In 1950, at the age of 31, Harry Lobalzo was working as a machinist for Oliver Iron and Steel in Pennsylvania. He and his wife Mary had a 6-year-old son Michael, and another son Richard on the way. Realizing the cost of raising a growing family, he began a second job working part time for a Gulf gas station near their home in Bethel Park, PA. Gulf Oil had a promotion of paying its attendants 50 cents for each tire that they sold. That spring, a salesman stopped for gas, and Harry noticed that his tires were badly worn. He asked, “what do you do for a living?” The salesman responded that he was in sales for Hobart Food Machines. Harry said, “you must drive a lot.” The salesman responded, “you bet!” Harry told the Hobart salesman that he should have a good set of tires, and sold him four tires on the spot. The Hobart salesman told Harry that he should be selling something other than tires and that he could really do much better financially. And so the story begins.
Harry took a week’s vacation and rode with the owner of the Hobart office in Pittsburgh to learn the business of selling food-processing equipment. After three days, Harry asked if he could venture out on his own and was given the green light. On his first day he sold two pieces of Hobart equipment: a cube steak tenderizer and a meat slicer. Making those sales were not easy to do during those days due to the weak economy. With Harry’s newest success, his family celebrated with cherry pop and vanilla ice cream.
During the next four years Harry continued to break sales records and become one of Hobart Corporation’s leading salesmen. In 1954, Harry requested his own Hobart office and was offered Albany, New York or Akron, Ohio. Both Mary and Harry were from large, close-knit Italian families, and although Albany seemed the better choice, Akron was only a short 90-minute drive to their families. That 90-minute trip was made many, many times over the years.
In February 1954, the family began their move. There was, however, one major problem - to secure the office and sales territory, it would have to be purchased. Hobart agreed to finance part of the acquisition by withholding part of his commissions. Even with selling their Bethel Park home, there just was not enough money to make the purchase. Harry asked his father for a loan of two thousand dollars, a very difficult thing to do because his father was not in agreement with him leaving a secure environment. With that loan, the young Lobalzo family rented an inner city house and made the move.
Times were difficult for the family, money was short, and the adjustment to the inner city was disheartening coming from a rural farm community in Pennsylvania. Harry wore many hats and worked late hours because the company could not afford staff, let alone a secretary. A solution was found by having Mary become the company secretary. Harry’s son, Michael, would walk from school to the office and clean the machines for ten cents a unit. Meanwhile, Rick began kindergarten and was spared the “hard labor.”
The next several years brought continued growth both in size and profitability. The office was relocated twice to larger and better locations along with the addition of more service and sales personnel. In 1963, Michael attended Hobart Sales School and worked part-time throughout his college years. Following college graduation, Michael began his full time career in the family business. His wife Jean became the office administrator, which gave Harry’s wife Mary a well-deserved respite from the business. In 1972, son Rick joined the business after earning his degree from the Ohio State University.
Harry and his sons moved their offices to Montrose, Ohio in 1976. At that time, Montrose was a remote area on the outskirts of Akron. Being a visionary, Richard found a piece of property that they all agreed to purchase. The property turned out to be a great investment for the family. Since that time, the real estate division, aptly named Mic-Ric, has become the developer/owner of several properties in the greater Akron area.
During the mid to late seventies, Michael noticed that the parent company, Hobart Corporation, was acquiring more independent agencies and converting them into company owned branch offices. At that time, the Lobalzo’s felt it would be a smart move to start an independent division. The division would be cleverly called HMR for Harry, Mike and Rick. A manufacturer of pressure fryers gave HMR exclusivity for the sale and distribution of their products. This led to developing the company’s own chicken breading, a very successful item that has continued to be a profitable segment of the business.
Opportunities arose through this second division that added many other product lines. Mike became interested in the design of supermarket departments, especially those that dealt with perishable items. HMR began adding more products in order to offer a complete package of equipment and design work to the supermarket industry.
Around the same time, Rick became interested in business computers and helped the company become the first Hobart office to automate with an IBM 5110. Another business division called Innotech Systems was set up at that time so that the company could become a “re-marketer” for IBM. Although this venture was short lived, it helped serve as a foundation for the extensive use of computers and data throughout the organization. Many Hobart Corporate administrators and staff, as well as independent agencies, visited Hobart Akron to learn the IT systems so they could develop and build out their own systems. From that date forward, along with the success of HMR, Hobart Akron is viewed as being a model and one of the most successful, progressive independent offices of its kind.
In the 1980s, the company found another opportunity in the sales and service of commercial ice machines. Rick took on the task of developing a foundation in this arena, which involved different stocking and market strategies. The division would be a re-branding of the name “Innotech," from to its former computer division. The Innotech division is now one of Scotsman’s top Distributors.