CLAYSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Cookies convey innocence. You ate them in kindergarten at snack time and, if you behaved yourself, for a treat at home.
So it's fitting as serving cookies with milk that the innocent approach of Shirley's Cookie Co. Vice President for Sales Patty Shaw helped connect the company with Walmart, which has given the cookie company nationwide presence for two of its products within the last two years.
Shaw's father, Zane Feathers, company president and CEO, explained how she did it at a news conference Tuesday to announce the company's inclusion in the U.S. Small Business Administration's SBA 100, which recognizes 100 businesses that have hired at least 100 workers after receiving SBA help.
Shirley's received an SBA loan in 2003 when it moved from Duncansville to its current location in the William Ward Industrial Park in Claysburg, and again in 2007, when the company expanded the Claysburg plant.
Those moves have helped the company grow from 18 workers to 140 - with plans to hire 25 more.
Shaw was driving through Virginia in 1994 when she saw a huge Walmart with a grocery section. She knew Walmart existed but didn't know much about the growing behemoth, as there were none in this area at the time.
She went right in and asked how she could get the store to carry her company's products. A store official told her she had to call the company's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
She called and gained an invitation to bring a sample for consideration.
"If you buy me an airplane ticket," she replied, according to her dad.
Theirs was a tiny company, and Shaw not only wasn't in the habit of flying executive-style, she'd never flown at all.
The plea for a ticket didn't put off the Walmart executive, but neither did he offer to buy her one, so Shaw and her dad conferred, then scraped together the money.
They saw it as an opportunity, Feathers said.
It has paid off.
Patty is the only one who's ever sold Shirley's products.
"I can sell ice cubes to Eskimos," she said.
But without the baking and delivery of the goods, there wouldn't be any repeat business.
The company has replicated Patty's responsiveness to the Walmart opportunity in other ways, Feathers said.
It used to rely on placing cookies on grocery store shelves with other prepackaged goods, but that meant sometimes getting shoved aside by other vendors.
The company overcame that disadvantage by selling kits for its raisin cookies, gaining access to the areas where supermarkets sell their own baked goods, taking advantage of a trend away from their employing real bakers.
Soon Feathers recognized that the non-bakers in those markets were following directions by rote, and messing up Shirley's and other firms' pre-made but unbaked goods, because they didn't have the true baker's knowledge of oven differences.
So Shirley's became a leader in a new trend: Baking its own goods, freezing them and selling them to supermarkets for simple placement on the shelves of their own baked sales areas.
It's a recipe for growth for the Claysburg firm: "Quintessentially America," U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Blair, said.
The SBA offers loans, counseling and help with obtaining federal contracts, said John Shoraka, regional administrator with the agency's King of Prussia office.
Shirley's has availed itself of the counseling at the Small Business Development Center at St. Francis University, before it ever got the loans, Shaw said.
The 504 loan program, which Shirley's has used, charges interest a little above commercial, but allows payback over 20 years, Shoraka said.
The loans were a necessary component of the move and the expansion, Shaw said.
Feathers started the family business in 1967, when he bought Shirley's Donuts on Route 764 and Maple Hollow Road from his employer, for whom he'd worked since 1959, when he was 15.
The first SBA loan for $200,000 helped finance the $1.2 million relocation to Claysburg, into a 32,000-square-foot building that formerly housed a wire plant. The second SBA loan for $360,000 helped finance the $750,000, 10,000-square-foot expansion, paying for freezer equipment and dry storage.
"This is the great American success story," Shuster said.
Information from: Altoona Mirror, http://www.altoonamirror.com