They may not be related by blood, but the nearly 70 employees at Vigon International are family.
And it is that sense of family that has allowed the East Stroudsburg-based manufacturer of flavors and fragrances to enjoy the sweet smell of success for 25 years.
The company’s success has not gone unnoticed: Vigon was honored as a recipient of the Governor’s ImPAct award for Small Business earlier this year. (Team Pennsylvania Foundation is a co-founder and co-sponsor of the Governor’s ImPAct Awards program.)
Company President Steve Somers attributes Vigon’s success to his employees. He purchased Vigon in 1998 at the age of 37, leaving a competitor that would become one of his company’s customers.
“There is really just one secret: finding great people,” Somers said. “If you find the right people, build out your team and coach and mentor them the right way, everything flows from there. Productivity, improved efficiencies, great ideas, new ways of doing things, product development, all come from having the right team in place.”
Somers also has high praise for Pennsylvania’s workforce.
“I’ve said this before in front of a bunch of our state representatives, but Pennsylvania has people with a great work ethic,” Somers said. “I’ve worked in New Jersey most of my professional career, and we struggled a little bit with that. People here want to come to work every day; they have a strong work ethic. That is something Pennsylvania should be proud of.”
Since he purchased Vigon, its workforce has increased by 600 percent and sales have grown from $6 million to $85 million in the United States and 40 countries around the world.
“We had a little slow start, at first, until we had our team built out,” Somers said. “We’re not Google, we’re not Apple, but we haven’t done too badly either.”
That is especially admirable in an industry that, according to Somers, has experienced some stagnant or decreased growth over the past few years – especially in 2008 when the Great Recession hit the nation’s economy.
“Our only stale year was 2008 and while everyone else’s (sales) had fallen, we were still okay,” Somers said. “There was a good bit of inventory reduction, which is understandable because a lot of people were afraid.”
During those turbulent times, Somers spent his working to reassure his employees that they would not be terminated and telling them that better days were still to come.
To allay his employees’ fears, Somers had a round red “Yipppeee!” button created that plays, when pressed, a voice that jubilantly says, “Yipppeee!” followed by the first several lines of the James Brown song, “I Feel Good.”
Somers added the thought of layoffs when the economy soured was never part of his long-term strategic approach to his company’s growth.
“This is my team, this is my family, so we’ll survive,” Somers said. “Just like any family, we can get through the rough times, as long as we work together and put our heads together and figure out ways to utilize our resources in a better way. I was knee deep in it and I knew that we would be fine. People were concerned because they heard other people were getting laid off, but I told our team to keep living their lives the way they always did.”
Somers equates what Vigon does to BASF, whose marketing campaign states: “We don’t make the products you buy, we make them better.”
While Vigon will most likely never be a household name, there are few consumers who haven’t tasted, smelled, or applied one of the flavors, fragrances, cosmetics, natural or synthetic ingredients or essential oils that can be found in many of the common household products that they buy.
“Heinz, Pepsi, Coke, Proctor and Gamble, Yankee candles, and L’Oréal cosmetics are a few of the customers who use our ingredients,” says Somers. “We don’t, for example, make Pepsi, but we make the ingredient that goes into Pepsi.”
The Governor’s ImPAct award isn’t the only accolade the company has recently received.
Vigon has been named to Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 fastest growing companies list for seven consecutive years and is a 2013 recipient of the Allentown-based newspaper The Morning Call’s Top Work Places. Vigon has also been recognized twice (2010-2011) as a Best Places to Work in Pennsylvania, a program co-founded and still co-sponsored by Team PA.
It’s easy to see why the small company excels and receives the recognition it so rightfully deserves. While Somers is quick to praise his “family”, it is the patriarch who firmly guides the company forward.
Dressed in jeans and a collared shirt, Somers, whose office is a corner cubicle in the administrative offices, is both affable and down-to-earth. During a tour of the company’s 105,000- square-foot facility, he seems more co-worker than boss, readily joking with his employees, who joke right back as if they are indeed siblings.
Being head of the Vigon family is the fulfillment of a dream for Somers.
“I always wanted to build and create something that was my own legacy,” Somers said. “I’m living my dream. I hope that people who come here are living the dream as well because, as far as making a difference and their careers are concerned, they own this as much as I do. So, when we are done, we can look back and say, ‘man, that was a blast.’ That is my goal.”
For more on Vigon, visit their website.