Stronger Than Steel: McKeesport Candy Co.
Written by Kelly Hayes Madden
Published by Distribution Channels Magazine, November 1996
Jon Prince's pager went off one recent Saturday evening, as he was eating dinner. The call was from a frantic fundraising customer wanting to know if the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups packs contained three or four cups.
McKeesport Candy Co. has operated from this building for most of its 69 years. Located 12 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, the city of McKeesport used to be the hub of the nation's steel industry until U.S. Steel closed its plant there in 1987.
"Now, is that important to me at 7 o'clock on a Saturday night?" asks Prince, vice president of McKeesport Candy Co., McKeesport PA. "Absolutely. Answering her question put her at ease so she didn't have to worry about it until Monday morning when our office opens."
Whether it's a large supermarket chain or a high school club, the most valuable product McKeesport Candy offers its customers is peace of mind. "In anything we do, the key is to be there fore the customer," Prince says. "I treat people the way I would want to be treated."
Easy to say, not always to do, but for McKeesport Candy, it's a skill perfected over nearly 70 years. The wholesaler's commitments to customer service as well as its careful development of niche markets are the two factors that have empowered this third-generation family business to outlast its hometown's once-mighty steel industry. The city of McKeesport, established in the late 18th century by Irishman John McKee, was defined for more than 100 years by its biggest employer, U.S. Steel. The "Tube City," as it was nicknamed, is still recovering from the closing of the National Works pipe plant in 1987.
Indeed, it takes a company that's stronger than steel to remain standing in an industry in which many small operations have fallen over the years. Jon's grandfather, Ernest Prince, founded the candy and tobacco distributorship in 1927. Today, the business still operates in the same three-story building on Fifth Avenue, now under the leadership of Jon's father Gerald "Jerry" Prince, president and owner.
Over the years, McKeesport Candy added paper products health and beauty care and other items to its candy and tobacco line. Eventually, however, the wholesale divested itself into those categories and returned to its roots. Removing itself from the competitive fray among full-line convenience product distributors, McKeesport now concentrates on what it does best - selling candy.