Month: January 2017

FishUSA

When I planned my visit to FishUSA in Fairview Township, I expected to hear about how it reflects the world-renowned fishing opportunities in Erie County.

What I found is that though FishUSA does capitalize on its prime location in the heart of “Steelhead Alley,” it actually serves a national and even international customer base.

FishUSA operates a small retail shop at its West Ridge Road headquarters, but the true business is in the vast warehouse behind it – and in the technology that keeps its website, www.fishusa.com, drawing clicks and customers from near and far.

FishUSA isn’t looking to compete with the bait and tackle shops that dot Erie County, says Dan Pastore, the company’s founder and president. It has its own angle, and its own aim: to dominate the national online market for fishing tackle and related equipment.

For FishUSA, this means carving out an e-commerce niche that separates it from the larger players in the national market, like Field & Stream, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. What FishUSA can offer that the big chains can’t is specialization, Pastore says. A company that focuses solely on fishing can better answer customers’ questions and concerns, more so than a company that also sells hunting gear and camping equipment.

Pastore sees this as an area for future growth in his company – and he knows a little something about growth. FishUSA has only grown since it was launched in 2000. In fact, the company started this year with 13 more employees than it had the previous year.

As the retail industry moves away from brick-and-mortar stores and resettles itself online, Pastore has positioned his company to be a leader in not fishing, but in e-commerce strategy.

“It’s not like how it was where every town needs a mall,” he says. “Only a few online companies will be needed to dominate the market.”

About FishUSA: The company grew out of FishErie.com, a forum for Erie County anglers that Pastore had helped launch from Erie.net, a groundbreaking internet service that he co-founded in the 1990s. Today, FishUSA can count itself as one of three leading national online retailers of fishing equipment. A West Coast-based company specializes in bass, an East Coast company specializes in saltwater fish, and FishUSA covers the rest – including ice fishing, steelhead, walleye and fly fishing. Because the company writes its own code and manages its own servers for its website, it employs programmers, in addition to offering positions in marketing and customer service as well as in the warehouse.

Why Erie County? There’s more to location than proximity to popular fishing spots. For FishUSA, location means an advantage in logistics. The company can ship to locations as far as the upper Midwest, Maine or Virginia in two days – and that’s a service that customers value. In addition, Erie County offers a relatively low cost of living, Pastore says.

Challenges in Erie County: FishUSA, which has its eye on expansion, has had difficulty finding funding assistance Pastore says. The process of seeking aid from the many economic development groups has been frustrating. In addition, Pastore says he has had difficulty finding spacious, modern buildings that could accommodate his growing company. And he also at times has found it challenging to hire programmers, who often flock instead to the larger corporations in the region.

Fast fact: On a busy day, FishUSA has seen as many as 400 people shopping on its site at one time, Pastore says.

Address: 6960 West Ridge Road, Fairview, PA 16415

 

Coming up next week: We visit All-American Hose in Union City.

Better Baked Foods

During my recent visit to Better Baked Foods in North East, president and COO Joe Pacinelli told us the story behind the company’s claim to fame – the French bread pizza.

Bob Miller, one of the company’s co-founders, used to bake up pizzas on French bread loaves for his family to sell at local carnivals. One year when a carnival rained out, the Millers were left with a pile of pizza loaves – and no place to store them. They ended up freezing them, which led someone to comment that the frozen pizzas would make a good product for school lunches.

That spark of inspiration – along with a healthy dose of entrepreneurial spirit and no small amount of hard work – grew into the Better Baked Foods that we know today. Now, Better Baked Foods operates three facilities, employs about 425 workers, and churns out more than 400,000 French bread pizzas per day.

On the day I visited, I saw neat rows of French bread loaves go through the assembly line, receiving a dollop of sauce before being blanketed in freshly shredded cheese. They then were sent along a giant spiral track into an 18-minute deep freeze. These pizzas were for school lunches, so they weren’t individually wrapped, but instead were boxed up. All along the process, the pizzas were guided, checked, monitored, and packaged by employees.

I also took great interest in touring Better Baked Foods’ test kitchen, where food scientists were trying out new products. To me, the work in the kitchen signals that the entrepreneurial spirit that helped create those first French bread pizzas lives on in the modern-day company. I see the product development process as a sign that Better Baked Foods is dedicated to improving its foods and expanding its value to its customers, guaranteeing a stronger future for the company and for the Erie region.

About Better Baked Foods: The company, founded in 1964, has facilities in the City of Erie and in Westfield, N.Y., as well as in North East. The bread products are baked in Westfield, and the North East facility largely handles the pizza production. The City of Erie site, added just about a decade ago at the former Van de Kamp’s facility, produces some of the company’s other products, including frozen sandwiches and other hand-helds. There’s a good chance you’ve eaten their products – the company makes food for companies including Walmart, Wegmans, Aldi, Schwan’s, Kellogg’s, Pillsbury, Red Baron, and more.

Why Erie County? A simple answer is logistics, Pacinelli says. Access to highways and the ease of truck transit make it easier for Better Baked Foods to get products into the hands of customers. Also, the cost of living is reasonable compared to other metropolitan areas, he says, which means costs stay more manageable for the company as well.

Challenges of Erie County: Companies like Better Baked Foods can find state taxes a challenge, Pacinelli says, especially when taken along with costs for insurance. Another challenge comes from location: While many of the plant’s workers live in North East, not all do – and it can be difficult to find workers willing to make the drive to North East from other areas of the county.

Fun fact: The average length of service for a Better Baked Foods employee is 18 years.

Address: 56 Smedley Street, North East, PA 16428

 

Coming up next week: We’re checking out FishUSA in Fairview Township

Accudyn Products Inc., Millcreek Township

When I walked into the production area at Accudyn Products in Millcreek Township, I was immediately struck by how bright, clean, and high-tech the operations were. This is not the atmosphere that most people associate with manufacturing, but it is the reality for many of our Erie County manufacturers today.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that manufacturing is not a dirty profession,” Accudyn co-owner Tom Bly told us.

As we toured Accudyn, a family-owned custom injection molder, we saw workers monitoring machines that churned out plastic parts, from tiny shards to large, complex pieces. We saw crews in tooling and molding, in engineering and office support. We also took a peek inside the cavernous addition that is going up behind Accudyn’s Yoder Drive facility.

That extra 6,000 square feet on the facility’s footprint will help accommodate recent growth in the business that was actually sparked, in part, by the company’s secondary facility in Chihuahua, Mexico.

The Mexico manufacturing operation has created a greater need for jobs here in Erie County, including for support services, such as engineering and sales. In fact, Accudyn has added 55 jobs in the past 20 months in Erie County. The Mexico facility also has opened doors to other business sectors, such as the automotive industry.

About Accudyn: The company, celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017, is a custom injection molder. It handles engineering, tooling, and molding for international customers in a variety of markets – automotive, appliance, electronics, building and construction, heavy trucking, and medical. The company has about 125 employees at its Millcreek Township location and also employs about 270 workers at its manufacturing facility in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Why Erie County: Accudyn is family owned, with a second generation of the Bly family working at the company. Owners Peg and Tom Bly say that they stay in Erie County because, quite simply, Erie County is home. But Accudyn has also benefitted from another Erie County advantage – namely, proximity to Penn State Behrend and its plastics engineering program. Accudyn routinely plucks interns and new hires from Behrend’s engineering program.

Challenges in Erie County: That Behrend advantage is not lost on other plastics companies in the region, which means the Blys often face competition from larger companies to hire recent graduates. The Blys also said that they experience a shortage of workers trained in the skills needed for toolmaking and machining. In addition, they have encountered challenges in township zoning when it comes to expanding their Millcreek facility.

Address: 2400 Yoder Drive, Erie PA 16506

 

Coming up next week: We head out to Better Baked Foods in North East

Welcome to 50 in 50

When you think of Erie County’s businesses, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s large manufacturers like GE Transportation and Lord Corp. Maybe it’s our health care facilities or colleges, or the shops, restaurants and hotels that serve both residents and visitors alike.

The truth is, all of those – and many more – are essential in our community. We rely on the large corporations like Erie Insurance, just as we do on smaller manufacturers, independent service providers and specialty shops. These companies sign our paychecks, invest in our communities and help put Erie on the map.

My resolution for this coming year is to tell the stories of some of these businesses. Each week for the next 50 weeks, I will visit a different Erie County employer. I invite you to join me on the farm fields and factory floors, in specialty shops and small businesses.

By the time this journey is complete, we will have crisscrossed Erie County and gotten a peek into the varied businesses that drive our economy, shape our community and add vibrancy to Erie County.

Coming up: Read about my visit to Accudyn in Millcreek Township.

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