Stewart’s is a privately held company; nearly 40 percent is owned by our employees which is crucial to our growth and profitability. The Dake family believes in sharing ownership with the people who have helped build our business and feel that their ownership is worth more today because of it. Being privately held allows us to make our own rational, long-term decisions. Stewart’s employees enjoy a high level of involvement with long-term security.
Stewart’s employees own nearly 40 percent of the company through Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), known as “Profit Sharing.” That’s why our employees are called “Partners.” Unlike a 401K, the plan is 100% company paid. You’re automatically enrolled if you are at least 19 years old and after working 500 hours a quarter or 1,000 hours a year, whichever occurs first. Employees will be partially vested in their balance until they reach 100% in six plan years. The balance should equal about a year’s pay after six years in the plan.
Small is Nicer
Stewart’s may appear to be a large company but we are really 300+ small shops and departments with that small business feel. The atmosphere is comfortable and friendly for everyone which allows our employees to get to know their customers. In our fast-paced business we encourage our employees to interact openly and efficiently, and to SHARE. We work in a culture where “everybody knows” and this openness gives our employees the control to grow their careers for personal satisfaction as well as corporate success. We provide them with the support they need to serve customers and to build a business.
Much of our success comes from the integration of our manufacturing, distribution, retail, and development operations. We make and/or distribute 3/4s of what we sell in our shops. Vertical integration allows us to take out the middle man and enables Stewart’s to offer products at a high quality and at a low cost for our customers.
Our own Stewart’s tankers pick up milk from local farms to deliver to our dairy daily, where it is pasteurized and packaged. We also make and package ice cream, refresher drinks and juices. We even use our own blow mold equipment to make gallon, half gallon and refresher bottles. The Stewart’s warehouse also has a kitchen where we make more than one million pounds of chili, soups, chicken and rice, macaroni and cheese, and more, each year. Making it ourselves means we can maintain the fresh flavors our customers enjoy. We also have over 100 items manufactured by the best suppliers, including bread, soda, chips, and candy, which we distribute ourselves to save the customer money. We are also one of the few distribution centers with its own warehouse beer permit so we can handle some of the beer we sell in our shops.
Having enough products to sell in our shops is a key to our success. We fill all shop orders with over 99% precision. Our partners wear headsets and are relayed the needs of each individual shop through an automated system. The items are placed in reusable tote. We call this process single picking, which means a shop does not have to receive large quantities of products to stay in stock. We keep our stores small enough to only need a few items at a time, not an entire case. It keeps inventory under control as well as the freshness of the product.
Each tote is labeled with the shop and route numbers, and shipped out on our own trucks. We distribute within a 150 mile radius of our plant and warehouse, to maintain quality and freshness. Stewart’s utilizes a fleet of approximately 70 vehicles that are used to deliver product, gas and pickup milk from local farms. Each year, our delivery drivers travel over 3 million miles.
Our trucks are not limited to shipping items out. We also take them in. There is a repair shop at the warehouse, where we are able to fix our shop equipment and ship it back to the shops quickly. This includes everything from coffee makers to our hot dog steamers and our cash registers. We also have a shop services department to handle issues with our gas pumps, plumbing fixtures, and even our signs and display pieces. Any cardboard packaging is also returned back to the plant to save on trash bills and allows us to be more environmentally friendly.
In 2013, about 2,400 solar panels were installed atop the roof of the manufacturing and distribution center. The project is projected to save nearly $40,000 a year in energy costs at the plant, with an expected payback period of 5.6 years.
The daily output of the solar project can be seen here (requires Adobe Flash).
The entire plant, distribution, and warehouse facility provides our shops with the support and services they need to give our customers the best service and the freshest, high quality products at a great value. Watch a video to learn more about the Story of Stewart’s Shops here.
Tour of the Plant
Hover (or tap on mobile device) to read the description.
The receiving bay is where our Stewart’s trucks unload the milk brought in from local farms. Before the milk is unloaded, a variety of tests are conducted. The first and easiest test is done by simply smelling the milk.
Milk is unloaded from the truck into a raw milk silo, which is a 30,000 gallon tank. That’s more than an average in ground swimming pool. There are two silos, so one can be washed while the other is being used.
Stewart’s pasteurizes our products to kill any bacteria. This process is called High-Temp-Short-Time (HTST) pasteurization, since milk is heated to a very high temperature and held in a tube for a short time frame. We do not ultra pasteurize our milk, which requires an even higher temperature that can change the flavor. It doesn’t taste as fresh.
After it’s cooled, the milk is run to a separator, which is basically a giant centrifuge. It separates the skim milk from the cream.
The next step is to combine the proper amount of skim and cream to make it 1%, 2%, or whole milk.
A homogenizer is really a big high pressure pump that pushes the milk through small holes and angles. It breaks down the fat globules into small pieces in order to distribute them equally throughout the milk. If milk is not homogenized, the cream will rise to the top.
A large blender is used to add ingredients to the milk. For example, chocolate powder and sugar are added to make chocolate milk. The blender is also used to make many of our refreshers including orange juice, iced tea, and lemonade.
In the receiving lab, milk is analyzed under a microscope for bacteria and will also be tested for antibiotics. Every load is tested and the charts are reviewed daily.
The plating room is located in our lab. This is where milk is opened up and tested for bacteria counts. Milk is tested 7 days after it is packaged, and again at 14 days to make sure it makes it through the end of the code date.
In the food lab we continually test incoming products for consistency in flavor, texture and size. Just a few of the products we test include chicken tenders, deli dogs, coffee, chips, and bread. Many times we tell a supplier they have a problem before they even realize it.
Our milk and refresher bottles start out as resin pellets. Some are new, some are re-ground. As bottles are made, extra pieces are trimmed off, and those pieces are ground back up and reused. Roughly 40 percent of every bottle has been through the process more than once.
The resin pellets and regrind are heated up and melted. The product comes out as a molten tube of plastic that is surrounded by a mold. Air is then blown into the bubble, forming the plastic bottle.
In case of a blow mold machine breaking down, extra bottles are bagged so the process of getting product to our shops doesn’t ever stop.
Labels are put on in the dry environment. Plastic bottles are labeled on the front and the back at the same time. Refresher bottles have label sleeves placed on them.
A worm screw, which gets bigger as it turns, spreads the bottles apart. The bottles are then sent to the filler.
Bottles are filled with milk or refreshers in the dairy filling room. They are each placed on a pedestal and when they rise, it opens a valve to dispense the product.
Cases of product are stacked and pushed out to an in-floor conveyer which takes them to a cooler.
Large quantity items that we make every day, like half gallon and gallon sized milk, are immediately lined up at loading docks. Refreshers will be placed in the cooler for storage, and will be available for single-picking.
The produce cooler is where we store our fruits and vegetables. This room is set to around 50 degrees to keep product cold, but not too cold.
The Stewart’s Kitchen is where we make more than one million pounds annually of chili, soups, hot dog sauce, macaroni and cheese, and Now and Then Entrees, green salads and more. This is where we also fill parfait, pudding and car cup items.
Flavoring and color is added to the ice cream bases to help create your favorite Stewart’s ice cream in a flavor vat.
We fill shop orders with over 99% precision through a process called single picking. This means shops can opt to have as little as just one of a particular product sent at a time, instead of an entire case. Keeping inventory down keeps our prices down. Single picking also leads to fresher products and better product selection in our shops.
Our “pickers” are relayed shop orders through a voice automated system. It relays the aisle number and the amount needed of each product.
Most products are the same price at all of our shops, so we are able to put price stickers on first, before shipping. This helps our shop partners be more efficient when restocking store shelves.
Each tote can fit about 16 products. When they are full, a label will be placed on the tote to say what shop and route it is destined for. It will be placed on a live conveyer to be taken to the loading dock.
The grocery area of our warehouse contains more than 550 different items. This department ships the most totes – about 1,500 to 2,500 a day.
There are more than 40 varieties of potato chips and over 15 varieties of coffee in our warehouse. In all, we ship 650 cases of chips and coffee per day to our shops.
Our warehouse houses about 150 different beverages, including soda, beer, and water.
Stewart’s sends about 40,000 cartons of cigarettes to our shops each week. We place a New York State or Vermont tax stamp on each pack before it is sent out. Marlboro is the most popular brand.
Our candy room, which also includes health and beauty care products, is kept at a temperature of 68 degrees to ensure the quality of the products. Melting all that chocolate would be a bad day!
Our warehouse receives one to two truckloads of bread each night. There are 12,000 loafs on each truckload.
Manufacturers ship us snacks in sleeves. Our employees take each item out of those sleeves, so they can be individually sent to shops. Single picking keeps the products on store shelves as fresh as possible.
At the loading and receiving dock, we start receiving products at 6am. Around noon, this area turns into a staging/loading dock of items to be sent out to our shops. “Stagers” take the items off the pallets, and ‘”loaders”’ place them on the trucks.
Shop orders are audited and reviewed before going out to individual Stewart’s Shops to ensure accuracy.
Our plant also has an area for product returns. Shops can send back seasonal merchandise to be cleaned, counted and put away for the following year. Less waste means lower costs. It also allows Stewart’s to stay in stock with seasonal items longer than other stores.
The Distribution office is the connection hub between the shops & the plant. It is responsible for handling all shop orders from the plant, and is the call center for any product/equipment issues & also handles any other emergency situations.
Our gas marketing department is committed to keep our gas prices as low as possible. They’re always watching the markets to determine the right time to buy.
The Stewart’s hauling operation is responsible for product and gasoline delivery to shops as well as raw milk pick ups from our producer. We are able to do this safely and efficiently with the use of over 70 vehicles and over 80 drivers, 364 days a year (every day except Christmas).
Stewart’s also has a print shop, where 90 percent of the signs you see in our shop, are printed. The print shop also helps print and distribute gift certificates, print forms and envelopes used in daily operations, and even engrave our employee name tags.
Warehouse & Shop Services Center
Our warehouse and shop services center provides service supplies and maintenance parts to all our Stewart’s Shops, district offices, and rental units.
Our truck repair facility is about 5,600 square feet and operates 24/7. Our mechanics perform a variety of repairs and tasks on our fleet to ensure that products are delivered to our shops on time.
Our tech center fields calls for troubles with shop equipment including ATMs, cash registers, and printers. Techs will be sent out to do repairs right at the shop as needed.
We repair as many as 8,000 pieces of equipment a year, including coffee warmers, hot dog roller grills, and rotisseries. The items are stripped down and reassembled, then sent back to the shop as close to ‘brand new’ as possible.
The washroom is where our shop appliances are cleaned and sanitized. All appliances are on a schedule to be swapped out for cleaning.
This warehouse fills orders for electrical parts, display parts, and even paper towel dispensers. This is also where all our cups, napkins, plates and uniforms are stored.
Our vertical integration also allows us to handle many aspects of construction projects at our shops.
The shop counters are built right in our warehouse. They are attached in four to six foot sections, and then taken to our shops to be fully assembled.
We also store a variety of signs in our warehouse. This one is 12 feet long!
We also always have several extra Stewart’s gas pumps in stock, ready to go.
It takes about 275 boxes of tile (9 tiles in a box) to cover the floor of the average Stewart’s Shop.
About 2,400 solar panels are installed on the roof of the warehouse and shop services center. The project is expected to save nearly $40,000 a year.