Cherry Republic

Success with The Center

CHERRY REPUBLIC: Sustaining Culture With Standardized Training

We engaged The Center-NL because we’re really good at marketing, selling and operating the company, but not so good at training development. We just didn’t have the expertise. We engaged the team to create and execute, then check and adjust.
-- Todd Ciolek, CEO, Cherry Republic

In 1989, Bob Sutherland started selling t-shirts sporting the motto “Life, Liberty, Beaches and Pie” out of the trunk of his car. Today, 31 years later, that motto and the company he founded – Cherry Republic – now sells more than 200 cherry-based products at five retail locations across the state (Ann Arbor, Charlevoix, Frankenmuth, Holland, Traverse City). Cherry Republic ( is headquartered in Glen Arbor, Mich., where it employs 100.


Since those early t-shirt days, the company has built a reputation and created a culture that goes far beyond cherries – working to instill core values into each employee. But as the company’s workforce has expanded to meet business growth, it has also grappled with sustaining its unique culture and values throughout its workforce. It also has experienced inconsistencies in its service levels.

The company is “rich in its values,” said Todd Ciolek, Cherry Republic CEO, noting that trying to get all staff to understand those values, in particular those individuals only hired for seasonal work, is especially challenging. “We had new staff jumping in without depth of knowledge, not just of their particular role but also of those values.”


Image for Cherry Republic

Cherry Republic turned to the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center – Northern Lower (The Center-NL) located in Traverse City for help improving its talent development approach. Building on earlier work helping Cherry Republic leaders design an initial onboarding process, business advisors at The Center-NL consulted with company leadership to rebuild the onboarding training module. This resulted in the creation of a new product called CR 101, a day-long training session dedicated to exploring company values, products offered and how the company “works” its values every day.

“Fun, with engaging activities,” said Nicole Agruda, Human Resources Director, of the revamped CR 101. “It’s a really unique experience.”

As an extension of this project, The Center-NL staff developed and delivered an online version for when in-person training is not feasible. Overall, eight sessions of the CR 101 program were delivered in 2018 and 2019. Additionally, a training module recently was added to communicate safety protocols specific to COVID-19 as part of the Preparedness Response Plan as employees return to work after the shutdown.


  • 20% increase in employee retention (seasonal workforce returning for next season)
  • 15 to 20% increase in labor productivity due to process efficiencies and employee morale
  • 20 to 30% decrease in customer service issues (i.e. rework for incorrect orders)