It’s been said that change is the only constant in life. The Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association certainly has navigated many industry and policy changes over its 70-year history. Yet it also boasts years of steady leadership, growth and service.
“In recent years, the PFMA family has grown to include many representatives of the candy, tobacco and beverage industries; gaming companies; and specialty food distributors,” said Dave McCorkle, past PFMA president. “The growth has made PFMA’s message to policy makers even stronger.”
McCorkle had his first brush with PFMA in 1982. At the time, President Al Vicks requested a presentation on a new statewide crime prevention initiative developed by Gov. Dick Thornburgh. McCorkle presented with Philadelphia’s then-District Attorney Ed Rendell on behalf of the organization.
“Ed’s presentation was particularly effective, and PFMA became a major supporter of the statewide crime prevention initiative,” McCorkle said. “Several months later, I accepted a position in PFMA’s Harrisburg office, and in 1986 became president upon Al’s retirement.”
In McCorkle’s 34 years as president, the association continued to prioritize public safety, crime prevention, loss prevention and organized retail crime prosecution. “PFMA has led efforts over the decades to increase penalties for passing bad checks and dealing with organized crime,” he said.
“Never having worked in a grocery store or a convenience store, I learned a great deal about the operations of our members’ stores and how the state and federal governments could impact how our members run their stores,
Several PFMA staff served the association for decades under McCorkle’s tenure. Autumn Thomas (right) joined PFMA in 1988, taking an entry-level position with Pennsylvania Coupon Redemption Services (PCRS). She moved onto several roles and projects at the association and currently serves as president of PCRS.
The creation of PCRS and MEMO were two major developments for PFMA, she said. “These for-profit subsidiaries provided association members, particularly independent food retailers, with important business services. It provided the association with millions of dollars in revenue over the years to support government relations and membership programs.”
Thomas said the Scanning Certification Program and Responsible Tobacco Sale Certification Program also were significant wins for PFMA. She worked to research, analyze and collect data on scanner accuracy and compliance with tobacco sales to learn what worked and what didn’t. Thanks to this evidence-based approach and the support of various PFMA stakeholders, Thomas said both programs earned national recognition.
“Both of these were innovative programs that improved members’ policies and operations,” said Randy St. John (right), who helped to create the programs with Thomas. St. John joined PFMA in 1989 as vice president of membership development, then oversaw membership and government relations as senior vice president.
“Never having worked in a grocery store or a convenience store, I learned a great deal about the operations of our members’ stores and how the state and federal governments could impact how our members run their stores,” he said. PFMA’s work was particularly important because its members were so impacted by government regulations and laws, he added.
While St. John was lobbying, he helped lay the groundwork for the reform of beer and wine sales in food retail locations. Elizabeth Peroni (left), past director of communications, said that was a large undertaking by PFMA staff. “That was a big issue that we worked on for years and years,” Peroni said.
In her 24 years with PFMA, Peroni was impressed by how hard members worked. “They were very passionate about the industry. It was always a joy to talk to our members, and we had many multigenerational families who started by sweeping floors when they were kids.”
There were challenges, of course, but overall, everyone worked well together. And Peroni noted how nice it was to have a consistent, core group involved on the PFMA board for so many years.
Thomas experienced plenty of change in operations. When she first started, PCRS had close to 20 employees and did much of the work manually. Fax machines were the latest technology, and the internet wasn’t yet available. “Back in the mid-90s, PCRS had employees working from 4 a.m. to midnight to keep up with producing the various client payments and support documents, all of which were paper,” she said. “We currently have two employees in the PFMA office as we’ve been able to automate many of the functions previously handled by staff.”
After all their hard work, staff also found time to socialize. Thomas recalled costumed Halloween parties, summer picnics and staff appreciation days where upper management washed employees’ cars. “We were there to do a job, but there was recognition of us putting in the hours. A good effort was made to create an employee-first culture and have some fun.”
She also appreciates the support, autonomy and flexibility developed at PFMA. “The life/work balance has always been good and has only gotten better.”
McCorkle is proud of the work he’s witnessed and said PFMA is set up for success in the future.
“Everyone should be pleased that PFMA directors and staff have accomplished impressive management and program objectives, and that members fully support the annual Ridge Scholarship,” he said. “PFMA’s Board of Directors and elected leaders have provided extraordinary volunteer service to the association, resulting in a solid foundation for addressing emerging issues.”