By Natalie Hollingshead, utahvalley360.com
Original owner takes over Alison’s Pantry after 4 years.
Y2K was good for Alison Chuntz.
Her business — Alison’s Pantry, located in Pleasant Grove — supplies families with dry and frozen goods that make great food storage and bring peace of mind in the wake of potential economic and natural disasters.
But it was personal catastrophes that led Alison to sell the business in 2000 that she had owned since 1987.
Alison began thinking of selling her business after her oldest son died in 1997. Soon after that she had a dishonest employee embezzle money, leading to further emotional and financial concern.
Her business momentum was climbing, but so were her personal burdens, so she put her business up for sale and walked away from Alison’s Pantry in 2000.
“I knew it was time to sell,” Alison says. “I needed to do some other things.”
Alison’s love for her business didn’t end with that transaction, however, and she watched her business decline from a distance for four years. In September 2004, she was emotionally and financially in a position to buy back Alison’s Pantry.
She wanted back the “good ol’ days” where she ran a business that she was passionate about.
She soon realized that she had a selective memory.
“When you’re away from it, you only remember the best things about it,” Alison says. “Once I bought the business back I suddenly remembered the late nights, the meetings and the work.”
The workload has been even heavier in the months since her return to the head of the company because of the decline the company saw while she was away. During her first tenure, she had a successful system in place with enough business to support 40 employees. Now she has 14 employees working hard to get Alison’s Pantry back where it was prior to her 2000 departure.
Alison’s Pantry is organized similarly to Avon and other direct-distributor-based businesses. Distributors in remote communities — mostly in the Rocky Mountain states and into the Dakotas — contact neighbors and have them order dry goods and frozen food to have delivered once a month. The distributors receive shipments from Alison’s Pantry and then deliver the food to the end-user. The distributor and the area coordinator each receive a percentage of the sale. At its heart, the business is a neighborhood co-op. But the business model works for more than financial reasons.
“It works partly because women relate to other women,” Alison says. “Plus, today I think we’re losing connections with other people. Everything is so automated that we don’t interact with people any more. There is a lot of loneliness out there. Our most successful distributors are the ones who have a party once a month that allows the women to get together and have some fun.”
Alison’s Pantry currently has about 200 distributors — a far cry from the 400 the company once had — and recruiting more is a continual challenge. With fewer distributors come fewer sales.
“It’s hard to get people to come back,” Alison says. “There is a certain amount of ‘wait and see’ involved.”
But for Alison, the people she worked with are what brought her back to the business she loves. Her brokers were supportive. Her sons are involved more this time around and most of her current 14 employees were also with her the first time she owned the business.
“I have tried to find the good people I had here before and bring them back,” Alison says. “I have always felt a great responsibility as an employer.”
While Alison hopes to eventually grow the business back to its 40 employees of 2000, she’s also ready to handle the catastrophes life throws at her. She has food on her shelves and a wealth of business knowledge tucked away this time around.
ALLISON CHUNTZ AT A GLANCE
Business: Alison’s Pantry
Business Location: Pleasant Grove
Employees: 14 (plus 200 distributors)
Started the Business: 1987 (sold in 2000 and purchased back in September 2004)
ADVICE FOR ENTREPRENEURS: “Find a good mentor that’s in your industry and listen to them. It takes a certain amount of confidence to start a business, but you also have to have the humility to listen to someone else sometimes. It’s good to bring an outsider’s perspective into the business,” Alison says.