Distributing Success

CSNews' inaugural Wholesaler Excellence Awards honor four outstanding convenience distributors

As the convenience store industry grows more and more complex, retailers are relying on their distributors to be far more than just a deliverer of goods. Today's convenience wholesalers support their clients by maintaining competitive pricing, ensuring on-time deliveries, offering innovative marketing programs, sharing merchandising expertise and much more.

Last year, Convenience Store News' sister publication, Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner, introduced an awards program to recognize those wholesalers providing the best service, value and partnership to the industry's independent operators. This year, CSNews introduces its own version of the Wholesaler Excellence Awards for chain operators.

The inaugural CSNews Wholesaler Excellence Awards honor companies in five key performance areas. To identify the best of the best, CSNews conducted a poll among its retailer subscribers with two or more stores and asked them to nominate the distributors that excel in each of the five different categories. From those responses, the winners were chosen based on the number of times a company was mentioned and the quality of the supporting reasons given.

The first-ever CSNews Wholesaler Excellence Awards winners are:

  • Best Inventory Control: McLane Co. Inc.
  • Best Partnership Relationship With Retailers: McLane Co. Inc.
  • Best Planograming for Profits: H.T. Hackney Co.
  • Best Product Education & Sales Literature: Core-Mark Holding Co. Inc.
  • Best Speed to Market: Eby-Brown Co.

Read on for individual profiles of this year's award-winning distributors.

Best Partnership Relationship With Retailers: McLane Co. Inc.

The votes are in, and convenience store retailers selected McLane Co. as the convenience distributor that best builds relationships with them.

Specifically, respondents to CSNews' Wholesaler Excellence Awards survey commended McLane's communication with retailers and service quality. "The company is extremely versatile and is very good with customer service," one retailer commented.

A good partnership comes from having a clear understanding of each company's business objectives, with both parties recognizing that for a relationship to succeed and strengthen, both sides must achieve success, according to McLane. "It must be a collaborative approach with a willingness to invest in each other," a company spokesman explained.

The first step is to understand the specific needs and strategic direction of the customer. From there, McLane can focus its efforts on matching current tools, processes and capabilities to address the objectives — or to develop new ones to meet those needs.

"One size does not fit all, and our goal is to develop solutions that meet the unique needs of our customers," the McLane spokesman noted.

The McLane Lab Store is a prime example of the wholesaler's collaborative approach to category management. "Growing in-store sales is a primary objective of all retailers and is critical to the health of the wholesale and manufacturing community," said the spokesman. "In years past, category management was a manufacturer-driven, self-serving process. McLane believes that the wholesaler's role in category management is to provide the tools, information and environment necessary to facilitate the development of an unbiased, consumer-driven approach that enhances retailer offerings and grows in-store sales."

With the McLane process, retail partners have access to one of the most robust industry data warehouses available. This data is then combined with retailer data, geographic segmentation, manufacturer input and available syndicated data.

"The McLane Lab Store offering and analytical process have seen tremendous acceptance by the retailer community, such that McLane has now doubled the size and capabilities of the Lab Store in order to support nearly 100 retailer visits a year," the spokesman concluded.

— Melissa Kress

Best Inventory Control: McLane Co. Inc.

A convenience store retailer may offer the best mix of products to appeal to all customer segments, but it's a major drawback if an item is not on the shelf when a customer walks through the door. The store risks losing the customer's business that day, as well as getting his or her repeat business in the future.

On the other hand, having too much of an item that doesn't move off the shelf is also a problem for c-store retailers. That's where its wholesaler partnerships come into play.

McLane Co. was heralded by the retailers responding to CSNews' survey as a company that helps c-stores track their inventory. Respondents cited the convenience distributor's accuracy and technology when nominating McLane as the best at inventory control.

"They are technologically advanced and always moving forward to better achieve results in [inventory] control," one retailer commented.

According to McLane, inventory is one of the greatest challenges in the supply chain.

"Retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers all have a vested interest in ensuring that the right product, in the right amount, is in the store at the right time to meet consumer needs," a McLane spokesman explained. "Excess inventory is a drain on cash flow and out-of-stocks are lost profitability. Through the use and continued development of technology, we help our retailers and our manufacturers better manage inventory through the supply chain."

For example, McLane's Smart Handheld and Premium Order Management Suite platform gives retailers access to the information that's necessary to better manage in-store inventory and order processes for thousands of products.

"Just as important is how we leverage our proprietary technology. [We] examine the inventory requirements, purchase history, trends and each customer's movement to build the inventory in each of our 21 distribution centers to achieve our turn objectives, while at the same time, maintaining the highest service level in the industry," the company spokesman noted. "Our customers know the value of getting what they order every time they order, and how our service level translates into better sales and profits for them."

— Melissa Kress

Best Speed to Market: Eby-Brown Co.

When it comes to providing early visibility and efficient distribution of new products, Eby-Brown tops the list, according to retailers who chose the company as winner in the Best Speed to Market category.

Headquartered in Naperville, Ill., Eby-Brown is one of the largest U.S. convenience distributors, servicing approximately 13,000 retail locations throughout the Midwest and eastern half of the United States. Seventy percent of its customers are chain operators, and 30 percent are independents.

"We exist for a very simple purpose: to service our retail partners. Our goal will always be to set our priorities to meet their needs and provide resources to them that can help increase their sales and profitability," said John Scardina, senior vice president of merchandising. "Customer service is a critical component of this process and each member of our organization, from our sales people to our operational staff to our merchandising and procurement group, all play a role each and every day delivering on the commitment that the 'customer is second only to God.'"

This motto is a part of Eby-Brown's Tree House Rules, which were created by current co-presidents and CEOs Dick and Tom Wake to be the framework for the wholesaler's corporate culture. The No. 1 Tree House Rule is urgency. As the company states, "We have a sense of urgency in everything we do. We don't talk about it — we do it and do it now!"

Staying true to this rule, Eby-Brown distributes a weekly e-mail called "Speed to Market" that provides retailers new product information weeks ahead of vendor availability. This communication helps retailers be "first on the street" with new items, according to Scardina.

"We realized about five or six years ago that we needed a better way to keep our retailers informed about new items," he said. "Once we had the question framed — How can we give our retailers the visibility they need and want on new items? — we collectively developed a solution," he explained. "Once developed, we continued to enhance the tool to keep up with the changing needs and demands from our retail partners. Our current version of Speed to Market is in its third generation of enhancements."

Technology is at the forefront of Eby-Brown's customer service and speed-to-market strategy. The company's other tools include Smart Handheld ordering technology; Daily Tracker, allowing retailers to access their own purchase information; Information Manager, allowing retailers to view inventory in real time; and electronic data interchange capabilities that allow Eby-Brown to help bring efficiencies and cost-savings to the invoicing process.

The wholesaler also publishes materials such as its Category Insights and Merchandiser publications, and provides a merchandise marketing program called SmartProcess, which helps customers "own" their markets by identifying the items they should be carrying in their stores.

"A fact-based methodology compares actual sales to c-store syndicated data," Scardina said of the SmartProcess program. "The result is an analysis that provides additional volume projections by category based on the changes in the SKU mix."

In addition, Eby-Brown recently selected the Gateway 360 business intelligence platform by Management Science Associates Inc. to minimize out-of-stocks, improve promotion volume forecast accuracy and fine-tune assortment decisions. The program also helps to improve its sales team's effectiveness in the marketplace.

"We will always strive to improve our abilities to address our customer needs in this area. We continue to leverage technology from both the visibility and communications standpoints, as well as an efficiency standpoint that can allow a retailer to quickly execute a new item deliverable into their retail locations," Scardina concluded.

— Samantha Negraval

Best Planograming for Profits: H.T. Hackney Co.

Every convenience store retailer knows there's much more to planning a merchandise lineup than tossing the most popular items on the shelves and calling it a day. They also recognize that quality planograms can make the difference between good sales and great sales.

Knoxville, Tenn.-based H.T. Hackney Co. has been helping its c-store clients make that leap for years now, according to retailers who lauded its planograming. "H.T. Hackney not only starts with a great merchandising planogram, but they update [it] week to week," said one retailer who nominated the company. "The merchandising department is top notch!"

Currently one of the largest wholesalers in the United States, providing more than 30,000 grocers, convenience stores and foodservice locations with more than 25,000 products, H.T. Hackney started out delivering goods such as seeds, fertilizer, coal and blasting powder back in 1891. The company credits its continued success to a consistent policy of honorable dealing and striving to offer retailers customized solutions and personal flexibility.

Its consistency is something H.T. Hackney's business partners have noticed, with retailers praising the company's reliability. That reliability, as well as the company's customized service, are attributes necessary for good planograming, according to industry experts.

"Planograms, store maps and store-to-planogram records are dynamic data sets that must be kept up to date so that ongoing retail analytics and decisions are relevant and actionable," said Certified Professional Strategic Advisor David King, author of "Selling with Space Management." In doing so, the operation of the retail systems and the personnel that rely on accurate space management data remain efficient and effective.

While both wholesalers and retailers need to look at the big picture, good planograms should focus on the small details. "The most common error in planograming is failing to do item selection within defined segments rather than doing it using a total category ranking report," Gordon Wade, CEO of the Category Management Association, told CSNews. "Not starting at the segment level runs the risk of leaving out smaller SKUs to which shoppers are passionately loyal."

That's not likely to be a problem for H.T. Hackney, as retailers praised its communication and willingness to "go above and beyond" to get them and their customers what they want.

— Angela Hanson

Best Product Education & Sales Literature: Core-Mark Holding Co. Inc.

No matter how good a product is, a convenience store retailer must know how to properly sell it. That's why product education and sales literature is so crucial. According to retailers, Core-Mark Holding Co. Inc. is at the top of the heap when it comes to this performance area.

South San Francisco, Calif.-based Core-Mark, founded in 1988, defines itself as much more than just a logistics company. Salesperson education is an important focus. "Manufacturers in our industry have stepped up in recent years by investing in category and consumer insight teams that are specific to the convenience store industry," Carla Boyington, Core-Mark's director of category management, told CSNews. "They have provided new and unique insights and have shown a real partnership in their willingness to work together on projects."

Data and analytics play a critical role in the process as well. Core-Mark is willing to initiate studies and trials to test concepts if too little data on a product exists.

"We do all of this because it is important to fully understand what we are selling and why it makes sense for our retail partners," noted Boyington. "Then, we look at the best way to present the material. That may require special graphics, pictures, animations or videos."

Simply stated, Core-Mark, which serves more than 29,000 independent and chain retail locations throughout the United States and Canada via 28 distribution centers, provides insights and full comprehensive programs rather than just selling a particular product or promotion.

"We want holistic category growth and to introduce programs that bring our customers new sales and additional consumers," concluded Boyington. "Our No. 1 priority is to assist our retailers in growing their sales and profits."

— Brian Berk

Did you know that Convenience Store News publishes an annual listing of the convenience store industry's Top 25 Wholesalers, with key stats and information about each, including sales estimates, locations served and deliveries per week? To view the most recent CSNews Top 25 Wholesalers report, go to www.csnews.com and click on Research/Special Reports. Or use your smartphone to scan this QR code.

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