Typewriters, payphones and the shoe-repair guy may be long gone, but some things like newspapers, paper books, encyclopedias… and even the milkman…are still hanging on fighting for survival.
Frank O’Brien, co-owner of Long Valley Dairy, still delivers farm-fresh milk to homes as well as other products every day after 25 years of being in the business. Although they share expenses, his brother, Jim O’Brien, started a similar but separate business, Shamrock Dairy in Hackettstown one year later.
The two brothers of Hackettstown are the last of the few remaining old-fashioned milkmen delivering fresh milk right to the doorstep. The key ingredients that have kept their businesses alive have been the convenience, dependable service and the freshest products.
“In today’s society, most couples are both working,” says Frank. “They’re running, dropping kids off at school, they’re running around. If he doesn’t have to go to the store, it’s a convenience, especially if you have young children and you need milk.
“It’s more about convenience and service,” says Frank, who has run the small family-owned home delivery and commercial business with his wife Laura since 1989. “People’s lives are hectic. We’re trying to make life a little easier. It’s one convenience they like. We put a box on their porch. Most want the convenience of knowing there’s fresh milk sitting outside,” especially in the morning as they are trying to feed their kids and get them off to school.
The brothers admit that their milk may cost “a little more” than most stores, but customers are not only paying for the milk, with the option of glass bottles, but the convenience.
“It may be a little more expensive than the stores, but it’s a dedicated reliable service,” says Jim. “When you order something, it shows up. When you order milk, you always have it. They go out to their milk box and their milk is there no matter what.”
Franks agrees, “We don’t try to compete with the price. We compete with the convenience and old fashioned nostalgia.”
At one point, back in the 1950s and 1960s, “Everyone got their milk by home delivery,” says Frank. Now, only one percent to two percent of residents use a milkman. When big supermarkets started coming in and corner stores, “Everyone was going to the supermarket. It’s a dying breed,” with less than 10 left in NJ selling and delivering milk bottles right to the door.
“We had a milkman,” recalls Frank. “We had an old fashioned milk box. We never saw him. We’d get up in the morning and saw the milk.”
With a degree in business from Bloomsburg University in Pa., Frank knew he wanted to own his own business one day. “He had been working in the corporate world for 15 years and realized “I didn’t want to be in the rat race anymore.” At the same time, his milkman was looking to retire after being in business for 20 years, so Frank, at the age of 35, decided to buy his business in 1989.
He brought his brother, Jim out here from Wilkes Barre, Pa, to deliver his second run, and then they decided that Jim should open up the other business, Shamrock Dairy.
When Frank first started out, he was one of 41 independent contractors/distributors getting their products from Welsh Farms in Long Valley, which had been in business since 1891. “They had a very good product.”
That worked out well until Welsh Farms closed its doors in 2000.
Frank switched to Byrne Dairy in New York, a small family owned business since the 1930s that was unique since it sold its milk in glass bottles. “No one in New Jersey was doing that,” says Frank. “We would have a unique product.”
For each customer, the brothers put out an insulated porch box, in different sizes, for customers to store the milk for a number of hours until they can get to it.
With the glass bottles, customers return the rinsed bottles to the porch box, which Frank then returns to Byrne Dairy to be sanitized and then reused.
The bottle concept fits right into today’s world with the push for keeping green and recycling.
“It hits both generations,” says Frank, about the bottle concept. The older generations like that it is “old fashioned” while the younger generations who are more environmentally conscious support the reused glass bottles.
One of the benefits of having milk brought right to your door is to avoid the grocery store.
“Some just go to the grocery store to get a gallon of milk which is all the way in the back of the store but you come out spending a $100 in other stuff,” says Frank. “In the grocery store, the milk is always in the back right corner which forces you to walk through the whole store to get to it.”
Frank and his brother have about 500 customers, or 250 each, between their two businesses. With their own territories, Frank services most of Long Valley while his brother delivers to the other side of the mountain.
The O’Brien brothers share the expenses of their home delivery/commercial service businesses, such as refrigeration, combined bulk pricing from supplier and some trucks, but they operate under separate entities each keeping their own profits.
In addition to home deliveries, they sell to small businesses, with more than 50 wholesale accounts.
“Small self-employed people that own businesses love the bottle concept,” says Frank. The whole sale companies such as Ashley Farms in Flanders and Donaldson Farm in Hackettstown charge their customers a deposit for the glass bottle so they return them to the farm.
Their customer base for homes and businesses accompany most of north western New Jersey, in Warren, Hunterdon, Sussex, Somerset and Morris counties, stretching from Green Township, toSparta and Bedminster.
They sell farm-fresh milk, dairy products, juice, water, eggs, coffee, teas, bread, bacon, yogurt, creamers, cheeses and more, right to their customer’s door.
Each home is provided with an insulated milk box near the front door, in sizes of extra large, large and small/medium. The extra large box can hold up to four bottles of milk, eggs and butter.
“We serve a quality product,” says Frank. “When they taste it, it’s a very good product. Our milk does not have hormones.” Farmers sign a pledge that forbid them from injecting cows with hormones, he says.
Customers can attest to the taste, quality and excellent service.
“It’s always fresh, really good dates, he buys exactly what we order,” says Aimee Ashley Myers, market manager of Ashley Farms in Flanders, a customer of Long Valley Dairy for the past ten years. “We like Byrne Dairy products,” with its no growth hormones. The service is amazing.”
A fourth generation family-owned farm business since 1948- that raises turkey, vegetables and runs a retail farm market- Ashley Farms orders a half tractor trailer load from Long Valley Dairy. All of its milk, in both plastic and glass bottles, as well as its butter, cream cheeses, whipped cream and cottage cheese come from Frank.
It “costs more to buy from Frank,” says Myers but she prefers the “quality. The milk in the glass is better, stays fresher, stays colder. It’s delicious. It’s been a good partnership for both of us; As a small business, if you can support a small business. It’s great service. It’s just a really good working relationship. He takes the orders and he delivers the milk. It’s a one-man show. He just always knows. It’s really personal stuff; he knows what we order; he knows where to put it.”
Deliveries are early morning, weekdays, from 4 a.m. until about noon, concentrating on a certain area each day. After their deliveries, they sort through their orders to prepare for their next day’s deliveries. They each average about 50 home deliveries daily, plus their wholesale accounts, and make the deliveries themselves except when they hire part-timers when they vacation.
For the most part- it’s a one man show. Frank’s wife Laura has helped with the billing and keeping the books, and his three kids have helped throughout the years.
“It’s not easy,” says Frank. “Any small business owner, you have to put the time in. It’s hard work. I’m a small businessman. I’m an army of one. I wear many hats. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, hard stuff, but we were able to survive.”
Days off are rare.
“I haven’t missed a day off of work in 25 years,” says Jim, even when laid up in bed after having his wisdom teeth pulled and a recent bout of the flu. “It’s just me. “You just have to get out of bed and go. You gotta get it done. You are the only one to do it. You gotta push through.
“It’s a reliable thing,” says Jim. “They sign up for the service, when they order something, I’m there.”
Franks says, “We go out in snowstorms. We are better than the mailman,” adding that he hadn’t gotten mail in two days this winter with the heavy snow, “but we still made deliveries. We are very reliable, very convenient. You are dealing with mom and pop. We are self-employed; Bigger is not better.”
There are few sick days for Frank. “One time when the kids were small,” Frank had the flu, “we got a babysitter, I was driving with my dead over the steering wheel and Laura would run and make the deliveries.”
There was another time, back in 2005, when Frank hurt his hip and could not make deliveries for a year with the required heavy lifting, so his eldest son, also named Frank, took a year long break from school to help his dad with the business, and then returned to get his degree in criminal justice.
“We did a lot of things over 25 years to survive,” says Frank.
His youngest son, Michael, a high school senior, also helps out when he can, even when it was football season after his practices; as well as his 30 year- old daughter, Caitlyn of Jersey City, a new mom who helps take orders and keep spreadsheets.
“It’s a family run business, always been,” says Frank, and with that he prides himself in teaching his children valuable lessons about managing their time, conversing with adults and building relationships.
Although the work is hard, Frank says, “I like what I do. I know all of my customers; I like interacting with them. I’ve seen when their kids are born and now they’re going off to college.” He has seen them switch from whole milk as kids to two percent as teenagers. “When I pass the bus stop, they know who I am. That’s a good feeling.”
Frank, who has been delivering products to some customers for 20 years, says, “My business is not based on price; it’s service, convenience and relationships.”
He recalls back in the day when he took his son Frank with him to make deliveries, his son would get angry since it would take them 10 or 11 hours, rather than eight hours, to finish because of all the talking that his father did with his customers.
Frank’s business motto has been “you have to converse with people, you have to talk. I can knock this out in eight hours,” admits Frank, “but two hours is building relationships. I enjoy this job because you have all of these relationships. I know they don’t have to buy from me but they like the relationship.”
He realizes, as a businessman “I’m not making a million bucks (like the guys on Wall Street), but I’m happy with what I’m doing.”
To receive the home delivery service, customers must have a minimum order of $15 per delivery. All products are fully guaranteed. Customers receive an itemized invoice every two weeks and 99 percent of the customers pay by credit card.
“Everything is about convenience,” says Frank.
With advances in technology, customers can email or text with any order changes 24 hours in advance, says Frank, who now has a smart phone as opposed to when he first started out with his “classic answering machine.”
For more information about Long Valley Dairy go to www.longvalleydairy.com. For questions about delivery or billing, call 908-850-3270 or via email at email@example.com.
For more information on Shamrock Dairy, call Jim O’Brien at 908-852-8678; or go towww.shamrockdairy.nj.com.
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