"Every customer that comes in that door has a sign around their neck that says 'make me feel special!'" This is what Rita Shisler of Shisler's Cheese House tells her employees as they set out to serve customers throughout the day. Customer service is her number one priority and keeps her customers coming day in and day out. Rita makes it her personal goal to make you leave in a good mood even if you came in with a bad one. "I'm going to make you smile before you walk out this door."
Shisler's Cheese house was established in 1958 by Rita's father-in-law, John Shisler. "He had a dream," said Rita. "A dream that Shisler's Cheese would be around for many generations." This began the journey for what has come to be Rita's pride and joy, her chance to own her own business. Rita has overcome many obstacles to get where she is today.
In 1988, being a single mom with one son in college and one at home in Jr. High, Rita was faced with a tough decision. In order to support her family she tried to sell the store. Due to a very slow economy, she was unsuccessful in finding a buyer so she decided to give the store one more chance.
She offered to make sandwiches for a gas station in Dalton which grew into ten sandwich accounts. "Making sandwiches at 2 a.m., delivering them, opening my store at 9 a.m., greeting customers until 8 p.m., became a typical workday for me," said Rita. Slowly business started to increase as due to her faithful customers not giving up on her. "I attribute most of my success to those wonderful people."
Rita saw gross sales increase from $30,000 a year in 1958 to her goal of $1 million in 2004. Cheese sales increased from 300 pounds a week to over a ton a week and mail orders skyrocketed from one or two a week to thousands per year reaching all of the United States, Canada and 30 additional countries.
Rita says her biggest success is "the far and wide reputation." Recently, Rita has taken to using her granddaughter in her advertising campaigns. While her son and daughter-in-law were vacationing at Hilton Head Island, another vacationer recognized their daughter, Natalia, as the face of Shisler's Cheese.
Being located just off of State Route 30, they are a must stop on the tourist routes, attracting not only the local traffic but the international traffic as well. "There are roughly 30,000 cars traveling route 30 daily, which is only about 5,000 less a day than Interstate 71," said Rita. Her goal is to reach out to those traveling 71 and pull them off of the interstate.
Shisler's has also turned into a favorite stop for bus tours. Rita says they have about three to four bus stops during the week during the spring and fall months. Rita always has a sample tray prepared for these various occasions and takes time to give the guests on the bus a brief history of Shisler's.
While big in reputation, Rita's tiny cheese house can sometimes lack in space. She says she is often asked about a bathroom in which she currently just doesn't have the space to provide. Rita currently lives in the back and second story of the cheese house. She hopes to soon expand her business to include the entire lower level and install a new section to the side of the house that will serve as a small diner. "I very seldom have complaints," said Rita. "When I do have an unhappy customer, I go above and beyond to make it up to them."
Rita attributes most of her success to being able to give back to the community. "You impress upon people when you're kind and I try to encourage young people of this," said Rita. The teenagers that Rita hires to work for her in the summer are all encouraged to give back as well. She encourages them to volunteer and signs them up for beneficial clubs and organizations. By hiring these students, Rita hopes that she has been a good role model and given them more than just part-time job skills, but also provided them with valuable life skills. "I want to give back to the community," said Rita and she does just that by being involved in many community activities and organizations.
Recently, Rita has focused some of her charitable efforts and attention overseas. She was introduced to a man looking to raise money for clean water in Peru by selling coffee beans. Rita now sells the Reach coffee brand at her store with proceeds going toward providing clean water to Peru. "I just love doing those kinds of things," said Rita.
Ben Heggy's chocolate and nuts can also be found in her store and is a very popular item among customers.Rita also sells various hams and meats at her store.
For Rita, it has always been about establishing a relationship with her customers so that they continue to come back. She also feels strongly about family and hopes to keep Shisler's Cheese as a family affair. Her oldest son opened up his own Shisler's Cheese House in Copley, Ohio, which makes her very proud. She hopes to be able to pass on the business fully to her sons but don't worry, she does not plan on leaving any time soon. "I suppose I will be working till I'm 95," said Rita. "I have put my heart and soul into this business."
Shisler's Cheese House is located at 55 Kidron Road in Orrville. You can visit Shisler's seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Contact Rita at 330-682-1307 or visit www.cheesehouse.com for more information.