Students enrolled in Western Michigan University’s food and consumer packaged goods (CPG) marketing program are receiving a unique educational experience that relies on the support of business partnerships to assist in preparing them for positions in the field.

The connection with industry is a central theme of the Food/CPG Marketing program at WMU, starting with the first introductory class of the program and extending through students’ upper-level classes. The four-year business degree program prepares students for myriad positions in the CPG industry, including retail management, category management, research, sales, logistics and food service. Students routinely go to work for many of the leading companies in the industry after serving internships with the firms, explains Frank Gambino, director of the program.

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Founded in 1920, Mason Brothers is a family owned, full-line wholesale grocery distributor. Today, the company is a supplier of goods and services to stores in six states, having built a strong reputation based on customer service and satisfaction. 

“Our marketshare continues to grow,” co-owner Ric Harrison says. “We have expanded to serve a base of more than 400 stores within an eight-hour drive of our headquarters.”

Customer Centered

Mason Brothers is committed to helping its customers succeed. Working with independent retailers in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan, Mason Brothers offers an extensive product line of more than 20,900 SKUs at competitive pricing, with cross-docking capabilities of another 20,000. 

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In a crowded marketplace, the right culture can mean a lot for a company and its customers. That’s why Locke Supply can claim to be one of the leaders in the plumbing, electrical and HVAC distribution marketplace, according to Vice President of Operations John Orman. He says the internal culture Locke Supply has built over 60 years of serving the Southwest has translated into strong relationships with contractors, plumbers and electricians throughout the region. 

“Our culture is extremely important to us, the way we go to market,” Orman says. “We feel like that is something that sets us apart.”

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The Lebo’s story is one of perseverance and adaptability. Founded in 1923 when Sidney Levin opened the first Lebo’s in uptown Charlotte, N.C., the company’s initial focus was footwear for the whole family with specialty service for customers with hard-to-fit feet. The company built a strong client base and became known for service, sizes and selection before expanding its offerings in a multitude of areas.

Jerry Levin, son of the founder and current CEO, expanded Lebo’s in the 1950s with the addition of a dancewear department that carries a complete line of ballet, tap, jazz, clogging and square dance products. In the 1960s, the company created its own Barbette line of dance shoes and dancewear products, which has grown into a recognizable brand.

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Before the Internet, multichannel retailing was something known to only a handful of major national retailers, and the channels were limited to primarily brick and mortar and catalog sales. Today, however, consumers have more choices than ever when it comes to how they interact with their favorite retailers. The prevalence of m-commerce and e-commerce purchasing has become commonplace right along with stopping in at their favorite stores.  This new consumer landscape has created some significant challenges, as well as generated numerous new opportunities for retailers.

 The new basis for retail interaction with today’s consumers spans all channels for the retailer including, brick-and-mortar stores, catalog sales, a website or even through their smartphones. A retailer is now challenged with providing the same user experience across all channels to provide a seamless experience regardless of where the consumer maybe engaged. At the same time, as more retailers court international customers through their online presence, they are exposed to added complexity in terms of international tax structures and fulfillment. Navigating this complexity alone, especially in today’s omni-connected world can be daunting to say the least. Having a partner in the game like leading global provider of retail management software, Retail Pro International (RPI), can make the task much more palpable.

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After 175 years of operation, Candle-lite Company stands as the oldest continually operating candle company in the United States, CEO Calvin Johnston says. “Consumers see a lot of credibility and authenticity in our unique American heritage,” he states.  

Cincinnati-based Candle-lite Company manufactures everyday, seasonal, collectable and premium candles under the Candle-Lite Company, Essential Elements, Revere House and new Royale Classics brands. The company enjoys over a 30 percent market share in the food and drug channels for the home décor and fragrance category as reported by IRI.

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Where Liberty Petroleum Distributors sees a need, it fills it. Since 1988 when it opened its first travel plaza, the company has continued to hone its skill in matching the right developments with the right locations. It started with one location in Tunkhannock, Pa., and now operates 23 locations across the state, with another on its way. Liberty caters to the motoring public traveling through Northeast Pennsylvania with travel plazas, convenience stores, tobacco stores and restaurants, such as Subway, Burger King and Tim Hortons. 

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Some supermarkets limit the number of products that they sell, but not Schuette’s Market, owner and President Michael Schuette says. If customers cannot find an item in its stores, they just ask, and the company will order it and add it to its shelves. 

For instance, when a Hispanic family asked for Goya foods, “We got them all,” Schuette recalls, noting that the store benefited from it. “Our Hispanic business just rocketed. We are beholden to our customers.” 

Based in St. Rose, Ill., Schuette’s operates grocery stores that specialize in selling locally sourced items. Michael Schuette’s great-grandfather, Peter Schuette, started the company in 1863, after emigrating from Germany to the United States.

At the time, the country was still divided by the Civil War, and people were bartering for goods, Michael Schuette explains. “If you had eggs and you wanted a hatchet, you had to find somebody who had a hatchet who was willing to part with it for eggs,” he says.

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