Wooster’s Friendly Wholesale has new owners for growing business

Friendly Wholesale owner Austin MIller, General Manager Jeremy Menegay and owner Matt Plocki in the middle of racks of candy and other items customers can purchase off the shelves.

WOOSTER – There’s the Main Building, the OB (Other Building), State Building and Vending Building.

And in the next few years there could be another one, which would be called, “Probably NB, New Building,” said the new owner of Friendly Wholesale, Matt Plocki, with a laugh.

It has only been a few weeks since Plocki, his equity partner, Austin Miller; and General Manager Jeremy Menegay have taken over the business, so they haven’t had much time to come up with more formal names for the buildings, which total 72,000 square feet.

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The plans they have for the 72-year-old facility supply business on Cushing Street near downtown is no laughing matter, no matter what the buildings are called.

“We are keeping and growing the employee base here in Wooster,” said Plocki, who has owned a similar business in Pittsburgh for about 20 years. “We have 22 full-time employees and we hope to grow that to around 30 in the next two years.”

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George Selders started Friendly Wholesale in 1950 as a general wholesale business in the Main Building, which was built in the 1890s and had a few businesses in it before Selders took it over, including a wooden toy factory, according to his daughter, Joann Davidson, who was involved in the family business for much of her life.

Davidson said as her dad expanded the business, he bought the State Building, which she said the state of Ohio used for storage, and the Vending Building, and constructed the Other Building.

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As Davidson started taking over the business with her husband, Mark, in the 1990s as her father went into semi-retirement and after he died in the 2000s, she focused it on food service disposables and janitorial supplies for other businesses, schools and churches that use those types of products on a regular basis.

The new ownership group is going to continue with Davidson’s focus and eventually add some new products.

“In Pittsburgh, we are the largest coffee supplier on the East Coast and we would love to bring those products here to central Ohio,” said Plocki, who plans to buy a condo or townhouse in the area so he can divide his time between Wooster and Pittsburgh. He owns a restaurant equipment installation business in the PIttsburgh area, too.

There also is a showroom for walk-in customers in the Friendly Wholesale Main Building, which is about 10% of its business, Plocki said.

Plocki’s partner, Miller, started at Pitt Specialty Supply, Plocki’s facility supply business in Pittsburgh, which has 34 employees, as an intern for about six months and moved into a full-time position about five years ago after he graduated from Penn State University.

Menegay, who lives in Uniontown, got to know Plocki and Miller while covering five states working for a chemical manufacturer in Ohio. They convinced him to be part of their new venture because they knew he was familiar with the area. Menegay said what convinced him were the pair’s vision for the business and the employees at Friendly Wholesale.

Friendly Wholesale employees happy with the new ownership

Yvonne Hendershot, an employee for about 30 years — most of the employees have worked at Friendly Wholesale for decades — said they are happy with their new bosses.

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“We didn’t know Friendly was going to sell, so it could have been really scary with who we got,” she said. “But we are pretty happy with who we got.”

Her husband, Tim Hendershott, said he has noticed business has picked up since the change in ownership and is looking forward to Friendly Wholesale’s future.

While she also is looking forward to the change, Yvonne said she’s glad one thing isn’t changing. 

“It was like a family and still is,” she added about working at Friendly Wholesale.

Davidson, who continued the family atmosphere her father started, said she approached the buying group Friendly Wholesale and Pitt Specialty Supply both belong to, the United Group, to sell her family’s business because of the time commitment involved in running the business at her age (she’s 69); the need for it to expand; and not having any children to continue running it.

United Group is the largest member-owned paper and food service buying group in the country with 400-member companies that are all independently run and all in the facility supply business, according to Plocki, whom Davidson said offered her a sales job that she said she probably will take after the summer to stay connected to the business that has been such a huge part of her life.

Davidson said she didn’t want to sell it to just anyone. She wanted someone with the same vision for the business and the employees — not only someone who would keep her “loyal” employees, but carry on the family work atmosphere.

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“When you have employees for 20, 30 years you definitely become like a family,” she said. “I talked to Matt’s employees and had the same feel.”

Plocki said it hasn’t been hard to continue the family atmosphere at Friendly Wholesale.

“What sold us here was the people,” he said. “There are just some incredible people who truly care about the business.”