videos, making use of both her drama and teaching talents. Susan’s commercials were a unique marketing tool, helping the audience relate to what they would see in a Stewart’s www.saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
In 2002 Susan was named President of the Stewart’s Foundation, a role she continues in today. Her job is to oversee the allocation of funds to hundreds of non-profit organizations in the communities where Stewart’s Shops are located. The Foundation focuses on the arts, education and health, social services, civic groups and children, with a particular focus on kids’ recreation – something near and dear to Susan’s heart. shop. Before long, most residents of the Capital Region were familiar with her friendly, smiling face as she entered their living rooms on their television sets. Her well-known greeting, “Hi, I’m Susan” was an invitation from her to visit a Stewart’s shop for ice cream treats or fresh milk and eggs from nearby farms. Sometimes, instead of seeing Susan’s smiling face, the ad featured a “talking” dairy cow, with a voice remarkably like Susan’s. She fondly recalls those cows and the challenges of bringing them into an actual Stewart’s shop. “We couldn’t interfere with business, so the maximum amount of time we’d lock the shop doors was about two minutes.” She remembers one cow in particular, a black cow that – as luck would have it – was afraid of her own reflection. “Nobody expected it, but every time the cow caught sight of herself in the dairy cooler’s reflection, she went a little crazy.” Tom Wall, the Channel 13 photographer who filmed the segments, told Susan she would be better off with a different color cow anyway, because black absorbed all the light in the room. Not one to repeat an error, Susan made sure that the next cow they borrowed for filming was brown and white. And, as a special additional precaution, the farmer who owned the cow hung a large mirror in the cow’s stall so that she’d get accustomed to seeing herself. All it took was a little farm ingenuity, and a new Stewart’s “star” was born.
Community, Caring and Philanthropy Over time, Susan’s role expanded to handling public relations and developing new marketing components. Since such a big part of the company’s PR and marketing revolve around philanthropy and community involvement, it was only natural that Susan’s interest and focus eventually moved in that direction.
Susan coordinates the various business and family foundations as a strong commitment to philanthropy, but is a complex process. In addition to the $2.5 million that Stewart’s Shops gives back to its communities, the Dake Family Foundations will donate approximately $5 million annually. “It’s not a simple task to donate money,” said Susan during a recent conversation. “The job comes with a great deal of responsibility and involves the ability to identify the organizations and institutions where funds will make the biggest difference and fit in with Stewart’s – and the Dake family’s – shared philanthropic vision.” One of the most visible programs the Stewart’s Foundation is involved in– Holiday Match – began in 1986. Every Stewart’s shop participates in the program, which runs between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Once the Holiday Match campaign is over, the selection process begins and the money is distributed during the month of March to the groups that have been chosen. Stewart’s Shops customers donate to the fund, and Stewart’s Foundation matches the donations dollar for dollar. “Our customers, as well as our shop partners, are extremely generous and the money goes to a lot of grass roots groups,” Susan explains. “It really runs the gamut, from Boy Scouts and Girl Scout troops, to health-related groups, to groups involved in improving kids’ recreational opportunities.” The Holiday Match Program will celebrate its 30th season in 2016 and, since its inception, 22 million dollars have been raised and given to more than 1,500 different groups. In 2015 alone, they raised over $1.7 million, a figure that includes the matching portion. In addition to her role as President of the Stewart’s Foundation, Susan continues to be an active member of several local and regional boards. She currently serves on several boards, including Empire State College, SPAC, The Saratoga Foundation, Siena College, The Arnold Cogswell Foundation, Adirondack Trust Bank, and the Dake Family Foundations. Her past affiliations are too numerous to mention, as are the number of awards received and recognition given. Like her husband, Bill Dake, and the rest of the Dake family, Susan takes her civic responsibility seriously and thoroughly enjoys the work she does, which gives back so generously to the communities that have supported Stewart’s Shops over these 70 years.
She began to take more active roles in company programs such as Holiday Match, while at the same time volunteering on a number of local and regional boards, www.saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
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Bill, Susan and Gary Dake
The legacy continues These are just some of the many organizations, both large and small, that benefit from the philanthropic mission of Stewart’s Shops and the Dake family. They firmly believe that it is not only their privilege, but their obligation to give back to and support the communities that have helped Stewart’s Shops become an enduring and important presence throughout the region. In 2016, Stewart’s Shops and related family foundations will give a total of $7.5 million back to their community. Part of that will go toward the annual Holiday Match campaign, which has been helping children’s organizations throughout the region since 1986. Together with customers, the program has donated a total of $22 million to date.
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All requests are personally reviewed, paying careful attention to smaller groups who do not have that national presence that would attract other donors. “It is extremely important that we also lend support to local organizations who lack a broad funding base or the emotional appeal of a larger, more visible organization. We would rather see the dollars go to groups that rely on a large volunteer base,” says Susan. The Dake family’s level of commitment to and participation in so many worthy causes is truly monumental. And that dedication to the community they love seems to run through their veins, with each generation acknowledging and embracing their philanthropic commitment to the millions of people who have supported them throughout the last 70 years. For the Dakes it is both a responsibility and a privilege. www.saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
MAKE YOUR OWN SCHOLARSHIP
In 1999, Philly Dake established the Make Your Own Scholarship program, which provides scholarships for active employees’ immediate family members who attend an accredited educational institution. Philly used the Make Your Own phrase to emphasize that students are in control of their education. She understood that although money provides an opportunity, true learning only occurs when students apply themselves to the task and discover that you do indeed Make Your Own education. The program continues after her passing in 2012, as the funding was established in perpetuity. Since its inception, more than 900 scholarships have been provided totaling over $4 million.
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A FAMILY WORK ETHIC IN ACTION It might be fair to say that being born with the last name of Dake is synonymous with possessing an exceptional work ethic.
learning everything about it, from manufacturing and distribution, to farmer relations and accounting. Today, when Gary talks about the company and its partners, he talks about “goal congruence,” or, more simply put, “all of us pulling on the same side of the rope.” A visitor can see evidence of this theory in action in every corner of the company: whether you’re visiting the ice cream plant, the shipping and receiving area, or when you walk into any one of our over 330 Shops. The ESOP, or employee shared ownership plan, is one of the key factors that fuel the success of goal congruence.
President of Stewart’s Corporation and son of William P. Dake, Gary Dake is true to his family’s name. He took over as President in 2003. But his career really began when he was eight, riding along in a delivery truck “to help out” his two older cousins. At age twelve, Gary was working in the plant, doing a variety of jobs ranging from janitor to lawn mower. By the time he was 16, he was working in the dairy and learning everything from processing, to bottling, to packaging and preparing for shipment. Later, while attending college at St. Lawrence University, he spent his summers working as foreman in the company’s ice operation. After college graduation, Gary complied with the family rule – set down by his father, Bill and his uncle, Charlie – which said that you had to work elsewhere before making the decision to come to work for the family business. Gary got a job with Agway, working in their farm credit department. While he was there, he began nurturing the relationships with farmers and gaining a deep understanding of the unique economic challenges they face on a routine basis. He developed a deep empathy and rapport with his farmer clients that continues to serve him well today in his role at Stewart’s. (See what the farmers say about Gary in “Fresh and Local: Come Take a Farm Tour” on page 62.) “When I decided to come back to work for Stewart’s, my dad asked me to join the dairy operation. He knew that my time at Agway gave me the understanding and experience with our local farmers that would enable me to continue the excellent relationships that Stewart’s already enjoys with them.” That was in 1985, and Gary’s first official title – as an adult – working for Stewart’s was “market coordinator.” For the next several years, Gary immersed himself in the dairy operation, 92 | STEWART’S SHOPS 70 th ANNIVERSARY 2016
THE FOURTH GENERATION:
A ZAK OF ALL TRADES
Zak Dake on right, with Senior District Manager Casey Kanclerz
Zak Dake, the son of Gary Dake, naturally has an avid interest in making the shopping experience easy for the customer while also making the partner’s job easier. Zak is currently head of the merchandising department at Stewart’s Shops, or more specifically, he sets up the flow of a shop: where all the products go, how to keep it all organized, and then helps reorganize when a shop is remodeled. He also rides with district managers and staff, visiting stores and making sure everything, and more importantly everyone, is okay. And if not – finding solutions. He’s come a long way from working for Stewart’s Shops while on summer breaks from high school – unloading milk crates from trucks coming back from their daily routes… and later working in the dairy cooler and even in the gas marketing department. But now as he’s on the road each day in his current role, one thing remains the same. His job revolves around the people – and supporting Stewart’s partners. “As it should,” says Zak, “because our partners are the most valuable asset we have. Without them, there is no Stewart’s Shops.”
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A FAMILY WORK ETHIC IN ACTION When people have an ownership stake in the business, they develop a sense of unity, empowerment, and pride in their work. “ESOP means that the driver has a stake in the success of the store. For example, if a driver sees that the store manager is busy and a product is low on a shelf, he’ll take the time and stock the shelf for that manager,” says Gary. “Same is true for the maintenance guy in the plant. We all work hard at making the business successful for each other.” He goes on to say that, typically they see a “180 degree change in attitude” in new people who come to Stewart’s after having worked elsewhere. Gary also enjoys spending time working with partners in the shops. “About ten years ago, we started a friendly competition between the stores to see who could raise the most money during our ‘Holiday Match’ program,” recalls Gary. “If your store was the winner, the prize was having me spend a day there, behind the counter,” he laughs. In truth, the contest was a great way to not only build healthy competition among the stores; it also helped to reinforce that sense of shared ownership and mutual respect and support between the “home office” and the store managers.
“I wanted them to experience the kind of pressure our partners are under when they have a long line of customers in front of them.” Personally, Gary says that he enjoys the time he spends in the shops. “I learn something new every time I work behind the counter. Some of those lessons are subtler, like product placement, or the way a particular store is set up. It has a big effect on how we promote certain products, or how we design the layout of other stores.” Looking to the future of the company, Gary shares his father’s philosophy of continuing in the tradition of “disrupting” the status quo, by anticipating the changing needs of the consumer and by finding new things to do and new ways of doing them better. He also shares the Dake family vision and tradition of giving back to the community. Through the Stewart’s Foundation and the Dake Family Foundation, they continue to donate millions of dollars annually back into the hands of local organizations, in order to help ensure the future well-being of the people who live and work here. (To read more about this,
see “A Legacy of Philanthropy” on page 84.)
And, of course, there’s that work ethic. It seems that the Dakes just aren’t happy if they’re not busily occupied doing something. For Gary, that means meeting the challenges and realizing the goals for the next decade, and beyond.
“I know a lot of business owners who don’t even like their employees,” says Gary, shaking his head. “Our partners are the key to our success and we value and appreciate the hard work they do,” he adds. He goes on to say that, “the number one thing we ask our people to do is to manage a whole bunch of tasks at once.” For those of us who shop at Stewart’s, we know Gary’s telling the truth. Within the span of five minutes, one person may be making fresh coffee, scooping ice cream, ringing out customers at the cash register, or re-stocking an item on the counter. “It takes a lot of special people to do that dance and do it well,” he remarks. In fact, this past year, Gary asked the computer programmers from Stewart’s IT department to spend time working the cash registers in the stores. 94 | STEWART’S SHOPS 70 th ANNIVERSARY 2016
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