How to build a successful company, according to those who’ve built them.
When Matt Reed started America’s Pie in September 2010, he had three employees. Today, he’s got a team of 40, and opened a second location in Tinicum, Delaware County about two years ago. “When I was younger, I’d dream about having my own restaurant one day,” Matt said. “I never thought then that we’d have more than one location. The overwhelming response to America’s Pie’s food and vibe had people always asking if and when we could expand. Opening another location in DelCo—my home county—seemed the obvious choice.”
The growth that America’s Pie has experienced has been both figurative and literal. “Outgrowing our spaces has been a huge pain for the store,” Matt told us. “We’ve expanded each store to get more square footage, and it never seems like enough!” Another problem with giving the people what they want? “Meeting the demands of every-one’s expectations has been the biggest transition for America’s Pie during our growth. Being able to maintain the food quality we’re known for, combined with the speed everyone expects—it’s a tightrope act, especially when you add the growth of volume we’ve seen in the past eight years.”
The key to expanding a small business is pretty straightforward, according to this entrepreneur. “Never take your foot off the gas. You work harder than you ever have before when you are running your own business. You can’t shut it off, it becomes part of your identity. Never sacrifice quality. The proof you are successful isn’t in the profits; it’s in the reputation you build.”
Arthur Hall Insurance
Talking with the team at Arthur Hall Insurance, there’s a keyword that keeps coming up: integrity. From questions of business growth, to success, to implementing culture, time and again Executive Vice President Mark Sammarone cites the importance of integrity. “Creating a good value proposition for your customer and acting with integrity is not new,” he says, “but it’s still a winning formula.”
Arthur Hall Insurance is one of only a handful of local businesses to have surpassed the half-century mark. Found in 1966 by a man named, unsurprisingly, Arthur “Art” Hall, the agency was initially established to focus on personal insurance and farming accounts. Yes, farming. That agency, like many a small business, was initially run out of Art’s home, but it quickly grew to include several employees and an office in West Chester.
Art ran the company for it’s first 20 years before seeing it through its transition to Tom and Jackie Van Grofski. The Van Grofski’s oversaw incredible growth at the helm of the company, which doubled in size under their stewardship. Incredibly, the company’s reins remain in local hands; in 2005 a core group of employees formed the current management group and again doubled the company’s size. They now maintain offices in three states and hold licenses to do business in 47.
Selflessness seems to be another key for the company, which makes sense when you’re business is insuring lives and livelihoods. “Arthur Hall Insurance prides itself on putting the client’s needs ahead of our own,” Mark says. They also don’t believe there’s a single blueprint or one best bet for every interaction—they’re always catering the interaction to the client’s individual needs. “We believe the best coverage begins with a conversation. Finding out what is important to you lets us create an insurance program that is unique to each client, be it commercial or personal.”
It sort of starts to sound like industry jargon, unless you’ve met Mark—then you know he genuinely means it. Mark’s an active member of the community and serves on several nonprofit boards. In fact, we first met him when we was serving as President of the Rotary Club of West Chester. So, when Mark says things like, “Arthur Hall Insurance places great importance on staff professional development and ethical behavior towards all we encounter,” or, “Remaining grounded and connected to the community has helped us succeed,” you know he’s simply speaking the truth.
When asked where he sees the business going in the future, Mark thinks bigger than the dollars and cents. For him and Arthur Hall Insurance, it’s always all about the people. “[We intend to] stay true to our core values, act with integrity, proactively advocate on behalf of each client, hire and retain talented, highly qualified, and committed professionals, and deliver an uncommon level of expertise to address the challenges of securing our clients future and assets.”
At age 23, Frank Gruber—by his own admission—had no idea what it was like to run a business. “I knew how to cut hair, and I had a large clientele,” he says. He started out working by himself with his sister answering the phone. Today, Frank is president of his own company, Avante Salons, with three locations and 112 employees.
Frank had one goal in mind at the beginning: to stay in business. “I knew I’d have to grow the business if we were going to last. I had enough room for five chairs in the first location, and once we grew that we expanded to the upstairs and added four more chairs. Then, the expansion of the Chester County population gave me an opportunity to go out-side the borough and into our second location. The third location came about with a young employee working for me who wanted to open a salon, so I helped him get started in Exton.”
One of the biggest challenges for Frank in growing the business is a pretty likely suspect. “The economy. It’s always either your friend or enemy. And staffing and developing stylists is always an ongoing commitment to your growth.” A visit to any one of his busy salons indicates that Frank now very much knows what it’s like to run a business. And if he could advise his younger self, Frank would tell him this: “Develop a good plan and stick to it. Don’t let others’ opinions affect your commitment. Perseverance is key to success. And be flexible to the changing times.”
If you live in West Chester, odds are, you’ve been to Barnaby’s. But, there’s a sizable chance you didn’t know that the massive bar on High Street is technically just Barnaby’s West Chester — yes, downtown’s biggest bar is just one of four, and it’s only a small part of an ongoing ownership saga dating back to the 1980s. Michael Gallen, Bill Daley, and Ralph Lamarra began their careers together by opening the infamous Brownies.
The three worked hand-in-hand for 15 years in the nightlife industry, opening three different nightclubs focused on live music and late hours. “We’d usually get out of work around 4am,” remembers Gallen. Unfortunately, nobody can stay young forever, and those hours started the catch up with the trio. That’s why, in the mid 1990s, the brain trust got together and formed their next great idea: Barnaby’s. “I agreed that getting into the food and restaurant business would be a better option,” Gallen says. The idea centered on a fictional character the guys invented, named Barnaby. “He was a sports enthusiast and loved good food and drink,” says Gallen.
The idea was to create a business around this fictional sports lover and establish the kind of place this customer would want to hang. “The format was a combination of sports, good food and community,” Gallen says. The first Barnaby’s opened in 1997, with other operations opening in 2004, 2006 and 2007, and they chose their site’s wisely. “We searched out were in need of a sports bar, but that could take advantage of spot that could be sort of a community club, their go-to bar,” Gallen says. While they applied the same formula across their businesses, the key to success, according to Gallen, is not always in consistency—transformation can be just as important. “When the market changes, you have to change with it, but always treat your staff and customers like they are family,” he says. “That’s what’s worked for us.”