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

Sarris Candies follows a philosophy of manageable growth. The business doesn’t want to grow more than 20 percent a year. By keeping shelf life in mind, Sarris Candies basically produces to order and ensures products are always fresh.

The company can only get so many beans a year from cocoa farms and doesn’t want to blend beans that will change the product quality. At the same time, production space is limited.

With these constraints, Sarris says they monitor inventory constantly with sophisticated computer systems that check things in and out.

“We have to track every nut that walks in the door. I’m not talking about people. I’m talking about cashew nuts, almonds and all that,” he says.

Even the packaging takes advanced planning. Film and boxes can take three or four months to be delivered.

Diversifying the business

One part of controlling growth is through diversity. The candy company has five categories in its business mix — the retail store, ice cream parlor and Internet sales; holiday fundraising and candy bars; wholesaling in Hallmark and grocery stores; corporate sales like business gifting; and private label manufacturing.

By managing each category, Sarris says they don’t let one run away from the others.

“You have five fingers on your hand. You can lose a finger and you can still do just about anything else that you want to do,” he says. “If you lose the hand, you’re in trouble.”

Sarris Candies also was able to acquire Gardners Candies in Central Pennsylvania in 1997. The troubled candy facility gave landlocked Sarris Candies needed production.

Sarris says it provided an opportunity to see and learn from another brand. In fact, he moved up to Gardners, spending all week there and coming home on weekends.

From scrubbing floors to spending months in the kitchens redeveloping products, Sarris showed Gardners he knew the industry.

“As crazy as that was, I did every job with them from making the candy to putting the candy on the lines, fixing equipment, tearing down motors — and you know what, that’s probably the most fun, getting your hands dirty and getting in there,” he says.

Today, the two companies sometimes compete against each other for customers in a family-type rivalry, but two facilities allows for production efficiencies.

That diversity also helped when Sarris Candies caught fire in February 2012. Although there was $7.5 million in damage, only the retail store and ice cream parlor were truly affected.

“At the time of the fire, when the fire was burning, we put 30 trucks on the road delivering candies,” Sarris says.

They also used the media to let customers know Sarris Candies was still in business, and everything was fine.

Maintaining values

A constant challenge of managing growth is keeping the values — high-quality standards and customer service in Sarris Candies’ case — that gave the business success in the first place.

Sarris Candies continues to offer all full-time employees and their families 100 percent health care coverage. With an aging workforce, this is an enormous cost, but Sarris feels is worth it to keep the employees who provide strong customer service.

He also is always visiting other candy facilities to see if something can be done to improve operations.

“We use the equipment to enhance our employees’ job, like an automatic stirrer so they don’t have to stir with a spoon. The equipment helps our people. Our equipment does not replace our people,” Sarris says.