Our Towns

Sharon’s Homegrown Brands Earn Wide Following

SHARON, Pa. – Reyers, Quaker Steak and Daffin’s: Each of these companies is virtually synonymous with this city, their brands household names that bring customers from far beyond the Shenango Valley.

Once heralded as the world’s largest shoe store, Reyer’s Shoe Store has ceded that distinction. “Now, of course, the Internet is the world’s largest shoe store,” jokes the company president, Mark Jubelirer. “Anything and everything is available. Anytime. All the time.”

A recent survey rated Reyers as the best “sit-and-fit” shoe store in the country and the store now markets itself as “ ‘First in Footwear’ because largest doesn’t mean anything anymore,” Jubelirer says. “Customers want what they want and they’ll shop where they can get it.”

A German cobbler, John Reyer, founded Reyers in 1886 and Jubelirer’s father, Harry, bought it in 1953 from his son, Carl. The focus of the store identity, how the Jubelirer family has branded Reyers, shifted over the years.

When Harry Jubelirer bought Reyers, the shoe retailer was one of six in downtown Sharon. Each had its own “piece of the pie,” with Reyers specializing in women’s shoes. The store expanded as it added sizes and lines, bringing in men and children’s shoes as well as athletic shoes, and put its competitors out of business.

“The Reyers brand was something that grew and changed over time,” Mark Jubelirer muses. Early on it was the largest shoe retailer between Pittsburgh and Cleveland “and we marketed ourselves as the department store of shoes,” then as the largest between New York and Chicago, and then as the largest in the country, he says.

When it moved to its present site in the mid-1980s, Reyers became “literally, by square footage, the world’s largest shoe store,” he continues.

Reyers’ move into television advertising in the 1970s helped the store expand awareness beyond the Shenango and Mahoning valleys, he says. Advertising in Greater Youngstown was relatively inexpensive compared to other markets.

“When we started getting customers because of word of mouth from Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Erie, we started television marketing there and drew more and more customers from further away,” he relates.

Through the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the store began getting buses from Cincinnati; Toronto, Canada; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Buffalo, N.Y.; and states such as Tennessee.

“Most of our growth comes from outside the Shenango Valley,” he says. About 85% of its business comes from outside of the immediate market, “which is something that’s odd in this business,” Jubelirer remarks.

Quaker Steak & Lube, which operates more than 55 restaurants in 16 states, was founded in 1974 when George Warren and Gary Meszaros bought a vacant service station in Sharon and converted it into a restaurant.

Conceived as a “cook your own steak” venue that featured hamburgers and other traditional fare, the chain has become known for its signature chicken wings and automobile-themed restaurants.

The original site in Sharon “is at the heart of our business,” says Greg Lippert, Quaker Steak CEO and president.

“It established our brand early on and, as we have grown, we have taken the very soul of our initial location to build upon each of our new restaurants’ core character,” he continues. Each restaurant “contains a similar look and feel while showcasing the local community’s interest,” he adds.

“Our fan base enjoys our fun, energetic atmosphere and know that they can stop in any restaurant and receive great service and flavor-laced menu items,”
he says. “We affectionately call our guests ‘Lubies’
and our fan base is known as ‘Lube Nation.’ ” Many Lubies visit once or twice a week, he reports.

Quaker Steak continues to expand its menu to stay up on trends in family-dining restaurants and keep its culinary team innovative, he says. The marketing team creates “compelling programs to encourage new and existing visitors” to enter the restaurants. They host events such as bike nights, car cruises and all-you-can-eat wing nights.

“Each location has its own local flair,” he says. The goal is to add four to eight locations annually.

Daffin’s Candies, which promotes its store in Sharon as “the world’s largest candy store,” draws visitors from around the country, reports retail manager Connie Leon. “A lot of it’s people who have moved away come back every summer,” she says. Among the regions the store draws from are Pittsburgh, Erie and Akron-Canton, she says.

“Over the years we’ve done a lot of different things,” she reports. The late Pete Daffin had the idea for the Chocolate Kingdom at his store. In the kingdom are animals, castles and a miniature village made of chocolate.

Marketed to “kids of all ages, [the Chocolate Kingdom] has worked for us for years” in attracting families to the store, she says. Pete Daffin “wanted everybody to feel like a kid when they came to the store and have it be a fun place to shop,” she adds.

Strengthening the brand is Daffin’s corporate gift, wholesale and fundraising businesses, they broaden awareness of Daffin’s beyond its six stores in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.

Pictured: Reyers used to be the world’s largest shoe store, says Mark Jubelirer, but that distinction now belongs to the Internet.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.