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Small Business Spotlight: Ohio Citrus Juice

Being a small business owner is a tough job! That’s why we feature a different small business in our Small Business Spotlight every month. Today we visit Ohio Citrus Juice in Grove City. 

When you buy a cold drink at the grocery store checkout, do you ever wonder how it got there? Odds are you do not.  In Central Ohio, beverage distributor Ohio Citrus Juice is responsible for stocking a number of these drinks including Clear Fruit and Arizona beverages.

The Grove City business has been in the Clark family since Les Clark purchased it back in 1994. Today, Les’ son Steve and grandson Matt continue to run the business with some important core values in mind.

Les, Steve and Matt Clark are the three generations responsible for Ohio Citrus Juice. It’s a tidy, unassuming building on Hardy Parkway so it might come as a surprise they distribute eight lines of beverages to over 600 customers in central Ohio. This includes Arizona, Tropical Fantasy, Clear Fruit, Everfresh and Calypso. Each brand has its own extensive line of non-alcoholic flavors that amount to hundreds of choices for customers to enjoy.

Five drivers run 28 lines to retailers in a territory that extends throughout central Ohio, east to Zanesville and north to Mansfield. Those retailers include very small mom and pop shops as well as large stores like Walmart and Kroger.  “We take pride in the fact we can serve everyone of any size. Some of these mom and pop convenience stores have been with us for years and years and it means a lot to me that we can provide them the same level of service that we can give the biggest grocery stores around,” Matt said.

But Matt isn’t one to rest on his laurels. As General Manager, he is conscious of the need to strike a balance between growth and the happiness of the company’s 25 team members. That’s where those important core values come in to play. “We are constantly thinking about how we can better serve our customers but we can’t do it in a way that harms our employees,” Matt explained.

As someone who started out working for his grandpa during summers when he was a kid, Matt has done every job in the company. He understands how seemingly small changes can make work significantly more difficult for employees. “Adding a product, adding to a route doesn’t sound like a big deal until you think about how it affects the employee. We can’t have our guys going home at night too tired to enjoy their families,” he said.

Family is important to Matt and comes up a lot in conversation. It is a family owned business. Matt and his wife have five children and a foster child so he understands the significance of having time and energy for loved ones at the end of the day and on weekends. “Family is huge. Being able to provide for our families and have weekends off means a lot. We try to treat people well and to get to know them. We joke some and try to keep things light. We don’t want our team members to spend their free time dreading work,” Matt said. “I think there’s some proof that our approach works when you look at the longevity of our team members. Many of our people have been here a long time and that means a lot to us, to our success.”

Matt admits that his is a different kind of business. “Traditional small business rules don’t always help us but one thing is certain. No matter how big or small you are, you need to keep growing to stay healthy. Just because you’ve always done things a certain way doesn’t mean that you can’t try something new. You can always learn new stuff if you’re open to it,” he said. “By the grace of God, we will continue to grow at a pace that makes sense for us.”

The approach of March means that the company is gearing up for the seasonal boom in sales that comes with rising temperatures. “We can use the weather forecast to predict how to stock for the week. In the fall, when people start thinking about cold and flu season, we’ll sell more orange juice because people want Vitamin C to help them stay healthy.”

One thing that Matt has learned from running the business is there are skills and qualities he looks for in employees and that these are qualities he wants his children to have as well. “My kids may or may not want to be involved here someday. That’s up to them but they will work somewhere and I want to prepare them for the future the best I can. It’s so important to be teachable.”

What’s the next chapter for Matt and Ohio Citrus Juice? He constantly has his eye on how to improve and he wants to eventually grow the company’s footprint. He also hopes to someday buy the company from his dad when Steve is ready to retire. “How you feel about your job is important and keeping this a place people want to come to work, where I want to come to work, is a big goal.”

Find Ohio Citrus Juice online at Ohio Citrus Juice and look for their beverages around Central Ohio.

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