Let’s take a look inside the family business of the SBA 2013 Small Business Person of the Year. Louis DeMent, husband, father, and CEO of Giovanni Food Company Inc.
Giovanni Food Company began in 1934 when Lou’s grandfather opened a restaurant in Oswego, NY and started selling the pasta sauce to customers. Lou took the helm of Giovanni Food Company Inc. as CEO, third generation, in 2007 when his father unexpectedly passed away. Fortunately Lou felt ready for the position as they had been working very closely together and had just completed an expansion in 2006.
Stepping into the entrance way of Giovanni Food Company Inc., you immediately have the aroma of being surrounded by all the wonderful products that Giovanni now produces. The reception area is filled with mementos of his Grandfather’s beginnings and the company’s successes throughout the years. On May 6, 2013 Lou has added the new success of being awarded the SBA Business Person of the year. He will be competing for the National Award in Washington on June 21.
Company Mission Statement: Generation: Third
Giovanni Food Company is committed to # of Employees: 64
manufacturing quality products while Years with Co. 16
maintaining social and environmental
responsibility and achieving superior
First Job at Giovanni? Checking labels as they came down the line - “Chief Label Licker” as my Dad would call me.
Most memorable thing learned from Father? I learned never to ask for money. He would always say “Work real hard and good things will come. Nothing comes easy and your reputation is everything.
Most memorable thing learned from Mother? My mother taught us family values, respect and caring. She always treated the employees like family and to this day I consider my employees to be part of my extended family.
Who do you feel was the greatest influence on your professional life?
Definitely my Dad
Company Greatest Success?
In our first years of business 85% of the business was USDA contract business. We then began to focus on private labeling. This initiative gave us an opportunity to get into a large national retail store. We now do a high quantity of high quality private labeling. Now the USDA is only 5% of the business. This business model is much more sustainable and we feel that it is a safer business model!
What was the most innovative thing you have done at Giovanni?
We got into packing Organic products - about 8 or 9 years ago. This led us into the opportunity to purchase the Ventre Packing Company which was a quantum leap into being able to manufacture more products. It was truly a dream come true going from one production line to three. It is what I always wanted and what my father always wanted. We always joked about one day having world sauce domination and each day I feel that we are getting closer to what dream of ours!
Is there another product line that you would like to try that you are not doing now?
We consider every product and evaluate each opportunity present to us. We have a contract to produce barbecue sauce for a major national brand which is a product that we are sure will help us to gain additional business. We now have the capability to pack juices; including specialty organic juices. We are able to pack multiple high acid foods and are looking at a variety of packaging options. We will soon be SQF certified which we are confident will open up many new doors with some of the major retailers.
What is your greatest success? My Family, I’m truly blessed to have a wonderful wife and two amazing children. As for my professional success it would be surrounded by the right people. We have a fantastic team and I am extremely fortunate for that. I would not have been able to do any of this without them.
Supporting the community? We do several things to help involve ourselves with the community. We have a corporate giving committee that helps to determine organizations and events that make sense for our company. The most notable are the Tour de Cure Verona Beach Ride in which for the past few years, we have been one of the top teams in regards to the amount of money raised. We sponsor the On Point for College Golf Tournament. In addition, we donate sauce to several fundraising spaghetti dinners. We get frequent requests for that and are proud to be able to help many families in this way.
When did you feel that emerged from the shadows?
Looking back now I have always worked at growing the company. My dad made the company successful and was not looking for any more risk. But I wanted to move to a larger facility to allow us to grow the business. I began planting those seeds with my father and pushing it in that direction. Seven years ago we bought the Liverpool location and began the process of getting to where we were comfortable. Unfortunately my father passed away about a year later. He was brilliant at manufacturing and I although I was nervous to take over, I felt that I was ready and had learned enough from my Dad that I could be successful.
Can you share words to live by? Do the job honestly and respectfully and always be able to have a good reputation and take care of the people around you. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. The basic fundamentals. That goes a long way in business and life.
Advice for other family business future leaders? I don’t know how my grandfather was able to do what he did. … To have the idea and start this business from the ground up. I was fortunate to have the foundation to grow it. I would have to say… If you are willing to put the work in and endure the long hours and if your family is ready for that …then do it. Prepare your family for it though because it’s not easy!
What do you consider the best thing about being a family business?
I worked for Sysco Foods for two years which was a lot of fun. However, it was a whole different feeling coming to Giovanni. It is a different level of commitment. This is our family. We treat everyone here like our family. We get excited when employees purchase new cars or houses and are taking care of their families. It is a different level of caring than a non family business. Honestly you would have to interview the employees to know if they feel the same but I hope and believe that they do. The fabric of our company is caring.
What about the worst thing?
Oh, well working with my father was tough. When we didn’t agree the emotions would go back to when I was a kid and he would treat me like I didn’t do my chores. The emotional level makes it tough. It is challenging to keep it separate. When I started working with my Dad I agreed to it as long as we knew we wouldn’t lose each other over it. My father and family was and is more important than the sauce.
What do you do for leisure time?
Spend time with my family,… I enjoy spending time with them and going to the kid’s activities and all that. I play hockey and snowmobile when I have free time to enjoy. My son plays hockey too which keeps us quite busy. We like to spend time in the Adirondacks. I also find working with my church very rewarding.
Is there a little known fact about Giovanni?
Probably just the sauces we sell. We used to sell our Maria Angelina sauce through the Eckerd store chain. Now you can no longer get it in the United States though it is one the highest selling sauces in Israel. We have people come back to the states and want to buy the sauce because they know it is made here in Syracuse and you can’t buy it here. Our main business right now is in private label and contract manufacturing so many people have never heard of us as our company name is not on the label.
Which sauce is available in Syracuse and where? Our newest brand, Greenview Kitchen, is starting to become available locally in businesses such as Natur Tyme, Nichols, Green Hills, NoJaims, and Vella’s. The brand consists of all natural and organic pasta sauces and we recently introduced and organic pizza sauce and bruschetta topping. This is what we market the most in this area, although you may also find our Luigi Giovanni pasta sauce is some small outlets locally. We are working with several other chains and hope to continue to add to this list shortly.
Succession Plans: You and your Children are young… Have you thought about the future? Do they want to work with their Father?
My son, age 6, loves the plant and enjoys coming to work with me. My daughter, age 9, I’m not sure about yet. My wife, Cheryl, also has a small family business (Encore Salon and Day Spa) that my daughter might be interested in. I’m not opposed to them working with me, however I would like them to work for someone else first, but it will be up to them and I won’t tell them this is what they should do or force them to join the business if their heart is not in it.
I have to ask, how has being a member of the Family Business Center benefited you?
It is about the connections. I have enjoyed shooting ideas across the table with other members.
We have a lot in common with the members and sharing knowledge is the biggest takeaway. Sometimes, when you go into the meetings you don’t feel you have anything to offer but when people start asking you questions, you realize you might be helping someone. That is the beauty of it and I have definitely benefited from other members and what they bring to the group.