It’s almost sacrilegious to say you live in Delco and have never driven through a Swiss Farms store to pick up a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread or a jug of tea cooler. People would stare at you in disbelief, the same as if you said you’ve never been to a Wawa. They would think it’s totally unreal, that you’re putting them on. With 12 red silos dotting the Delco landscape, Swiss Farms is a cultural icon around here. Where else can you cruise through a drive-thru line early in the morning to pick up milk for the kids’ cereal or lunch items to pack — and a coffee for yourself — while still in your jammie bottoms, sans makeup, with hair looking like you just stuck your finger in an electric socket?
Personally, that’s how my fixation with Swiss Farms all began. When my four children were little, it was a hassle to get them out of their car seats and get through a store quickly, especially if I only needed a few essentials. I started driving through for the basics, and it was just so easy and convenient that I never halted the habit.
Not to date myself, but I formed my habit way back when, at the original store on Chester Pike in Sharon Hill. We dinosaurs would bring back our empty, used milk cartons and the store replaced them with fresh, new ones. My car floor was always littered with a bunch of empty jugs, waiting for the next cruise-through opportunity to return them. It’s crazy when I think back about it now, but I remember being bummed when they discarded this unique Swiss Farms characteristic and went to regular non-returnable plastic bottles just like everyone else.
As Swiss Farms expanded its inventory, it seemed that I expanded my shopping list there. When the weather was cold, rainy, too hot or too yucky, the Swiss Farms drive-thru was even more appreciated. My family fondly calls it “the milk store.”
“Can you drive through the milk store and pick up some eggs and see if they carry brown sugar? I have to make cookies to bring in to work tomorrow and we’re out of both,” my daughter, who was already home, called me just the other day. She knows if I am in a hurry, I will easily make a run through “the milk store,” but I wouldn’t have time — or I’d be too lazy — to stop at a full-sized supermarket to purchase her impromptu little list.
I even got my 87-year-old mom hooked on Swiss Farms because, often, the huge supermarkets are way too big for her to walk through for just a few items. My mom often requests that we stop at “the milk store” when we are out and about. She likes their milk, she says, because it tastes “really fresh.” Last week, I found out why — it’s the only store around where the milk is delivered fresh every single day. Plus, I heard it’s a “trade secret” recipe as to why Swiss Farms 100 percent hormone-free milk is so darn good. It’s not just plain old milk, but rather “premium milk,” which has higher levels of fat and protein, the things that make milk so satisfying and filling (luckily, I was assured that it’s the “good” fats).
Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of attending the Delaware County Press Club luncheon at DiFabio’s restaurant in Upper Providence. Scott Simon, the CEO and president of Swiss Farms, was invited as the guest speaker to talk about the popular Delco drive-thru market and its recent changes and innovations. Only coming on board at Swiss Farms this past April, Scott has added dozens of products by partnering with local popular food producers. In fact, he told us, Swiss Farms now carries over 750 products. In other words, it is far from being only a market that only carries milk and tea cooler (although they’re still its most popular items).
Soon after taking the helm as the Swiss Farms CEO, Scott brought registered dietician Audrey Hasse onto the company team to make things healthier at the stores. He added new food items to the menu, many from local vendors, forming partnerships with area food producers. Swiss Farms also now has a full line of freshly prepared foods to gel with busy people’s lifestyles. Now at “the milk store,” customers can pick up lunch or dinner, everything from sausage and peppers and homemade mac and cheese to Swiss salmon, sandwiches, pasta or salads. My personal favorite is their cranberry chicken salad, which Scott said is extremely popular.
According to Scott, there are different products at different stores (I never realized!). On the Swiss Farms website (www.swissfarms.com), customers can choose the Swiss Farms store close to their home or job site and then check out a menu of what’s available there and even place an order for easy pickup.
Scott has worked hard with his team to amp up the customer service of all employees by making sure they genuinely care about customers and treat them with the same respect and care “as they would afford their grandmothers.” Swiss Farms has “sought-after” jobs, Scott explained, so management can afford to be selective in whom they hire.
The CEO makes it a point to work at one of the stores a few times each week and also holds employee roundtables at the Broomall headquarters to keep his pulse on what’s working at the stores and what’s not. He asks both customers and employees what they like and what they don’t and then listens to them to make changes.
Scott said shortly after he arrived in Delco, he realized that local residents already had a good feeling about Swiss Farms, not just because of their tried-and-true quality products, but also because of the company’s entrenchment in the surrounding community. Swiss Farms is “community friendly” and has fundraising programs for schools, goes out to schools and other groups with community nutrition education and brings its mascot and giveaways to local festivals, fairs and other community events.
Loyal customers would also tell Scott that they are impressed with Swiss Farms’ exceptional customer service. The associates are really the ones whom customers connect with and who transmit the warm, friendly vibe of the store, he said.
“People would always tell me that they had a friend, relative or neighbor who had worked there because we have given many high school and college kids a way to earn money while attending school,” he said.
He likes to think that when a young man or young woman works at Swiss Farms, they develop a set of skills that will become a lifestyle for them.
When his team interviews job candidates, he said, they key into people with friendly, outgoing personalities, who seem like they’d be good team players, who know how to make eye contact and conversation with the customers and pay attention to how Swiss Farms can help them. The relationship between Swiss Farms customers and employees is very intimate, Scott said, because of the setup. An employee is not behind a counter ringing up one customer at a time. Instead, the employee is talking directly, one-to-one with a customer, up at their car window, asking how they are and building a relationship. They are often from their same neighborhood and will get to know them as “a regular.”
In fact, Scott said, Swiss Farms’ employees are supposed to key into the wants and needs of customers that they serve, so they can make helpful suggestions. One way to do that is by suggesting “pairings.” If an associate sees a customer buying eggs, he will often say, “Can I get you bacon or scrapple to go with your eggs?” or something like that. Signs are posted in express lanes with pairing suggestions and the paper menus given at the window also offer pairing suggestions. Swiss Farms associates are actually referred to in the biz as “personal shoppers” because part of their job is to get the customer everything he or she needs, helping to make the shopping trip convenient and quick.
Swiss Farms recently introduced a new rooster mascot, Cruiser, because the traditional cow was causing identity confusion with that other cow in the same hood, the Chick-fil-A cow.
Cruiser (aka Tony Galante) came to the Press Club luncheon with Scott, along with Swiss team members Chris Gray and Jaclyn Daley. Cruiser posed for photos and was a welcomed guest. Swiss Farms is about to hire six to eight Cruisers. If you think you have what it takes in personality and oomph to be Cruiser, stop by the Swiss Farms on Providence Road in Media to audition from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday, March 2, or from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 4. Again, the team will be hiring based on personality and rooster charisma.
Swiss Farms has a long proud history in Delco, opening its first store in 1968. Recent goals that the store is implementing include increasing its private label, adding some healthier options and freshly prepared food items, as well as expanding its seasonal offerings. Swiss recently launched its breakfast sandwiches (customers are getting a free coffee with them for a limited time), customizable lunch boxes for adults and children, a convenient mobile app, online ordering and express pickup. Fifteen years ago, Scott said, the stores didn’t even take credit cards. They definitely have come a long way, baby!
According to Scott, Swiss Farms is looking to perhaps expand outside of Delaware County, but only if they can do it with a cluster of stores, not one single one, and they are still studying which other county or state will be suitable for the leap. In the meantime, they are sprucing up some of the older markets in the area and getting ready to unveil all of the recent renovations and updates on the Havertown store on Eagle Road.
Scott said the only reason a local person may have never tried Swiss Farms is because he or she may be intimidated by an experience they never had. I was surprised by this because to me it’s not rocket science. It’s totally easy, even for out-of-towners: drive up, name whatever item you need, peruse the weekly menu while the sales associate gets you what you need, add onto your order if you see something else you want, then pay and cruise on out of there. It can’t get any simpler than that.
When Scott talked about competition with Wawa and local supermarkets, I was a little surprised and perplexed. “There’s no need to compete,” I thought inside my head. They are all different animals. We will always love Acme and Giant, Shop-Rite and Wawa, but we will also always love Swiss Farms, too. Sometimes, locals want a Wawa coffee, Wawa hoagie or some other purely Wawa signature item. Nothing is going to substitute or take its place. This same customer may make an easy cruise through Swiss Farms later in the day because they just got the word that friends are buzzing over, so they stop is for chips and dips and maybe a few other snacks. There’s enough room in Delco to have more than one choice for our shopping needs and each company can still thrive.
I think Scott and company should embrace and emphasize the one characteristic that sets Swiss Farms apart from every other place: the glorious, unrivaled drive-thru component. Besides banks, fast food and some car washes, no one else — especially any market — has that high level of drive-thru convenience, appealing to people in a hurry, young parents, disabled individuals, older seniors and all kinds of people. Hands down, having a market to drive through as a nearby option is the best!
My friend moved to California a few years ago. After about a month of living there, I remember talking to her on the phone, and she said, “You know what I really miss? I miss having my convenient Swiss Farms to drive through for my milk and stuff.” I remember actually feeling badly for her, thinking how much I would miss that convenience, too, if it suddenly was gone.
Scott said the store aims at marketing the “Swiss Farms experience.” Practically everyone who lives in Delco knows exactly what that experience feels like. If Swiss Farms decides to expand out of this area, they should make a commercial about the store for all those newbies who won’t know what a Swiss Farms is because they never had “the experience.” The commercials can feature real Delco people in the express lanes, maybe sipping some iced tea or lemonade, talking about why they like Swiss Farms and have made it a regular part of their lives. Or, they can show moms and dads, cruising hurriedly down the lane, picking up a bunch of iced tea and lemonade jugs and dozens of Bernie’s pretzels and tubs of cookies for their kid’s baseball team or Scout troop. We’ve all been there, done that. We know what it’s all about because we’ve lived that experience a thousand times over, we get it and we always did. Swiss Farms: it’s a Delco thing!
Swiss Farms corportate headquarters is at 928 West Chester Pike, Broomall. For more information, visit its Facebook page or follow on Twitter or Instagram, or call 610-356-2070.