Utah man, legally blind, overcomes rejection, disappointment to build successful vending business
By Jessica Ivins, KSL.com Contributor | Posted – Mar. 27, 2021 at 2:11 p.m.
WEST VALLEY CITY — Steve Grogan is known to many of his customers as the candy man.
As the founder and owner of Grogan Vending Services, Grogan has spent the last 16 years distributing sweet snacks, chips, candy and other concessions to businesses and buildings across the Salt Lake Valley.
“We do a little Tylenol if you have a headache if your boss is rough on you,” he joked.
Grogan loves his job and loves the relationships he’s been able to build.
“I think the most important part of business is the integrity and the ways that you interact with your customers,” he said. “You want to leave people with a good taste in their mouth for what you’ve done and treat them fairly.”
Along with his sweet southern drawl and jovial personality, Grogan has another significant trait that sets him apart: He’s been legally blind since the age of 11.
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“I can tell day and night, I can see shadows and some shapes, but I work in conjunction with people who have been trained to help me,” he said.
Grogan knew life wouldn’t be easy, but he was ready to fight hard to make it great.
After graduating from his Tennessee high school, he learned to pour concrete and applied for a job with the state.
“I went for the physical and the guy said, ‘You’re blind,’ and I said, ‘Yep,'” Grogan said.
The man told him if he could get glasses to correct his vision, he could have the job. Grogan assured him he would sign a waiver, but the boss insisted he couldn’t take that kind of risk.
Grogan’s next attempt at steady work was with the post office.
“I applied to get the lowest job on the totem pole,” he said. “I wanted to unload trucks all day long.”
Even after making his case to the postmaster, who had the ability to hire a handful of people without going through the standard process, Grogan was told once again that he was just too big of a risk.
Instead of giving up, Grogan pushed forward.
“After those two major rejections, which I thought were opportunities for me to use my physical abilities, I got introduced to sales by an uncle of mine,” he said.
Grogan began selling furniture and finally realized he could make a living on his own terms. He spent the next decade or so building up his own clientele.
“As a result of that, I was able to build an 80,000 square foot warehouse and sell products all over the Southeast,” he said.
Blind people are just like everyone else. We may go about doing things a little bit differently, but we’re all after the same result: an opportunity to make a living, have a family and enjoy life.
Grogan hired six employees and bought two trucks to run his furniture business, which he sold 16 years ago when he decided to make the move to Salt Lake City. As he considered his next venture, he knew he’d need to blaze his own trail once again.
“If I work for myself, and if I’m willing to work hard enough to get the job done, then I don’t ever have to worry about looking for another job,” Grogan said. “I don’t have to depend on somebody else thinking what I’m doing is acceptable.”
After speaking to several friends in Tennessee who worked in the vending business, Grogan decided to make a go of it himself.
“I thought that would be fun, that would be interesting,” he said. “That’s not like lifting file cabinets and desks, that’s only potato chips and drinks!”
Grogan Vending specializes in Micro Markets (custom-designed vending markets or marts with a self-checkout kiosk), office pantries (company break rooms stocked with all manner of snacks, lunch items and beverages) and vending machines.
Along the way, Grogan has worked hard to foster relationships founded on trust and commitment. He appreciates every chance he’s given to make a customer happy, and he doesn’t let his disability get in the way of the hustle.
“Blind people are just like everyone else,” he said. “We may go about doing things a little bit differently, but we’re all after the same result: an opportunity to make a living, have a family and enjoy life. That may cause some of us to have to get up an hour earlier and work an hour later, but I’ve always felt like I was privileged to have that opportunity to go out and serve people in business.”
Grogan runs his business with his wife, Tonia. The two met at an interactive dinner theater production of Pride and Prejudice about six years ago, in which Tonia was playing Mrs. Bennett.
“I was just sitting there, minding my own business when Mrs. Bennett kept coming up to me and asking me to dance,” he said.
Mrs. Bennett made quite the impression on Grogan — he did some digging and found out that she sold DoTerra oils. He hatched a plan to call her about buying some oils to help him sleep. The rest is history.
“Me and Mrs. Bennett have been married about five years now,” he said.
“It’s a great love story,” Tonia Grogan said.
While Grogan is no stranger to obstacles, the pandemic has proven to be very sour for the candy man — business is down over 60%. But he’s never given up before and has no intention of doing so now.
“When you’re a business with a disability, you always get impacted a little bit more,” Grogan said. “We’re still here. We hope to still be here in the future. We hope to find new customers and rebuild our business.”
After all, Grogan is all about creating opportunities when there appear to be none.
“Because people wouldn’t let me have a chance, I had to create my own opportunities and my own chances,” he said. “It’s worked out much better for me than if I was pouring concrete or lifting mailbags.”