KERNSTOWN — When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March of 2020 and forced restaurants to either shut down or find a way to switch up their business models, it left wholesaler Schenck Foods searching for answers.

Located at 3578 Valley Pike, Schenck Foods provides products for restaurants, day cares, hotels and similar businesses, ranging from foods to beverage services to paper products and chemicals. Its service area covers a 100-mile radius. It also has a walk-in warehouse for local grocery pickup.

In the early months of the pandemic, the company had to reevaluate some things, as many of its customers had been impacted.

“I think from a customer service and an outside sales point of view, the conversation was, ‘How do we help you switch to to-go orders? What can we provide for those?’” said Cassie Verdecchia, Schenck Foods’ director of marketing and communications. “We were trying to highlight customers and give our social media followers information on what restaurants were still open, what they were serving and to support these restaurants. We focused on how we could work together to get through this, because we had the same issues.”

It also caused the business to hammer home — even more than before — its core values of respect, honesty, teamwork, consistency, dependability and integrity, Verdecchia said.

Employees were determined to push the 93-year-old, family-owned company to the other side of the pandemic, but it didn’t come without trials.

“In the latter part of March (2020), our business decreased significantly,” said Robert Buckenham, vice president and general manager. “Through April (2020), we were selling about 30% of what we were selling in April of 2019. Since then, we’ve adjusted our operations.”

Buckenham, who started with Schenck Foods just prior to the onset of the pandemic, said staff worked with vendors to get better deals and to maintain an efficient staff.

The company had about 60 employees in April 2019 and now has approximately 90. Just prior to the pandemic it typically operated with about 100 employees.

Staff had conversations with other wholesale companies and learned they were experiencing many of the same issues as the pandemic took hold. That, Buckenham said, led to a better understanding of what they were facing, and the company began to stock up on sanitation items and other products that would help restaurants transition to to-go orders and outdoor dining.

Schenck Foods also started doing some home deliveries.

And while many national organizations have pulled sales folks from the road, Schenck Foods hasn’t because it wants to continue providing that “personal touch,” he said.

The pandemic also gave Schenck Foods the opportunity to take a hard look at its technology and upgrade it. The company is currently implementing a new system from Aptean that should be live by 2022. It utilizes Microsoft Dynamics 365, a state-of-the art system for enterprise resource planning (ERP). ERP is a type of software that organizations use to manage day-to-day business activities

Buckenham said the upgrade should help with e-commerce, invoicing and enhance the company’s website.

With people frequenting restaurants more in recent months, business at Schenck Foods has picked up.

“With restrictions being lifted in restaurants and people going back out, June was exciting for us. It was the best post-pandemic month,” Buckenham said. “We’re up 83% from 2019’s June. We have optimism right now.”

Verdecchia and Buckenham said their message is simple: “Give us a try.”

“We’re looking ahead to the future, and we’re looking forward to 100 years in business. If we can get through something like COVID and we can help our customers get through something like COVID, I think we can do pretty much anything,” Verdecchia said. “We want to keep creating partnerships and trust and let people know we can be their solution. We pride ourselves in customer service, in fixing mistakes and personal relationships.”

For more information, visit schenckfoods.com or call 540-869-1870.

— Contact Matt Welch at mwelch@winchesterstar.com

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