Making candy for five generations
The candy known to its fans as Bulls-Eyes was born in Baltimore. Goetze's Candy Company has made its products there since 1895, when Augustus Goetze bought a chewing gum company and started crafting sweets. His descendants automated operations and expanded distribution. Today, Goetze's has 90 employees and markets its confections worldwide.
In 1918, Goetze's created one of the company's best-known products, Caramel Creams (also known as Bulls-Eyes)—round, chewy caramels with creamy white centers. Cow Tales are a rope-like version. Flavors include original/vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and apple.
Today the fifth-generation family business is owned by Spaulding Goetze Sr. (CEO and co-chairman) along with his sons, Mitchell (president and chief operating officer) and Todd (vice president, operations); his brother, Randle (co-chairman and secretary); and Randle's son-in-law, David Long (chief financial officer).
Mitchell Goetze, 45, started working at the company at age 12, labeling boxes of treats. He joined the company full-time in 1993 after graduating college.
Mitchell learned the business by shadowing his father at candy shows. He watched his dad build the supplier partnerships the company has today. He learned about commitment, integrity, respect, adapting to change, ownership and community—values that influence the candy company's business decisions.
"My dad always said, 'You don't need to be the smartest person in the room, but you need a tremendous amount of common sense,' " Mitchell says. "Our success is one-half common sense, one-half street MBA."
Although Goetze's sources cocoa beans and licorice root from abroad, family members say the company is committed to producing and packaging its products in the U.S. "Sure, I could save 15% on buying plastic wrappers outside the U.S.," Mitchell says. "But if I did that, I wouldn't sleep at night."
The confectioner has experimented with cherry, banana and peanut butter sweets. It has launched new products—Gourmet Caramels and Crispy Moo Bars. When Goetze's discontinued Caramel Apple Sticks, customers missed the sticky-sweet flavor, so the company whipped up caramel apple Cow Tales. Goetze's sweets can now be found in movie theaters as well as at retail stores and online.
For a business to make it to the fifth generation, Mitchell says, family members must be in alignment. It is possible for a 90-year-old to find common ground with a younger person, he says. "Certain values are passed on," Mitchell says.
Still, family business can get complicated. After Mitchell's grandfather and great-aunt had a falling-out in the 1960s, the company drew up stock transfer and operating agreements. Mitchell says it's important for every family company to have these documents. "That way, there are no secrets," he explains. "Everyone knows this is how we operate."
Mitchell says family ownership is not about "sitting on the board—or sitting on the beach." He says he earned respect by logging time in Goetze's candy kitchen, factory floor and shipping room. He crisscrossed the country during a four-year stint as a sales rep. He inspected caramels and mopped floors. "Employees loved seeing me swab the deck," he says.
Mitchell adds that he's grateful his father and grandfather were tough on him as he rose through the ranks. "I don't think a company can survive with a weak leader, and I don't want to work next to one either," Mitchell says.
In addition to hiring Baltimore residents, Goetze's prefers local and regional vendors to support the area's economy. The company partnered with a racing team in the Baltimore Grand Prix and donates candy to Operation Welcome Home Maryland, which greets service members returning from overseas. A company initiative dubbed Give & Goetze donates candy for Boy Scouts to give to veterans they visit at VFW facilities.
There are nine sixth-generation members of the Goetze family. One of them, Mitchell's nephew Spaulding Goetze III, works in the machine shop and is being exposed to other areas of the company.
Mitchell's advice for the next generation: "Be anchored in the fact that the generations before built the foundation for success. Be grateful for the sweat others before you dripped on the ground."
Sarah Louise Klose is a Chicago-based freelance writer.
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