Steve Sheetz fuels bizX debut
Joe Hurd found the right man. The president and CEO of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday to make bizX a success, it was necessary to find the right speaker for the inaugural event co-sponsored with the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County.
“We insisted that Steve (Sheetz) be our first speaker,” Hurd said after Sheetz addressed about 340 attendees at the Blair County Convention Center.
Today, Sheetz is chairman of Sheetz Family Council. He has served as president and chairman of the board of the family business that has has grown from a single store started by his brother, Bob, in 1952 to a company that does $7 billion a year in business.
Today, Sheetz operates 583 stores with nearly 20,000 employees.
Sheetz said that neither he nor Bob envisioned the size the company is today.
“We had no idea. We never envisioned this,” he said. “(But) we did envision growth. We were all about growth.”
The growth of the company was not all peaches and cream. Sheetz encountered financial difficulties in 1972 after it grew from seven to 14 stores and again in 1986 after it reached 200 stores.
“In October 1972, we were supposed to pay the bills for September but hadn’t paid them for August. We needed money,” he said. “Bob and I never saw a risk until we got close to losing the business.” Sheetz said the late John R. Beyer of then Mid-State Bank came to their aid.
“If not for him giving us the money, we would have had to bring on a partner or close down,” Sheetz said. “We slowed down expansion and focused on developing people.”
The company also encountered some financial difficulty after reaching 100 stores.
“At the end of 1986, we totally re-organized and focused on customer needs. We became customer-focused,” Sheetz said. “Our vision is to create a business that puts the Sheetz business as we know it out of business. Together, we have built the business and are constantly looking for opportunities to grow the business and reduce risk.”
Along the way, Sheetz said he needed to make some changes himself.
“I realized I wasn’t growing fast enough personally,” he said. “I was still doing the hiring, doing checkouts, the work schedule, bank deposits and orders. I had to trust people and teach them. It was forced development. I knew I had to grow if we were going to grow as a company
“I needed to change my style. I couldn’t continue to be autocratic. Those were tough times and sleepless nights. The key was going back to the customers and employees. We had to become totally customer-focused.”
Sheetz said he is not sure how big the company will grow.
“We have mentioned 1,000. We are doing about 30 new stores a year,” he said.
“We don’t set a goal on how many can we put in our existing operating area. We are driven by about what customers want, not by the number of stores. We are spending more time looking at opportunities, not the number of stores,” Sheetz added. We will continue to build more stores but not with a number in mind but will continue to look for more opportunities.”
Meanwhile, bizX, which officials hope will become an annual event alternating between Altoona and State College, drew 102 vendors.
“Having an event like bizX creates a number of important opportunities for not only the Blair County business community but for the entire central Pennsylvania region as well,” Hurd said. “From professional development to strategic networking to business promotion, bizX covers all the bases. I’m particularly pleased at the great relationship that has developed between our chamber and the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County. As the region’s two largest chambers, it made sense for us to work together to bring some of the common challenges to the forefront — things like workforce development and business growth.”
Centre County shares the sentiment.
“We are excited by the enthusiasm for the regional event and the great mix of businesses from both counties that are participating as exhibitors, corridor cuisine vendors and seminar presenters,” said Lesley Kistner, CBICC vice president of communications and marketing. “Both chambers have worked hard to present a first-class, business-to-business networking and business and professional development event. We hope to build on the foundation laid today and to continue fostering business and professional relationships along the I-99 corridor.”
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.