Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Dining Through the Decades

Part II: Expanding beyond southwest Minnesota

May 10, 2017 — How does one person turn a small delivery route in southwest Minnesota into a national operation? For founder Marvin Schwan, his drive and determination made all of the difference.

Marvin launched Schwan's Company on March 18, 1952, when he loaded 14 gallons of ice cream into an old panel van and began delivering it to customers in rural Minnesota. By the spring of 1953, just one year after his first route delivery, Marvin had more customers on his delivery routes than he could handle by himself.

To expand the business, Marvin knew he would need to add more drivers to cover the demand by his customers. After purchasing an almost-new, half-ton Chevrolet panel truck for $1,000, Marvin made a decision to hire a man by the name of Virgil Versluys to build another set of routes. Virgil, who was raised on a farm near Marshall, Minnesota, — Marvin’s hometown — was the first “career driver” hired.

By the mid-1950s Marvin had six drivers on his routes. One of the new route drivers was his brother, Bob Schwan. To build a strong route, Marvin gave him the same instructions he gave other drivers — to drive five miles in one direction, making stops along the way, then to turn and do five miles in another, and so on.

As business spread throughout southwest Minnesota, one obstacle remained for Marvin. He had to figure out how to deliver frozen foods beyond the normal reach of a route originating in Marshall. Typical deliveries at that time were limited to a 20- or 30-mile range because the trucks had to return to restock for the next day.

Marvin’s solution was an “out depot,” a concept that influenced Schwan’s Home Service’s growth. Unsure of how a depot might function, Marvin experimented in 1955 with a 32-foot, single-axle semitrailer, loaded with ice cream. He had a trailer hauled to Montgomery, Minnesota, which is more than 100 miles from Marshall.

Running routes from the trailer proved to be a successful venture so he followed the Montgomery concept with Schwan’s Home Service’s first permanent depot outside of his hometown — a 16-foot by 24-foot freezer-warehouse in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. This was then followed by a second unit in Algona, Iowa. The depots were stocked with refrigerated trailers from Marshall.

Expansion moved at a quicker pace from this point forward.

Another concept that helped Marvin grow the business was acquiring companies with dairy routes and converting them to Schwan’s routes. By the end of his first decade in business, Marvin had bought the Holiday Ice Cream Company, which served an area in northeast Illinois. Next, he purchased Russell Dairy in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

The acquisitions took Schwan’s operations east of the Mississippi River for the first time.

“Dining through the decades” is a blog series commemorating our company’s 65 years of commitment, quality, growth and service with customers, consumers and employees all across the United States. We invite you to stay tuned throughout the year as we continue to share some of our company’s best stories and highlights of how we got to where we are now.

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