It was 1871 when 14 year old Milton accidentally dropped his hat into a machine at the print shop where he apprenticed. He was fired. With his mother’s guidance, he was hired as an apprentice for a Lancaster County, Pennsylvania confectioner named Joseph Royer. That transition was significant for Milton and would have far reaching effect.
Milton went on to open his first confectionary at age 18. It failed. He then traveled to Denver and learned to make caramels from fresh milk. After that, training stops included New Orleans, Chicago and New York where he opened his second business. It too failed.
He moved back to Lancaster, borrowed money and opened his third business, the Lancaster Caramel Company. It was 1886. This time, Milton’s business was a huge success. By the mid 1890’s he employed over 1,300 workers across two factories. His continued quest for knowledge led him to the World’s Columbian Exposition. It was there that he developed a keen interest in cocoa and chocolate.
Milton sold his company and used the proceeds to buy a tract of land in central Pennsylvania. That land was in the midst of dairy country which was necessary for Milton to pursue his next quest. At that time, chocolate was a luxury product and Milton was determined to create a formula for milk chocolate. After much trial and error, he introduced his first chocolate bar in 1900.
By 1903 he began building an innovative facility by incorporating mass production manufacturing techniques – new at the time. His chocolate became the first nationally marketed and distributed candy bar. He introduced a bite-sized chocolate candy in 1907 and in 1908, a version of his chocolate bar which contained almonds.
Milton knew that happy employees were the most productive. He believed that providing better working conditions – and living conditions – would result in better employees. He was very forward-thinking and set out to create a model town for his employees and their families. The town was complete with trolley systems, houses, schools, swimming pools and even a zoo. He later added a park where families could relax and unwind close to home. In 1909, he built a school for orphaned boys in order for them to receive an education and the chance for a happy, decent life.
In 1928, it was his company that introduced canned chocolate syrup – effectively expanding the chocolate category exponentially. His determination to develop creative uses for chocolate resulted in the creation of S’mores, so named because everyone who tried them asked for ‘some more’! That recipe was first published in 1927 in the Girl Scout handbook.
His business drive was only exceeded by his philanthropy and his care for people, especially his employees. During the Great Depression, Milton put hundreds of people to work. They built major structures including corporate headquarters, an arena, a stadium and a community building.
Milton’s commitment to his vision was solidified when, in 1918, he transferred nearly all of his assets along with control of the company to a trust. His wishes and direction were clearly communicated to the point that today, his legacy lives on in the form of a global corporation and a leader in the industry. The company boasts over 19,000 employees. Annual revenue is estimated at $1.8 billion with profit projected to be right at $230 million. Chocolate candy is still the soul of the company, but it has expanded to include over eighty brands of candy, gum and other snacks.
These results are due to the foundation set for the company over 100 years ago by a truly fearless brand – Milton Hershey.
Fearless Brands build companies which reflect their vision and their principles
Milton Hershey had no idea that his milk chocolate company would grow to have a worldwide presence. It’s very likely that the first thing he would do if her were able to return today, would be to sample the chocolate – and other products. His initial focus was to create a high-quality, great tasting chocolate which would be available to the masses. He accomplished that in the infancy of his company. It’s the quality of the product which allowed the company to become such a success. He then would want to learn about those thousands of employees.
As with every company, Hershey’s is not without its troubles. Labor issues, which lasted throughout the 1930’s, were eventually settled when the company’s employees became members of an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor – Local 464. Chocolate and sugar rationing during the Second World War impacted performance. Changing consumer tastes, expanded competition and economic factors have all had an impact at various times.
When looking to learn about branding by studying the Hershey Company, it is wise to look to the company’s founder.
Be patient while finding your purpose – Hershey couldn’t have known that having dropped his hat into a printing machine was a key crossroad in his life. Even after getting involved with confectionary, it took years for him to find his interest in chocolate. His purpose was broader still, adding enjoyment to people’s lives – consumers through sweets and employees through care and concern. The lesson? Don’t stop searching for your purpose. Realize that just like life in general, your purpose will continue to evolve.
Stay anchored in what’s truly important – At the end of the day, what Hershey wanted for himself, his employees and his customers was simple – to be happy. There’s nothing wrong with a business getting bigger and earning more profits. However, those goals remain secondary to happiness. As Milton Hershey said, “One is only happy in proportion as he makes others happy.”
Adapt and adjust as conditions mandate – Milton Hershey started with a single candy bar – the Hershey Bar. Very quickly his company began to innovate and expand its product line to meet – and even create – consumer interest. Today, the Hershey Company has diversified dramatically. New products include Brookside yogurt and fruit bars. Iconic brands are being offered in new forms such as placing Reese’s Pieces inside of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. The point is this – things change. You have to accommodate those changes or your brand will rapidly fade from relevance.
I’m very happy that Hershey dropped his hat into that machine. I like candy. I like innovation. I like fearless brands. Milton Hershey was a leader in all of those areas. As you build your brand, make certain that your ‘product’ remains relevant. Make certain that your vision keeps you motivated. Focus on creating and delivering quality. Build a fearless brand and enjoy the sweet results which are guaranteed to follow.