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Aiming to please

by Steve Krut
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Tank’s Meats in Elmore, Ohio, established a very simple philosophy: “We take our customers’ needs and ideas seriously.” Following that approach the business has continued to grow…for 106 years!

Their willingness and dedication to meeting the wishes of those they serve has served the family-owned-and-operated meat business with a continued pattern of expansion and success.

“Everything our customers say is taken very seriously,” says President Eric Amstutz, “and most of the ideas they bring to our attention leads to us doing something to improve the operation.”

The proof can be found in the busy 40 ft.-by-40-ft. retail area where fifth-generation grandchildren help stock shelves or bag purchases for customers on the weekends.

It can also be found in the five delivery trucks that ship wholesale goods throughout Northwest Ohio.

Tank’s was the brainchild of Fred Tank, who opened a fresh meat and poultry store in downtown Elmore in 1907, and delivered his wares by horse and wagon or by sled. His son, Walter, later expanded the business to offer a full line of groceries, fruits and vegetables.

By 1947, the company moved their retail operation to their slaughter and processing plant outside of town, which is their current location. In the 1950’s the company brought in a Swiss sausage maker to add to the product line. This led to growth in its wholesale business and home freezer provisioning.

Looking to add a second sausage-maker to the business, Walter placed an ad in a Swiss newspaper. Alois Amstutz, a Swiss-born oil tanker seaman, answered the newspaper ad. Alois, also known as Al, did his apprenticeship as a meat-cutter and sausage-maker near his home in Luzerne, Swtizerland.

Continuing tradition

But today’s version of Tank’s (officially called Tank’s Meats Inc.) started when Walter’s daughter, Marcia, married Al.

When Marcia and Al bought the business in 1976, they were able to introduce new Swiss- and German-based sausage recipes that brought new customers from as far away as Cincinnati. After 36 years, Al, 74, still comes in regularly to mix the spices for the sausage varieties and Marcia calls many of their wholesale customers, as well as prodding their grandchildren to be “hands on” involved.

Eric and his brother, Kurt, the vice president; their wives, Jackie and Julie; along with their long-time friend Ken Peterson, represent the full-time management of everything inside the 10,000-sq.-ft. facility.

Since their takeover from Al and Marcia in 2007, they have grown the operation and now have nearly 40 employees.

Retail meat cuts from the 60-ft. meat case are still wrapped in old-fashioned butcher paper and shoppers can choose from a 24-ft. display case of store-made deli salads and a bountiful selection of Amish cheeses.

Another 44 feet of bins hold frozen meat cuts of poultry, beef, pork and sausage products. Plenty of grocery items abound and one corner is devoted to an array of Tank’s hats, shirts and paraphernalia that shows there is pride and enthusiasm enough to merchandise.

Many of the hundreds of awards for cured and smoked meats the firm has won in competitions at the Ohio Association of Meat Processors and the American Association of Meat Processors are on display, but countless others sit in boxes, telling that there’s sometimes too much going on to keep up.

“We are doing so many things and finding space is becoming a problem,” Kurt states. “It’s like trying to put 10 lbs. in a 5-lb. bag.

“Two years ago in April, we bought out an HRI plant in Toledo, about 20 miles away. After reviewing what we wanted to do with it, we decided to move the activity here to Elmore. From 10 p.m. Friday to 10 p.m. Sunday we had 90 percent of everything moved in and set up. We were exhausted, but we found a way to get it done with little disruption to serving the wholesale accounts.”

The HRI end of Tank’s sales has doubled in volume due to the expanded product offering from their buyout and continued growth and relationship with the new customers.

When Tank’s says they have HRI provisions, they can unfurl a listing of pork, beef, poultry, lamb and seafood inventory in so many formats that it boggles the mind. There are 54 different smoked products alone as well as 30 varieties of wieners and sausages, and an equal number of lunch meats and loaves, snack meats, patties and an assortment of fresh cuts of every species that let even the small retailer or restaurant know they have what they need.

A visit to their website, www.tanksmeats.com, demonstrates the variety and specialization of their HRI offerings. In addition to meats, they market salads, sauces, cheeses and salts to the wholesale crowd.

“Big wholesalers hurt the mom-and-pop shops,” Eric contends. “That’s a complaint we heard from them so we try to offer the most variety, unique products, ethnic items and various sizes in smaller quantities to these small business folks. They’ve responded well to our decision to give them what they need.”

Serving local clients

Custom killing and processing is important for Tank’s Meats and they continue to serve farm and ranch accounts, and have moved into private-labeling options for those who want to market their products under their own name and reputation.

The plant slaughters livestock at their location on a weekly basis, buying animals from local producers to help keep the area farm economy strong and give customers what they look for in locally raised meats.

Sportsmen know the Elmore business for its custom processing. Tank’s Meats handles 500 whole deer a year in addition to boneless venison, elk and antelope and also do a nice volume in smoking fish.

Their focus on serving the community first has also paid big dividends. Their products are supplied and featured at a plentiful number of German festivals, a few dozen fairs and the casino in Toledo.

They also sponsor cars at the local speedway, have billboards around the area and use radio advertising.

Keeping up with the repeat customers and new ones who keep coming in based on what they are hearing and seeing about Tank’s is a challenge. But those taking home their award-winning Landjaeger, natural-casing and skinless half-pound hot dogs, new poultry line up of Bird Dogs and mushroom and Swiss brats seem to keep telling their friends…and Tank’s keeps expanding.

Marcia sums it up: “When are we going to quit growing and start doing? Sometimes it’s crazy around here.”

It is the Amstutz family penchant to be involved in the community that makes the plant a hub of activity. They work closely with the local 4-H and FFA groups and bring the youngsters into their business for carcass judging classes and competitions.

In Ohio, as in most states, the livestock numbers have been decreasing due to continued drought conditions and higher feed and fuel costs. Yet, Tank’s uses its location just off the Ohio Turnpike and a can-do attitude to let potential customers know their journey is leading to the right place.

Steve Krut, an industry veteran, is a contributing editor writing exclusively for Meat & Poultry, specializing in small business issues.

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