Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dining Through the Decades

Part III: Getting into the frozen-pizza business

May 24, 2017 — To be successful in business, you have to have good ideas. One of the best resources for good ideas at Schwan’s Company has always been its employees. Schwan’s employees have driven the company forward for 65 years with their commitment, hard work, passion and brilliance. Luckily for Schwan’s, founder Marvin Schwan had a keen ear for a good idea.

By the mid-1960s, the company’s rapid growth had become difficult to manage. To accommodate this, Marvin decided to transition some of his earliest recruits to field management —something many of them had never dreamed of prior to joining Schwan’s.

One of those early recruits who had transitioned into management was Ted Versluys, who moved to work out of Wausau, Wisconsin.

Ted had suggested to Marvin that the home-delivery business should start carrying frozen fish. Being from Minnesota, Marvin had pointed out that residents in the Midwest already do a lot of their own fishing, yet he decided to try it out. Ted’s idea turned out to be a success and after a trial year in 1962, Schwan’s added catfish, perch, haddock, walleye, shrimp and oysters to its product line.

Another idea from Ted developed in 1966, when a driver came in to quit because he had been offered more money to deliver frozen pizzas in Wisconsin.

Ted was able to talk the man into staying with Schwan’s, but when a second employee planned to leave for the same reason, Ted became concerned.

Curious about the frozen-pizza delivery business, Ted followed a local pizza delivery man on his route to several small stores and taverns. What he saw convinced him that Schwan’s should be in the frozen-pizza business as well.

Marvin was skeptical at first when he was pitched the idea, but then he remembered how Ted’s idea on carrying frozen-fish products had paid off. Marvin gave Ted the go ahead in July 1966. He also approved with a $3,500 budget to buy 100 pizza ovens — an essential appliance for selling frozen pizzas to taverns.

Turns out that by the 1960s Americans were in love with pizza and Ted’s idea was right on the money.

The pizzas were a great fit for where Ted sold it — in taverns, bowling alleys, VFW and American Legion Clubs, and small corner stores. Eventually, the pizza business grew enough to where help was needed to make sales calls.

The Schwan’s sales representatives had a simple pitch when visiting potential customers.

“Anybody hungry?”

Patrons were eager, and the bartender would let the Schwan’s employee set up the oven and pass out free slices of pizza. Usually, the $35 oven — offered free as an incentive to stock the pizzas — stayed, and the sales representative left with an order for pizza.

Frozen pizzas soon became a staple in taverns throughout the Midwest.

The fad didn’t stop either. By the late 1960s, pizza had become one of Schwan’s most popular products. Soon demand was so great that Schwan’s pizza suppliers in Wisconsin couldn’t keep up, forcing Marvin to contract with several others to boost the pizza output — including the pizzas that were now carried on the home-delivery trucks for cooking in home ovens too.

“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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