While selling fruit and landscaping supplies side-by-side doesn’t seem like the most cohesive combination, that’s exactly how Bob’s Apple Barrel Bark earned a name for itself in the Wenatchee Valley.
The business is now located alongside Highway 97A.
Despite its current landscaping focus, Bob’s began by selling only fruit in 1977.
“I was mowing 100 acres of orchard, and sitting on a tractor got kind of boring. I decided to open a fruit stand because I owned some property along the highway and the more I sat there thinking about it and daydreaming about doing, the more pumped up I got. I said ‘you know what, I’m gonna do it.’ That was the first step,” Bob Spanjer, the original owner of the business, said. “I started designing a building, I sat down and figured out how big I wanted it, and I opened it up. I knew nothing about retail, so I had to learn.”
The location along the highway made it easy to spot, and it wasn’t long until business boomed.
“It was such a neat thing: within a couple weeks, I was understaffed, undersized, and understocked,” Bob said. “I had a beautiful location on Highway 2, and it just was a natural place for people to pull in. That was what got the ball rolling.”
The fruit stand got the landscaping side tacked on to it incidentally after some time.
“I needed some bark to do some landscaping around the fruit stand. I hauled a couple of loads out of the mill and dumped it there beside the highway. I didn’t get right at it, and a week late the mill had changed varieties. The new stuff was real ugly-looking. People didn’t like what they saw, and they asked me if they could buy my bark,” Bob said. “Having the landscaping supply side was a good compliment to the fruit stand business because I was there seven days a week.”
Unfortunately, Bob couldn’t keep his stellar location between Wenatchee and Cashmere forever, and he was forced to move.
The fruit stand burned down, and the people who bought the property told me I needed to move. I found this location, and purchased an acre of commercial. I set up, hauled everything I had in Cashmere up here, and it was amazing,” Bob said. “This thing just mushroomed. The phone just started ringing. It covers both East Wenatchee and Wenatchee as well as the upper valley.”
The fruit stand business did not carry over to the new location, however.
“I was kind of burnt out on the fruit end of it. I wanted to semi-retire, so I had no desire to continue it,” Bob said. “I had people pulling into buy fruit anyway. I had the fruit stand for 27 years, and it sold a lot of fruit. I had the best price on fruit in the valley. I was well known for giving a good price on all fruit.”
Bob didn’t have much trouble bring attention to his new location with his giant sign. Once he got people coming to his location, he kept people coming back with his customer-friendly policy.
“I tried to make sure that they would get the best measure of anyone in the valley. When I gave them a scoop, I gave them a heaping scoop,” Bob Spanjer said. … I had a contract at the mill where I got all the bark. I had hundreds of yards of barks, and so giving someone a good deal wasn’t a problem. They loved it.”
“I said that I will always have bark. No matter where I have to go to get it, I will always have it available. People are always in to refresh their beds. It chokes weeds, and it’s our number one seller.”
As most of their products require some outdoors work, Bob’s gets flooded with business in spring.
“As soon as the snow melts, watch out. You need a good week of warm weather, and then the phone starts ringing,” Bob said. “In the fall, you get into a lot of gravel and pest control supplies.”
The two seasons are broken up by a July lull, when the weather is too warm for people to want to work outside.
“A lot of kids are getting into home improvement projects,” Bob’s son and current owner Dave Spanjer said. “Young professionals are doing their own landscaping work because it’s fulfilling for them to do it themselves.”
Dave returned to Wenatchee after working in the restaurant business in Chelan.
Working for yourself can be stressful, but Bob’s positive attitude and passion for what he does carried him through it.
“You have to enjoy what you are doing,” Bob said. “You do get burnt out when dealing with the public, or when you are hiring part-time employees. We always lose a lot of good workers to full-time jobs. There are a lot of things that are very stressful, but I loved it, and the public can see that when they come in and work with you. I love people.”
Now that he has taken the reins, Dave is looking for some ways to solve some of the stressful aspects of the business, especially part-time hiring.
“I would like to take away the seasonal part of it by offering winter services. That would allow me to have a better pool of employees in the valley and keep some long term help,” Dave said. “We could create a market for some ice melt materials, so those are some future endeavors that we’re working on. … We need a full-working shop to repair things, because things will break if you’re using them in the wintertime.”
No matter what changes, customers can still count on receiving the same quality of product, and the customer-first business practices that have kept Bob’s Apple Barrel Bark alive for 40 years.
“When you have a good product and stay with it, it’s amazing what word-of-mouth can do,” Bob said. “You have to listen to your customers.”