Small Business Spotlight: Reinventing A 109-Year-Old Company

October 31, 2018 - 5:00 am

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- In this week’s “Small Business Spotlight” – sponsored by BNB Bank, Community Banking from Montauk to Manhattan – Joe Connolly meets two men who decided to buy the company they worked for and bring it into the new age 

Bob Chory and Tom Siegenthaler, two longtime workers at Valente Bakery Supplies, bought the 109-year-old business and with the help of a certified mentor from the Small Business Administration reinvented it and now have it growing at a rate of about 25 percent a year.

The company started in 1909, when Italian immigrant Dominico Valente sold yeast on a horse and buggy on the Lower East Side. It has since grown to sell 1,400 different individual ingredients that are used for baking and cooking, including sugar, flour and oil, as well as other food products.

When Chory, a 20-year employee, and Siegenthaler, a 40-year employee who was the first non-family hire to the company, decided to buy the company they started by getting back to the basics and then reevaluated the business, figuring out how to carry on the legacy while getting it ready for the next century.

They teamed up with SCORE adviser Tom Greenbaum, who spent 40 years in the consulting business, and got to work.

"We were very interested in the viability of the name and the company and the fact that they were rebuilding a many-year-old company," Greenbaum said. "However, in our very first meeting we said to these gentlemen we've gotta make some changes to bring you into the curent environment in terms of marketing and sales, internet, digital marketing. And that really was our initial focus, bring you into the new century. I believe on day one, one of the things we said to them is you gotta hire a director of marketing and sales."

And that's exactly what they did.

Chory said it was critical in the transition because it released some of his sales responsibilities to the new director thus allowing him to take the role of CEO and run the business.

"You need somebody to really focus on sales and it's not just sales, it's about delivering on our promises," Chory said. "We have a tag line... and it's delivering success one ingredient at a time. We believe that a baker buying ingredients needs to have a good formula, needs to have the right ingredients delivered, need to have the right people on their staff as well as people to consult from the outside. So we actually help bakers with forumlas and whatnot when they're trying to develop new recipes. I myself am an experienced baker. I have sales people that are experienced chefs so we have a team that actually help our customers succeed."

"Hiring the sales and marketing director allowed us now to build the team of sales people underneath him. And I use the words salespeople but they're really consultants. They are experienced in the industry, able to help the customers," he added.

One of the keys to their success has been "knowing what we do right," Chory said.

"We're going to continue to do what we do and what we do is distribute locally high-quality ingredients with the utmost of food safety for our area," he said. "We've said we want to be everything to somebody, not something to everybody. We understand the customer that wants our product, needs it and geographically we just go a little further but we're going to stay local. How many people in New York City? How many people eat grains in New York City? There's enough to keep Tom and I busy for the next 50 years."