Bill Sarris manages growth at Sarris Candies with a dollop of old-fashioned values

 

When Bill Sarris was in high school — he was class president — his class needed to raise $2,000.

He decided to put a program together with candy from his dad’s company for the students to sell and make the money they needed.

Ultimately, they raised $8,000, and Sarris, president of Sarris Candies, remembers thinking that they should do the same thing in other schools.

“So, when I came into the business, I came back and said ‘You know what, we need equipment. I’m flying to Germany. I’m going to go over there because that’s where they make the best equipment, and we’re going to go buy something,’” he says.

“My dad said ‘You’re crazy. You aren’t going anywhere. We don’t have the money.’

“I said ‘Yes, we do. I already called the bank. I already took care of it. I’ve got a line of credit. We’re going. We’re doing it.’”

That’s how Sarris Candies got into the fundraising business in the 1970s. Today, it offers fundraising programs to schools, churches, groups and athletic teams in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and beyond.

For more than 50 years with various additions to its retail store and factory, Sarris Candies has grown from Founder Frank Sarris’ basement into a $45 million company with 500 employees, during peak season.

Sarris has focused on managing growth, while maintaining the old-fashioned values and customer service standards set by his father. Here’s how he marries cult appeal to Sarris Candies’ mom and pop image with scale in growing the Sarris brand.

Too much of a good thing

The idea of too much growth isn’t something you hear a lot, but with a commodity like candy, there is too much of a good thing.

“We manage this constantly — that growth factor,” Sarris says. “Hey, we love to grow. Everybody does. That lets you hire more people. It lets you buy better. Your costs go down in one sense, but it’s a difficult task when you’re into a perishable item.

“Candy is a luxury. It’s not something that you have to have,” he says. “So, we always have to monitor our costs, and you can’t keep passing that along to the consumer. Eventually, you’re going to price yourself out of business.”