JULIE HOLAHAN, 49, and her husband, Michael, 54, of Elkins Park, have owned Pennsylvania General Store since 1987. The business, which sells local food products, is now a combination 750-square-foot retail space at the Reading Terminal Market and a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Manayunk, home to a mail-order business that produces $2 million in annual revenues.
The business, which sells local food products, is now a combination 750-square-foot retail space at the Reading Terminal Market and a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Manayunk, home to a mail-order business that produces $2 million in annual revenues.
Q: How have you stayed viable?
A: By taking care of the customer. The answer is always "yes," then, "What's the question?"
Q: How'd the business start?
A: We began as caterers in the Reading Terminal Market selling box lunches made with ingredients from market vendors.
Q: How'd a South Dakota gal end up in Philly?
A: After college, I was hired by Hormel to sell Spam in this area. I did it but didn't like it. I met my husband and told him to hire me. By Christmas 1987, we decided selling local products might be cool when everybody felt it was a bad idea.
Q: Why'd you think otherwise?
A: Being at the market was great because you have both customers and merchants there and it was a good fit. We started selling apple butters, pumpkin butters, pancake mixes and honey and soon we saw there was this big need for Philly-based things. We didn't realize the state had so many great, small purveyors.
Q: How do you and Michael divide the job responsibilities?
A: I'm a production person, he's a marketing person. He's the talker, I'm the doer. He actually creates most of the baskets, and I make sure they get to customers.
Q: Describe a typical day.
A: January through October I'm at the warehouse from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; during the holidays I'm here longer, when a lot has to happen. On any given day, we might ship 700 to 1,000 packages and each has 10 to 20 units in it.
The biggest sellers are the Goody Tray and the Philly Care baskets. The cookies are baked fresh daily at our warehouse.
Q: What percentage of business is done over the holidays?
A: About 60 percent. About half our customers are corporate, but because they buy in volume, they account for more revenue.
Q: Who are your customers?
A: Most live in the tristate area. We have some who lived here, moved away and remember products they got here and still want.
Q: How many employees do you have?
A: We have about four or five employees year-round and probably 20 to 30 seasonal employees.
Q: What's next?
A: Our biggest challenge is to find new customers. We have 10 to 15 percent annual revenue growth. Do I want to be a $5 million company? Yes. We're not risk-averse, but we're cautious.