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Stewart's Shops Sails Through Recession

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Stewart’s Shops convenience stores are generating healthy, double digit growth annually, even during tough economic times, thanks to a strategy of "not falling prey to excesses," Gary Dake, company president, told the Schenectady Daily Gazette.

"We try not to get too far out on the limb," he said, noting the chain's growth strategy is markedly different from those of other retailers, including Starbucks, which built too many sites and cannot support them, and as a result, is closing stores across the nation.

"In the last two or three years, we have opened very few new shops," said Dake, who has held the top position at Stewart's for six years. "The [real estate] market is overpriced."

Instead of building new stores, the retailer is remodeling some of its 327 stores.

"We stay in the mode of, we do what we want to do, not what we have to do," Dake told the paper. "We address problems early."

In addition, Dake, 48, cited honesty with others as a key part of the chain's culture.

"We have a tendency to be upfront and candid," he said of Stewart’s corporate culture, and added telling employees and others what he really thinks is sometimes a "greater kindness" than beating around the bush.

"We work in small groups," Dake explained in the report. With roughly a dozen workers dedicated to a store, everyone knows the strengths and weaknesses of the other employees, he said.

And employees work hard partly because many are involved in the company’s profit-sharing program, in which employees own one-third of the privately held company, according to the report.

Dake began his Stewart's career May 13, 1985, after working three years for Agway and Farm Credit in Pennsylvania, in accordance with a Dake family rule that members have to work two or three years at another business before taking a job with Stewart’s, the report stated.

Dake's father and former Stewart's Shops president, William Dake, is currently chairman of the board, and can often be found at the chain's corporate office in Saratoga Springs.

"He gets to do all the work," William Dake said of his son. "I get to do the things I like to do."

Gary Dake said having his father nearby is often a blessing, but can be "the best and the worst," when disagreements arise.

"I am blessed to have that kind of resource at my finger tips," Gary Dake told the paper. "He won’t intrude unless he thinks it’s important."

Before becoming president of Stewart’s, Gary Dake operated the company’s ice cream plant-dairy-product distribution center. In those days he was able to play golf on a regular basis, the report stated.

"My golf game went to hell with this job" Dake said.

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