The Cow is a family-owned ice cream and burger institution on Rt 56 in Alum Bank, PA. It was my first “real” job and I learned many vital lessons working there. Not only did I learn the value of customer service and excellent product quality, but I had a front-row seat to the Claycombs’ incredible work ethic. The only notable downside of me working at The Cow was that I ate my way through my paychecks as I indulged my sweet tooth.
Debbie was my main, day-to-day boss and a second-generation Claycomb. Her dad, Stanley and her mom, Dale, started The Cow. They all were excellent people to work for. I look up to Debbie a lot and was excited when she agreed to an interview. Her words hold a lot of wisdom. I hope you savor them as much as you'd savor an ice cream cone on a hot day in August.
1. How many years have you worked at/run The Cow?
I first started working at The Cow when I was 13 years old and continued until I graduated high school. I came back to work at The Cow in 1998 after living in New Jersey for 20 years. My interim profession was a florist. My former husband and I owned and operated five flower shops as well as a design school. So my current run is 17 years.
2. What has been the most valuable lesson you've learned in that time?
When I first started as the manager, I think I was high strung and had an attitude, maybe that came from living in New Jersey, but nevertheless I think I thought I knew it all, having already owned five flower shops. My Dad taught me that there were ways to accomplish the desired results with a more diplomatic approach. He never lectured me. I learned by example in how he would handle certain issues and get the exact results I was looking for without being demanding or getting angry with someone. He taught me that I needed to step back and get a different perspective. He also taught me that instead of forcing the issues, give things a little time and see how situations often times played out on their own without a lot of conflict. He also placed great emphasis on the customer. Making sure they would be able to afford the products we sold - even to the extent that he took less profit in order to do so. He wasn't out to make a killing in money. He wanted to offer a fun place to go have a burger and some ice cream for the community. I have continued to follow his policy and found ways to be profitable as well. The parking lot is always full so I think he got that right!
3. What is something others would be surprised to know about your experience in business?
Perhaps that my real profession was a florist! I'm self taught and I never planned to be in the food industry but sometimes life takes you down a road you hadn't planned on... that's what happened to me.
4. Working with family can be hard at times. What has been most helpful in maintaining healthy relationships and a healthy business?
We have broad shoulders. We get very busy and things get hectic so when it ramps up, there is a chance that it’s going to get a little hairy in the kitchen or in the ice cream part. We bark orders and make demands but in the end when we close the door and go home all is forgotten and tomorrow is a new day. We don't take things that happen at work personally. We know that it is the nature of the beast, so to speak, and ultimately we as a family are all driven by the success we have and that is our top priority. Our desire to continue our parents legacy is what keeps us balanced and focused. We all contribute in different segments of the business for the benefit of the whole. As a family, our parents instilled in us that family is the most important thing; that we can have disagreements but in the end when somebody needs something we will always be there for each other and work together.
5. Where do you find your motivation to stay in it when times are hard?
My motivation comes from honoring my mom and dad. I wanted to work in the business again and my dad gave me the chance. However, the title manager didn’t come with it. He told me that he was still the boss! I took on more and more responsibilities as time passed and spent more time there as well. I worked to prove myself and help mom and dad improve on finances as well as other issues that seemed to be holding the business back. They began to rely on me heavily in the later years and I never wanted to let them down. I promised I would keep The Cow going and not let anything happen to it. My daughter has stepped in to help as well with the same dedication and love for what they created. She has taken the marketing/public relations/IT part to a whole new level for us and it is exciting to see the response from that. The volume of business we have is rewarding and greatly appreciated. So when I get frustrated with employees not doing their job, inventory not coming in, or from being so tired that I don't know which end is up, I remind myself that we are a success and very much loved by our customers; and that is a phenomenal tribute to mom and dad.
I admire Debbie's selfless motivation to honor her parents. I'm so thankful for all the wisdom and humility she shared. Also, it’s really encouraging to hear her commitment to work out the second generation of quality, community-serving business at The Cow.
The Cow really is a wonderful establishment - check them out on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Even if you don’t live in the area, the deliciousness of their photos may be enough to lure you into a road trip.