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Trailblazers

Time-tested Companies that Shaped Utah’s Past and are Defining its Future

By Tom Haraldsen

September 9, 2013


A tradition of pioneering spirit and true grit has built Utah into one of the nation’s strongest states for business. In our annual Trailblazers feature, we profile a group of lasting companies that have sustained a legacy of quality, integrity and endurance through economic ups and downs. Reaching back at least 50 years, these companies are not just exemplary for their longevity, but for their steadfast commitment to Utah’s economy and community.

Deseret Book

Established: 1866

Most everyone in Utah knows the name Deseret Book. It’s the largest book publisher for the Latter-day Saint market and operates bookstores in several Western states. What you might be surprised to know about this trailblazer is how diversified its operation is today. It’s now much more than just Deseret “books.”

Starting with its acquisition in 1999 of then rival publisher Bookcraft, Deseret Book has added several other arrows to its publishing quiver. In 2004 it acquired Excel Entertainment, a company known for its recording labels and movie productions. Then it purchased Seagull Book and Tape (another retail competitor) and Covenant Communications from Lewis Kofford in 2006. It has also continued to embellish its Shadow Mountain publishing and music division, and it created LDS Magazine.

Deseret Book also began producing events, like the Time Out for Women series. It has put on more than two dozen Time Out for Women events in the United States and Canada, and is looking to expand overseas in the next year.

Though the company has obviously dominated its niche in the marketplace, it has never been content to rest on its laurels.

“What we do best at Deseret Book is create new, innovative product and get it to the intended audience,” says President and CEO Sheri L. Dew, who was named to the post in 2002. “We look at how to craft something that hasn’t been done before, develop it and then distribute it.”

She attributes the company’s success to its workforce.

“The people who work here feel a sense of mission and purpose,” she says. “They embrace the ability to develop and distribute products that actually help people. There’s a strong service component to all we do.”

Though the company began publishing LDS fiction for the first time in the late ‘70s, Dew points to the past 10 years as the decade where “we pursued product for a more general audience in fiction.”

Today, Deseret Book’s publishing mix contains a fair amount of it, including a popular fantasy category. Dew says publishing the Fablehaven series from author Brandon Mull “was a calculated gamble. Heretofore, we would have said his series didn’t fit our genre. But fantasy is a great purveyor of values, and we’ve always been about publishing books that create and teach fundamental values.” The Fablehaven series continues to be a big seller for Deseret Book.

Another publishing innovation is so-called “proper” romance novels—G-rated books such as bestseller Edenbrooke from author Julianne Donaldson on the Shadow Mountain imprint.

“We’ve had such good response to a clean romance—great comments from national book reviewers,” Dew says. “We’ve received praise for doing something no one else has been consistently doing. We’re constantly looking for market gaps and new opportunities.”

The company is also moving heavily into digital. Its Deseret Bookshelf app for Android and Apple products has proven very popular, with more than 325 downloads to date.

“Our industry is in dramatic transformation,” Dew says, “but the opportunities have also never been greater. We’ll remain strong in developing our core and key product lines.”

 

Farr Better Ice Cream

Established: 1895

When Lorin Farr began harvesting ice in 1895 in Weber County, he had no idea the significance that frozen substance would have on his posterity, or on hundreds of thousands of Utah families since. But it was the genesis for what has become Farr Better Ice Cream.

Today, the company remains a family business—six generations worth of Farrs have worked or are working for the Utah-based company. And like his great-great-grandfather Lorin, Michael Farr remains focused on the same business philosophies that have made the company a success.

“We may look at that word, ‘success,’ a bit differently than most,” says Farr, who is president of Asael Farr and Sons Co., the parent company of Farr Better Ice Cream. “Obviously we need to be profitable like any business, but we view the decisions we make as part of something far greater—the legacy of our family business. We look backwards to see that legacy we carry on our shoulders, as well as forward to the future. Lots of businesses look at the next quarter as their measuring stick of success. We look ahead 25 years and feel the responsibility to maintain what others have built.”

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