Looped In: with special guest, Jeff Vukelic

In this episode, Lisa Munter talks with Luke Vukelic from Saratoga Eagle Sales & Services

looped in podcast


Lisa: Welcome everyone to Looped in with Knitt. Today I am talking with my friend Jeff Vukelic, President and CEO of Saratoga Eagle Sales & Services. Welcome Jeff.

Jeff Vukelic: Thank you, Lisa. Nice to be here.

Lisa: Yes, thank you so much for your time today. I was mentioning to Paul that I was like, wow, my relationship with you goes back, what, 20 years ago? Have you been in the area now for 20 years?

Jeff Vukelic: Almost 20 years since I've moved here. It was in 2005. We've known each other since we moved here. Yeah, incredible.

Lisa: Yes, you do many wonderful things for our community. Would you like to just take a minute and just tell our audience what you do at Saratoga Eagle, and who you are?

Jeff Vukelic: Yeah, sure. Okay. I'm a third generation family business owner running a fourth generation business. My grandfather started the business in 1928. We're in beverage distribution, so we service over 40 counties in upstate New York from Buffalo all the way to Albany, bringing refreshing products such as beer, Red Bull, we bring vodka, liquor, any kind of beverage you can think of, we handle, we distribute it in upstate New York.

Lisa: Well, I know that me and my family, we definitely take advantage of what you are able to supply to our community, so we appreciate you being here for sure.

Jeff Vukelic: You guys are good customers.

Lisa: Yes. We won't say for what beverage, but we'll just keep that between us, but anyways-

Jeff Vukelic: Fair.

Lisa: You mentioned something, you obviously service a wide geographic area within New York State, and so why is making connections and building relationships so important to what you do?

Jeff Vukelic: Yeah, it's a great question. It's really part of our business model. It's part of who we are as a family, and really, it's business in general. Business is about making connections, having those relationships, those personal connections. I can't sell beverages without making a personal type connection, so it's really hand to hand connections, I guess I call it. We've always been in that business and have always been in the relationship business. I think most businesses are like that way, but especially the beverage business and beer business. Beer, I would say brings people together. Beverages brings people together and that builds relationships.

Lisa: Absolutely. I couldn't agree with that more. Why is making connections and building relationships so important to what you do?

Jeff Vukelic: Yeah, I think it's essence of what we do. I've got over 700 people that work for us on a daily basis that make those connections. Whether it's a salesman going to a bar or to a restaurant meeting the owner or the driver delivering that order, they're making those personal connections. I make personal connections every day. My people make personal connections every day. It's the business that we're in and I would believe most businesses are like that, most business is about making people connections and getting to know people.

Lisa: Absolutely. Now, speaking of that, it's important to be connected within your business, but Saratoga Eagle & Sales and Service is so philanthropic within our community. From the very beginning, when you've been here 20 years ago, you see your name involved in everything, your family and your business. Why is giving back to your community so important to you and to your company?

Jeff Vukelic: It's a great question. I go back to my days when I first got into business and just watching my dad in the business and what he did in the community, and I learned a lot from him. He always encouraged us to get involved in the community, whether it's non-for-profits , whether it's getting involved in politics or whatever the case may be. He always felt, and he always taught us, and I truly believe this, that the more you give, the more you get back, and I think I've found that here in Saratoga Springs, and since I've been here for almost 17 years is, I found that making those connections, whether it's with the YMCA, with SPAC, all these non-for-profits that I've been able to participate on the board with is that I've been able to give, but they've been able to give back to me as well. That's my connection to organizations and communities. I just like those personal connections knowing that, listen, I don't expect anything back, but it ends up coming back.

Lisa: Yes, I love that, and specifically, how does Saratoga Eagle give back? Through donations, volunteer, partnerships, can you go into a little bit more detail about that?

Jeff Vukelic: I sure can. Typical, what we do is obviously, donations are a big part of what we do and we're making those connections with certain non-for-profits. There's a lot of need in this community for dollars. I understand that, but also, there's a lot of need for, whether it be a product donation, something as simple as five or six cases of water. It goes a long way for even the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, those types of organizations, but also volunteer time. This weekend we're going to be volunteering up at the Hudson River. We're going to be cleaning up the river. We've got a troop of volunteers going up to clean the river banks of the Hudson. Those types of things, well again, that's community, that's bringing people together. That's bringing our people together, making those connections with that organization that's cleaning the river. It's all three and they all three have a major impact.

Lisa: Yeah, and I love what you said about that. You even bring it, funnel it down even to your employees, and giving that experience of the importance of giving back and that opportunity that maybe they wouldn't know existed, and I know personally speaking from some of the nonprofits that I serve on the board with, that you have been very generous with your time and your donations and definitely, your impact is felt across the community for sure.

Jeff Vukelic: I was going to say, and part of that giving back, too, is just those connections that I've made. It could be with yourself or other friends in the community that belong to these organizations. I'm able to give back because they're my friends and I want to support them, and they work with great organizations that are in need.

Lisa: Yes. In your opinion, what are some of the challenges donors face when it comes to supporting nonprofits?

Jeff Vukelic: Yeah, it's a great question, Lisa. I would say, when I think about that question, I think there's some donor fatigue out there, and what I mean by that is, I think some organizations continue to go back to the same people asking for the same donation every year. I'm not saying that's a bad thing and that can continue, but I just think there's-

Lisa: Yes.

Jeff Vukelic: Listen, you can't expect a large donation every single year, but there are people out there that could give a smaller donation, that over time if you cultivate that relationship would be able to give a bigger donation because they're in different portions of their career or their business cycle by being in a different place, but as they grow and get to know the organization, they're able to contribute more and give more over time.

Lisa: Absolutely. I really liked what you said earlier about the importance of you giving back to those organizations and in turn, they give back to you. That brings me to my next question, in your opinion, what are the key components to a sustainable relationship between a donor and a nonprofit?

Jeff Vukelic: Yeah, I would just say open communication and just honesty, and just knowing what's going on with those organizations. Listen, if I want information, I should be able to get it from that organization and have a contact person, someone who has that personal touch. A lot of organizations have that, so if I'm able to establish that and there might be something that I might need from the organization over time, making those connections. There might be something they might need to do for me, and so it's nice to have that personal connection to be able to, I wouldn't say take advantage of that situation, but it might be something in need that I might be able to use from them.

Lisa: Absolutely. Is there something you would like nonprofits to do or know before they connect with you that would be helpful?

Jeff Vukelic: I would just say the thing that's helpful for us as an organization and for me personally, is just making sure that if you're requesting a donation, just to have all the information together. I want to know what you need, whether it's money, product, and we have a way of doing that. We have a website. You can upload all your information to our website. It's organized, and that way it's easy for me to look at. You can pick up the phone and call me if you know me and I'm happy to do that, but nine times out of 10 I say, "That's great, but can you just go to our website and put it through our website? Because that's how we keep track of all our donations and all of our contributions and it's just easier that way," so that would be something simple for someone to do. As far as what my passion points are, I'm passionate about people and I'm passionate about helping people. Our focus as organization right now is helping people in need, and I'll give you just a quick example. I'm on the board of AIM services and that organization does amazing things for people who are trying to reach their potential. It's people who are not capable of doing that, but they need help from other people. That to me, makes a difference, when you can just help somebody who really typically can't help themselves all the time, but want to. Those are the organizations, those are the people that I want to support. I would say the same thing with the homeless people. The homeless is certainly somewhat of a passion of mine. I want to help get those people out the street, get them the help they need so they can move on with their lives, whatever that might be, and we got a long ways to go to do that, but that's just something that's passionate to me.

Lisa: I love that. That's why you're one of my favorite people because of where your passion lies and the importance that you see in giving back and trying to be the brightest light that you can, so I do appreciate that for sure, and it definitely is noted in our community and thank you for that.

Jeff Vukelic: Well, that's nice of you to say. Nice of you to say. I appreciate that.

Lisa: Finally, in closing, obviously you are the President and CEO of Saratoga Eagle. Sometimes people like they think of Saratoga Eagle as just this, it's a company. It's this large company in our community, but sometimes they don't have a chance to really get to know the people behind the name of the company, and that is an important reason why maybe some people would love to connect with your company in general, so in closing, what is one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?

Jeff Vukelic: That's a great question. There's not a lot of secrets that I have, but I will tell you this, I do have a passion for politics. It's a sport right now, and when I graduated, right before I graduated college, I had an internship on Capitol Hill, and I got to meet President Reagan. I was the person that before his State of the Union speech, I had to go up to him and say, "Mr. President, it's time to make your speech," and he turned around and he looked at me and said, "Son, you're doing a great job," and that to me, that was one of the highlights of my life to meet President Reagan and be able to tell him he's got to go make his speech. It was pretty cool.

Lisa: Oh my gosh. Yeah, that that's going to be hard to top, I think. That is fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing that, and thank you for giving me your time today. It's always a pleasure talking with you, and I look forward to seeing you out in the community very soon.