While some entrepreneurs set out to build a better mousetrap, Bob Shearer and his brother decided they could build a better potato chip. That was 34 years ago, when fresh out of college and working in their father’s grocery business, they purchased a distributorship that delivered Wise-brand chips.
It was a trial-and-error learning process in the early days; neither brother had any real knowledge about what went into the making of a potato chip.
“We thought potato chips were made from basic table-stock potatoes,” Shearer, 56, said. “Fortunately, we learned early on that you needed chipping-stock potatoes.”
Their first objective was quite simple: create a potato chip that they liked to eat. When they began experimenting with kettle-cooked chips, they gave every employee five cases of chips to take home each week to sample and share with neighbors. “I knew we had a winner when I got a call from a woman in Florida telling me how much her family loved our chips,” Shearer recalled. “We had not distributed chips anywhere at that point so I asked how she managed to try them. She and her family were visiting relatives in Ohio, who just happened to live next door to one of our employees. They ate a case of our chips on the drive from Ohio to Florida and were hooked.”
Co-founder and CEOShearer’s Foods Brewster, OhioAnnual sales: $150 millionType of business: Manufacturer, distributor and retailer of snack foodsNumber of stores: One factory outletArea of operation: Nationwide
With annual sales topping $150 million last year, people around the country have gotten hooked on Shearer’s snacks, which have expanded to include popcorn, pretzels and tortilla chips, as well as numerous flavors of their signature kettle-cooked potato chips.
When the Brewster, Ohio-based company started, there were two kettles churning out 250 lbs. of chips on a busy day. Today, the company makes 20,000 lbs. of chips hourly and has two manufacturing plants, four distribution centers and approximately 700 employees.
“I didn’t think about it at the time, but we were building the culture of the company at the same time that we were developing chips and growing the business,” Shearer said. “I was focused on the vision, passion and commitment to create quality products and hire quality people. We’ve been blessed with great people and several of them have been here for more than 30 years, including some of our current managers who started with us 34 years ago.”
The company also has a “sharing and caring” committee that works with fund-raisers and charities to benefit employees in need as well as the local community.