I've only had one job all my life.
It all started in 1963 on the middle school playground. A buddy of mine told me about a job opening at a local shop that he had just quit. I needed the money, so I went to the store after school and convinced the owner to hire me as his replacement.
That summer, at the young age of fourteen, I started working at a local retail store in Camden, New Jersey called Sbar's – a one-stop shop with everything you needed from school supplies to light bulbs.
The company started out small with three employees: my boss, Mr. Sbar, an older gentleman, Walt and myself. That was it. My job was to pitch in where needed as a general helper of sorts. I did anything from unloading trucks, sweeping the floors and washing the windows. I worked everyday after school throughout high school. I loved it!
Moving up without moving on
When it came time to go off to college, I gave it a try, but ultimately realized it wasn't for me. I decided to stay on full time at Sbar's. I couldn't let go. I grew up with the company and knew it wasn't finished working on me yet.
Mr. Sbar had always been a great mentor to me. He trusted me like a son and really encouraged me to learn the business. It wasn't long before he allowed me to start buying for the store, but immediately I realized there was a need for a wholesale arts and crafts distributor to service retail stores. So I took it upon myself to venture out and see if we could fill that need.
As soon as I could, I went to a business down the road and convinced them that Sbar's had everything they needed. They were originally waiting 10 days for goods. I knew we could do better. I drove back to the store and brought him everything he requested the very next day. That's how our wholesale business began.
The wholesale business took off in large part because we always made sure we took care of our customers. We worked under the philosophy that we would service the customer, always be in an in-stock position and never grow faster than we could ship the same day. Most people weren't able to do that, so it was magic for us.
We continued to grow and moved into a few different storefronts around the area. By 1973, we had to expand, so we opened our first 10,000-square foot wholesale distribution center. We were thriving.
Fast forward to 1985: The company I'd been working with for 20 years named me president. It was the same year that A.C. Moore opened its first arts and crafts retail store in Moorestown, a town just down the road from us.
Sbar's and A.C. Moore formed an immediate bond and both companies continued to support one another. Sbar's serviced all of the A.C. Moore stores on the East Coast, as well as some smaller independents. We offered impeccable customer service and the best delivery guarantee in the business.
Eventually when Mr. Sbar retired I bought the company and we opened a building in Moorestown, which is still the home of Sbar's Inc. today.
Creating the change the world needs
In 2011, A.C. Moore was on the brink of bankruptcy, and subsequently was up for sale. Everyone thought it was a bad idea, but near the end of the year I decided to follow my heart, buy the company to take it private and completely restructure the business.
I loved A.C. Moore and I believed in it. It was my dream to create a corporate culture on a foundation of philanthropy, family and quality customer experience. I wanted A.C. Moore to be more than just an arts and crafts retailer; I wanted it to be a means for change.
Over the years, we've created bonds with various organizations like Toys for Tots, Icing Smiles, Fresh Artists, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and American Cancer Society to help craft a better world. I always say, and I truly believe this, that for a company to be great, not just good, it has to give back and make a difference in the community. We strive every day at A.C. Moore to make a difference in the communities we serve.
In the five years that I’ve seen this company grow, I've heard many comments about how much better the stores are now. I've repeated over and over again that it's not the home office, it's not me, it's the people that work at the store that make the difference. It's because of our team members that so many customers proudly call us their first choice for arts, crafts, and creativity.
As I look back on my life's journey, it makes me smile. This job that I've devoted my life to has brought me so much joy. It brought me a family business, which I share with two of my children. It brought me more than 5,000 amazing team members and more stores than I could’ve dreamed of. It's brought funding to deserving nonprofits and continues to be the change the world needs to see today.
About the author: Pepe Piperno is the CEO of A.C. Moore.
Edited for length and clarity by Nicole Taylor. Have a great entrepreneurial story to tell? Contact Nicole at email@example.com with your pitch.