Prepared for growth!

Significant challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic forced Bake Crafters Food Company, as most others, to refocus, reprioritize and reallocate resources to meet the ever-changing needs of its valued customers. Focused on core values and company culture, Bake Crafters is well positioned to rise to the challenge!

Founded in 1989 by President/Owner Michael Byrd, Bake Crafters has operated with a single aim: providing the baked goods customers want with the service they expect. This means broad product selection, efficient and cost effective product development, competitive prices, and dedicated customer service.

“Our strong cultural vision was set by Michael and continues to be our driving force to this day. At Bake Crafters, everything starts with our team members. Michael continues to set the tone with his work ethic, vision and will power, and that resonates through each of our associates, in every department throughout the organization, and continues out into the marketplace with our broker and customer partners. The wonderful culture Michael has fostered is not just about Bake Crafters finding success in the marketplace, but about making peoples’ lives better and providing a positive environment in which to work and collaborate. That’s why we so regularly hear how much people enjoy working with Bake Crafters and helping to grow the Bake Crafters’ brand,” explains Executive Vice President Kirk Hill.

Servicing all 50 US States, Canada, and abroad, Bake Crafters provides baked goods to a variety of business sectors including primary and secondary education (K-12), colleges and universities, healthcare, military, in-store bakeries, and multi-unit regional restaurant chains. Bake Crafters offers individually wrapped and bulk foodservice products ranging from sandwiches, pancakes, waffles, French toast sticks, hamburger buns, English muffins, croissants, sandwich breads, bread sticks, Texas toast, donuts, muffins, snackables and sweet breakfast items. Many of these products incorporate USDA commodities, meaning schools can use allocated entitlement funds from the USDA for the purchase of products containing beef and cheese.

“Whole grain K-12 products are our single largest market segment. Bake Crafters currently offers 300+ sku’s, 200+ of which are focused on the whole grain K-12 market. We offer over 125 individually wrapped products and continue to focus our product development in this area to better meet and serve the growing needs of our customers,” Kirk reports. “We have a very mature distribution footprint and highly efficient logistics services offering delivery across the country on a weekly basis with the majority of our business flowing through national and independently owned food service distributors. We offer low minimums to our valued customers, so our partners can order as little as two pallets with as many different product offerings as needed.

Shared insights
“Supported by our outstanding broker partners, Regional Sales Directors, and Food Service Sales team, Bake Crafters is proud to offer best in class sales support and customer service. Many of our broker partners have been supporting the Bake Crafters brand for many years and we truly value the commitment and expertise they bring to the Bake Crafters brand and family,” states Kirk.

The value Bake Crafters places on its relationships with its broker partners is such that, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the US in early 2020, the company began daily virtual communication to ensure that both Bake Crafters and its broker partners stayed connected to better understand and analyze the changing needs and demands of their mutual customers. One year later, these weekly national conference calls continue, helping Bake Crafters and its brokers identify best practices, share successes, provide suggestions for improvement and identify product needs.

“Effective communication is part of what separates Bake Crafters from the competition. This has been especially evident throughout the pandemic. We meet regularly with our broker partners where we share insight into what trends are sweeping the country,” says Justin Hamer, the company’s Director of Brand Marketing.

“We aim to communicate equally well with customers through our website and social media channels. Users constantly tell us how friendly and informative our site is, which in turn helps promote brand recognition. This is particularly true in the K-12 marketplace where foodservice directors can navigate through our wide offering of products to find and download the nutritional information they need.”

New product offerings
Benefiting from a fast and efficient product development process and expedited routes to market, Bake Crafters decided to double down on its capabilities at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Rather than wait for the health crisis to pass, Bake Crafters accelerated its focus in the area of product development placing primary focus on individually wrapped products. Rolling out products at an unprecedented speed, Bake Crafters has been updating its new product offerings an average of every four to six weeks.

“Back in March 2020, everyone in the office set their sights on selling our way through the pandemic because we had so many people relying on us,” Kirk states. “For us, it started and ended with K-12 children across the country. We looked at ourselves, if not as direct front line workers, at minimum as supporting those on the front line. We felt we had a deep responsibility to provide the nutritional food products school aged children, and others, needed in a time when gaining access to food on a daily basis was becoming increasingly difficult.

“Working collaboratively with our suppliers, we were able to maintain a constant supply chain which allowed us to effectively and efficiently develop and deliver new products to the market. In total, we have launched over 25 new products in the last six to eight months. Every one of these was individually wrapped and ranged from sandwiches to snackables to, most recently, pre-packaged meal kits.”

A driving force behind Bake Crafters success has been the company’s team members, which, despite numerous obstacles and difficulties in its path, has remained resilient, resolute, and committed throughout. “Every member of the Bake Crafters family has been, and continues to be, the life line of the organization. Our team members are family and are our most important asset and resource. We strive to recognize and reward their hard work, and during this pandemic, we’re very proud and blessed to have kept everyone fully employed with no layoffs or furloughs,” states Kirk.

“Bake Crafters is preparing for growth in 2021. The gradual return of in-person schooling is bound to improve and increase demand. As we continue to plant seeds and prepare for rain we will be focused on the needs of our customers. Bake Crafters will continue to engage with food service directors, brokers, and distributors across the country to better understand changing demands and work to position our company to best be able to pivot and adapt to these changes. Additionally, we are investing and reallocating resources in the other growing market segments we service,” states Kirk.

Re-energized brand
2021 will also see the implementation of the company’s new marketing strategy with virtual trade shows and product launches taking center stage. “Much has changed in how we share information with our customers,” Justin declares. “Before the pandemic, most of our efforts were focused on in-person meetings. Now we are creating videos with our Corporate Chef, Cristian Adasme, to showcase the features and benefits of products in a virtual setting.

“In addition, we will further expand our social media presence and website capabilities.” The pivot to digital platforms follows a complete rebranding of the business carried out by Justin and his team in 2019. “From logos to packaging, the rebranding was a major success and has re-energized the Bake Crafters brand and helped us better connect with our customer base.

“As the need grows for individually wrapped products, we are looking at ways to further improve our packaging,” Justin reveals. “In 2021, we will be increasing the visibility of our products through the packaging, making it easier for customers to see the goods they are enjoying. This is a huge area of opportunity, so we are constantly looking for ways to better serve our customers.”

Olivia Morrell, Sales Support Assistant COMwho manages the company’s relationship with the brokers and oversees the entire Product Launch process states; “We always want to keep in tune with our customers and find ways to improve. We have learned a lot over the years, but we definitely don’t know everything. That’s why we place such a strong emphasis on our relationships with our brokers and customers because we know how much we can learn from them.”

As Olivia suggests, the quest for continuous improvement at Bake Crafters is ongoing. Earlier this year, the company sent out surveys to its clients to help the business spotlight its next areas for development.

“With collective support of our Bake Crafters team, broker partners, and customers, we are preparing and planning for growth,” Kirk concludes. “We feel as though throughout this pandemic, we have learned a lot about adaptation and feel confident that we have planted the right seeds in order to be prepared for rain.”

Next generation thinking
Family owned and operated since 1926, Banner Wholesale Grocers continues to shine as a third and fourth generation organization, committed to delivering excellent products, value and service to its customers

The very definition of a family owned business, Banner Wholesale Grocers (Banner Wholesale), was first founded in 1926, and has been servicing the independent grocer ever since. The company’s first establishment was located within the historic ‘South Water Market’ section of Chicago, Illinois, where it stayed until 2001. It was then that it relocated to 3000 S. Ashland Avenue, placing it in closer proximity to the I-55 exit (Stevenson Expressway), giving its customers easier access to its facility. It was also around this time that Banner Wholesale began to incorporate a growing number of Hispanic brands into its list of items in order to accommodate the changing customer base around them.

More recently, in September 2018, the company expanded its operations further by moving into a newly built, 75,000-square foot facility, still in close proximity to the Stevenson Expressway and in the heart of Chicago. This facility has enabled Banner Wholesale to provide over 4,000 products – and counting – and remain a preferred destination for grocery stores, supermarkets, retail shops, restaurants, and other wholesale companies. Specializing in American, Mexican and Central American products, Banner Wholesale’s mission remains to consistently provide the highest quality service and excellent value to its customers.

Customer interactions
Today, Banner Wholesale is both a third and fourth generation business, with Richard Saltzman holding the role of President, a title passed down from his father and grandfather before him. “One of the things my father and grandfather shared was the ability to successfully reinvent to respond to the changing landscape around them,” Richard explains. “Originally, when my grandfather owned the business, it was very much into supplying European goods – which served the immigrant population of the time – as COMwell as selling a number of private label products.

“By the time my father took over the business, it was competing with the large supermarkets and other players, and this saw him pivot more into the distribution of products like tobacco and candy. This was the path we followed until around 1990, when tobacco was becoming increasingly expensive and a tremendous liability to the company. This coincided with Chicago gaining a growing Hispanic community, and so the business began transitioning slowly into stocking more Hispanic goods.”

The family’s work ethic – which has transcended through its four generations – has clearly played a massive part in Banner Wholesale’s success. It is typified also in Richard’s continued passion for the job. “We have always appreciated the value of

interacting with and listening to our customers, as it gives us the best idea possible of what it is they want from us,” Richard adds. “That is why we are always on the shop floor. I am 70 years old, and even after 52 years in the business, I still spend three or four hours a day there on the floor speaking with our customers, because it is of such importance to us.

“By speaking to our customers, we are able to gain a better understanding of the kinds of products they want, and we have followed what we have learned from them over the years by establishing distribution networks on the Texas and California borders, which we continue to use today. This has also assisted us in bringing in Central American products when that market segment started to gain traction, so all told we have had some great success from our actions in recent years.”

Unique operation
With a catalogue of more than 4,000 product lines – around 90 percent of which is held in stock at any one time – the strength of Banner Wholesale’s inventory is a massive differentiator for the business. “Our customers come to us with the confidence that they are going to find what they are looking for when entering our premises, and this is in large part due to the fantastic vendors and suppliers that we have relationships with, many of whom are based down in Texas and California,” Richard continues. “They help in obtaining many of those unique Mexican and Central American products that would otherwise be difficult to get your hands on. Such is our relationship with these vendors and suppliers – which have been built over a number of years – that we also have the benefit of being able to trust their judgement when it comes to what they source, and their ability to bring it in quickly and efficiently.

“When it comes to relationships with vendors, we have shown that the most important factor to consider is communication. With everyone we work with, it is essential that they understand who Banner Wholesale is and what we are all about. This is a message that has the potential to get lost in the midst of competing with the large national brand names, so it is vital that we make it happen. Then, when it comes to who we choose to work with, consistency of stock is a must, and we also look for those businesses that run timely deals or promotions on products, and who show a desire to participate in any of the programs that we regularly run.”

Above all, we detailed the company’s move into its 75,000-square foot building in September 2018. Richard goes on to detail how this major investment has helped to shape the future of the business. “Our premises is somewhat unique in its nature, in that it opens 24 hours a day, during which time it delivers different functions,” he says. “From 5am until 2.30pm, we are open to the public as a Cash N’ Carry, stocked with everything from refrigerated foods and candy, to seasonal items. We also have a Taqueria restaurant present within our building, which gives shoppers the chance to relax, eat and shop all in one place, and that has proven to be a well-received addition.

“Our second shift of the day is dedicated to preparing orders – whether these are made by phone or through our online ordering system – and filling our trucks so as to call on our customers the next day. Finally, our third shift is tasked with coming in, replenishing our shelves and making the building presentable for the start of the next day’s trading. So, as you can see, it is very much a 24-hour operation, but one that our fantastic employees ensure runs smoothly every day.”

For Banner Wholesale, 2020 was another busy year in the company’s 95-year history, albeit one that presented a number of challenges, not least of all disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Richard and the rest of the management team have made every effort to look after their employees during this time, and continue to adapt quickly to what remains an ongoing situation. They have been buoyed, however, by the fact that even in the midst of a pandemic, its vendors and suppliers have continued to deliver the Hispanic and Central American products that its customers desire.

Moving into 2021, and Richard is positive about the outlook for both the company and the rest of the country. “So long as the vaccination program picks up pace and runs smoothly, I would hope that by the end of the year things may start getting back to some sort of normality,” he enthuses. “For Banner Wholesale, I think it will be a bright year for us. Among the different goals we have for this year is to push on with promoting our in-house private label brand, Parade, introducing more frozen food items (the company has recently brought out its first line of these), and increasing sales of non-label, over-the-counter health and beauty products, as well as vitamins.”

Being the third generation of his family to own and operate Banner Wholesale, Richard is especially proud of the fact that, today, both his son and daughter are heavily involved with the business. “They are already beginning to put their own mark on the business, doing a lot of work with technology, social media and so forth, which is great to see,” he declares. “What this also means is that I am trying to do a little bit less than before, so stepping back a little into the background, offering advice wherever I can.

“In spite of that, this company remains very much a part of me. I absolutely love the work that I do – it feels like more of a hobby than work in truth – and it continues to give me huge satisfaction to know that, 95 years on, we still have a strong, healthy business that provides livelihoods for 100-plus people, and hopefully many, many more in the years to come!”

Caring for communities

Boasting 59 full-service drugstores throughout the Dakotas, Iowa and Minnesota, Lewis Drug Corp is a family-owned business built on trust

When John Griffin, George Fredrickson and Jesse Lewis opened Lewis Drug Corp’s inaugural store in 1942, the trio sparked a special relationship between customer and retailer that has lasted almost a century. From the company’s initial site in Sioux Falls – South Dakota’s first full-service drugstore – the business has grown into a network of 58 locations across four states, offering a vital, valued service at the heart of many local American communities.

Success for Lewis has never come without risk. Launched midway through the Second World War, the company battled against war-time restrictions and major economic challenges to make its first store a triumph Buoyed by their achievement, John Griffin and George Fredrickson decided to follow up the first location with a risky 35,000 square foot second store - in a cornfield on the edge of town. At the time, the decision made the pair a laughing stock in Sioux Falls, but just months after opening, John and George’s gamble paid off. The second store was another huge success and acted as a prototype for many more to come.

Today, Lewis’ footprint reflects its first two stores. Along with its original site in Sioux Falls, the company operates 48 similar 6000 to 7000 square foot drugstores in small, rural communities in the northern United States. Lewis’ second site paved the way for the company’s larger 15,000 to 35,000 square foot stores, which offer everything from pet food to snowboards. Speaking to Retail Merchandiser, CEO Mark Griffin, son of Co-Founder John, discusses Lewis’ position in the present-day market in more detail.

The trust factor
“In 2021, I would say we are still a drugstore-based business - we are still very active on the pharmacy side of things - but we also have an incredibly strong front-end retail offering,” Mark explains. “What makes us unique is that we are placed in towns that are kind of an inbetweener in the US. CVS and Walgreens won’t go into our rural markets because they are too small. In some of the mid to large communities like Sioux Falls, which is about a 300,000-person trade area, we have a Walgreens across the street but we continue to perform well. We like to think that we offer 70 per cent of what Target offers in a smaller footprint.

“Through the years, I think a lot of our success has come down to the fact that our business is built on trust,” he continues. “On the pharmacy side of things, we have a dominant market share in every market we are in, and the trust factor we have earned there transfers into the front-end retail side as well. We are convenient, we are quick, we are easy and we are trustworthy. All those factors weigh in.”

The trust factor Mark alludes to has been particularly important throughout the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the obvious difficulties associated with the crisis, Lewis has continued to perform well and its important role within local communities has become amplified due to the challenging circumstances. Mark believes that the company’s workforce deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the firm’s enduring success.

“We rightly hear a lot about front line staff in hospitals and places like that, but we have front line people too - they are our pharmacists, technicians and cashiers that deal with people every day,” Mark declares. “Our employees don’t know what a customer’s health condition is when they walk up to the counter, but they serve them anyway. They are brave people and they are the unsung heroes of this pandemic. We have such respect for our staff and think most highly of them.”


Community support
As a way of thanking its employees for their dedication and hard work over the past year, Lewis recently launched a number of new bonus plans for both full-time and part-time staff, including extra bonuses at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The company’s family-oriented, values-based culture felt by its workforce also extends to the wider communities in which it operates. In Lewis’ hometown of Sioux Falls for example, the firm annually hosts events to help the homeless population during the cold winter months.

“Many homeless folks in our area don’t have the right clothing for the winter in South Dakota,” Mark says. “A few years ago, my daughter heard about a lady in Sioux Falls who lost her life after spending the night outside and so she proposed that we start planning and organizing coat donations for underprivileged people during the winter We now have five of these events where people can buy or donate clothes, coats and gloves at our stores for the homeless. It’s just one of the things we do to give back.”

‘Guerilla’ retail
The support Lewis offers its communities has been a major factor in the bond the company has forged with its customers over the last 75 years. Though the firm is looking to develop an ecommerce channel in the future, Lewis’ core focus at present remains in-store where it aims to help customers through the remainder of the pandemic. As part of this effort, the business has been designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a provider of the Covid vaccine upon release.

“Once a vaccine has been rolled out, we can figure out how big of a game changer Covid has been for retail. At the moment, we don’t know for sure if we will be going back to our old ways of doing things or if Covid has altered that,” Mark reports. “Our main focus is always going to be on what is important to the consumer and how we can make that happen within our stores. What we do know is that, to a large extent, Lewis is an impulse company; you can’t ignore the fact that the bulk of product bought in this country is bought on impulse. Ecommerce is good and serves a purpose, but I don’t think it is the only retail success story as you still need to have foot traffic and impulse sales. It’s certainly a balancing act, but it is one that we are in a strong position to manage.”

Although some things are bound to change at Lewis in the future as the company grows and adapts, the firm will continue to benefit from what Mark describes as ‘guerilla retail’. The size of Lewis stores means that the firm has far superior buying flexibility with suppliers compared to major retailers like Target and Walmart. This capability has been particularly useful for products such as cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer over the last 12 months.

“You name it, we’ve stocked it better than the big guys!” Mark proclaims. “It’s all because we can buy short-form from different sources, bring it in quick, and we don’t have to order three months ahead of time. If we need something, we can put in an order three days out and send our trucks to go and get it. It’s a system that works.”

As 2021 begins, Mark hopes the year ahead brings with it a stability that was missing in 2020 - both in the retail industry and in the political world. The effect of politics on pharmacies and pharmaceuticals in the US continues to be significant, and Lewis is hopeful that the impact of the new administration will be a positive one.

To secure its future growth, Lewis recently partnered with Sioux Falls-based Sanford Healthcare Systems, the largest rural hospital chain in the country. As part of the collaboration, Lewis is working with the healthcare firm to build clinics adjacent to its stores, allowing for a better connection between doctors and pharmacies. The partnership, along with the continuing popularity of its stores, is likely to yield a host of new opportunities for Lewis in the future.

“We are cautiously optimistic about what lies ahead,” Mark states. “We expect the economy to remain strong, even with a new administration - as evidenced by the stock market - and we expect consumers to retain their confidence in us.

“Looking forward, I think the focus on home environments triggered by Covid will benefit retail for the foreseeable future, and on the pharmacy side, I think healthcare has become more of a priority than ever. People are realizing how important it is to take care of yourself and maintain your health - not just deal with it when something goes wrong. In order to stay healthy, you need to get your pneumonia shots, your shingles shots, your flu shots, and soon we will have a seasonal Covid shot that is going to continue indefinitely. All those things are important for Lewis’ future, but also for the industry’s future as a whole.”

On a roll
Known for its delicious rolls, breads and loaves, King’s Hawaiian is celebrating 70 years of spreading the Aloha Spirit across the United States

In 1956, a few years after opening, Robert Taira removed the first batch of Original Hawaiian Sweet Bread from the oven of his small bakeshop. He had not only crafted a traditional island favorite, but the beginnings of a legacy. 70 years since it was launched, Robert’s bakery company, King’s Hawaiian, remains a much-loved brand across Hawaii and the mainland United States, with a focus as much on family as food.

“2020 was King’s Hawaiian’s 70th birthday and it was made especially meaningful by the fact that the company is still 100 per cent owned by the family that founded it in Hilo, Hawaii,” explains company President John Linehan. “They are very kind,

humble, caring people focused on building a company that does the right thing – a company of which they, and our Founder, Robert, can be proud.”

‘Ohana (family) has always been important at King’s Hawaiian, and this is reflected in the company’s culture. For John, honesty, respect and accountability have been some of the most instrumental values for the business in building the large, extended family that includes its workforce, customers and communities.

“You hear a lot of presidents, CEOs and senior management figures talk about their values, but they don’t actually live them out. They don’t hold themselves accountable,” John says. “We’re all humans, we all make mistakes sometimes, but I think you’ll find that, at King’s Hawaiian, if one of the leaders misbehaves then they’ll apologize. It’s all about treating people with respect and doing everything we can to develop ourselves. They are the behaviors we value and encourage everyone to adopt.”

Second only to family at King’s Hawaiian is food. The company’s wide range of Hawaiian sweet rolls, breads, cakes, buns and specialty baked items has helped it forge a large and loyal fanbase, and this following is now starting to benefit retailers. Thanks to a standout product and a marketing department that has built a strong rapport with consumers, King’s Hawaiian continues to create value for its retail clients and better experiences for customers.

“The long and short of it is that we have a product that’s different and superior. There’s nothing on the market like it,” John declares. “There are a lot of brands that call themselves Hawaiian bread or the Hawaiian roll, but they can’t compete with us in a taste test.

“The way people eat food is changing, so most retailers now offer 10 or 12 grab and go sandwiches. What we have found, from working with these retail customers to refurbish their convenience offering, is that when they take their regular sandwich varieties and put them in one of our bread products - with a sticker on the sandwich that says ‘Made with King’s Hawaiian Bread’ - the category’s total sales go up by 30 to 50 per cent. That’s how we create value. It’s not about market share stealing, but going in and showing retailers that we can help them achieve incremental sales and higher margins with little extra labor.”

Core competencies
Creating value is a central part of the King’s Hawaiian strategy, and the company’s latest efforts in this area have been fueled by investment in its sales organization. In 2016, King’s Hawaiian began increasing the capabilities of its sales team as part of a mission to build the best sales organization in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) sector. Currently in progress, development of the sales unit is expected to yield major benefits for King’s Hawaiian and its retailer partners over the next decade, including increased profits and better business relationships.

“Development of the sales organization revolves around four core competencies,” John reveals. “The first is the ability to achieve Retail Prominence, which involves in-store distinction for our products that is compatible with the look, feel and design of a store. The second competency is Flawless Execution, meaning if we agree with a retailer to put on an event or promotion, then we must execute it better than anybody else in the industry.

“Our third core competency is, as I mentioned earlier, Creating Value for everyone involved in our dealings - retailers, shareholders and consumers. Finally, the fourth competency is the Three Cs of thinking - to think critically, collaboratively and with

curiosity. We think that’s missing in a lot of places in the industry.”

Strategic imperatives
The lofty goals and expectations that King’s Hawaiian sets for its sales force are reflected across the whole organization and are born out of the high esteem in which the company holds its people. Such a highly skilled and dedicated workforce has been particularly important to the firm over the last twelve months as King’s Hawaiian has dealt with the challenges, and opportunities, presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Covid-19 has impacted all businesses, and for food and beverage companies primarily selling to grocery stores where people buy for home consumption, growth has accelerated,” John reports. “Our people have been a vital part of that growth and I am humbled and extremely proud of how they have performed.

“In March and April, when there was so much fear and uncertainty, our employees still came in to the plant every single day and made food 24/7 to feed the US. It was an incredible response.

“Most importantly, we have had about 1500 people a day going into the plants and restaurant, yet nobody we know of has contracted Covid in our facilities. That is because our people have taken care of each other and behaved safely, not just for themselves, but for their co-workers. We’re really proud of that.”

With the worst of the pandemic behind it, King’s Hawaiian moves into 2021 with a clear vision for the long-term future of the business having recently rolled out a strategy for 2025 and 2035. Consisting of six strategic imperatives, the vision includes a focus on improving relationships with retailers and customers, as well as acquisition plans for frozen aisle products. John explains more.

“We are involved in three acquisitions at present,” he states. “One of them closed in mid-January, one of them is set to close in the next two weeks, and one of them is actually an agreement to acquire in mid-2022. One of the things these products have in common is that they are irresistible brands sold in the store’s perimeter or frozen aisles, not in the center of the store.

“There are some brands out there that, when mentioned, people say, ‘Oh, I love that brand, that’s my favorite’,” John adds. “Everything we acquire in the years ahead will be that sort of brand.”

King’s Hawaiian’s commitment to long-term future planning is a source of pride for the company’s management team and a key factor behind the firm’s longevity and success. As a private business, King’s Hawaiian remains autonomous in its decision-making processes and is therefore free to commit over 50 per cent of John’s time and resources to planning for the next five to ten years.

The trademark emphasis on a long-term approach to business is replicated in King’s Hawaiian’s dealings with retailers. Unlike many of its competitors, the company builds Foodsrelationships that last, adding value and working collaboratively to create a better future for all parties. 70 years since it all began, King’s Hawaiian’s ‘ohana keeps growing.

“Whereas most companies go into a retailer, pitch a promotion and then move on to the next one, at King’s Hawaiian we find that our most productive relationships with retail customers involve building a three- or four-year plan,” John remarks. “Sometimes we sit down with a retailer’s Senior Vice President or CEO and make a multi-year strategy for how to achieve significant business growth - often doubling or tripling the existing numbers. I don’t think we’ve ever missed delivering on one of those plans.”

Always Getting Better

A trusted source for integrative wellness solutions, Pharmaca is combining modern ecommerce with vital in-store expertise as it increases its presence across the USA

Pharmaca was the USA’s first integrated pharmacy when the company launched in June 2000. Now, in 2021, as the largest integrated pharmacy, the business operates 28 retail stores across six states, as well as two compounding centers and a highly-sophisticated ecommerce offering.

Pharmaca stores, which include traditional pharmacy services alongside the sale of a variety of natural and wellness health solutions, have been increasing steadily across the US for a number of years, but up until the mid-2010s, the company’s online business had not fared so well. In 2016, Pharmaca launched an overhaul of its ecommerce operations, led by Vice President of Marketing Laura Coblentz. Backed by significant investment, the upgrade saw the firm add ecommerce specialists to its team and resulted in a site that is more informative, more responsive and more profitable.

Today, ecommerce is a key piece of Pharmaca’s three-pronged approach to business. Pharmacy services account for just over half of the company’s total revenue, with retail making up the remaining 45 per cent. Of this 45 per cent, ecommerce accounts for over one-third – an increase of 40 per cent since March 2020.

“Developing our ecommerce channel was a really important landmark for us,” Pharmaca CEO Richard Willis explains. “Back in 2016, we decided that our site needed to have the same experience as our stores, so we set about turning it into a helpful, educational site. Laura Coblentz really set the tone for us on that front. I think her knowledge of our stores and why they work was invaluable. She took that and imprinted it on a website that is now a third of our sales, whereas it was around five per cent back in 2016.

“When we changed the focus of the site, it actually declined in revenues the first year, but we knew it was the right thing to do, so we stuck with it and we were proved right. Not only does it contribute to sales but it is also a great place for us to test products to see if they will work in stores, or alternatively, if a vendor partner needs some help moving a product, we can do that quickly and efficiently through ecommerce too. We continue to invest in ecommerce and recently we upgraded to Yotpo, a highly-advanced content marketing platform.”

Double-digit growth
Not solely focused on its online business, Pharmaca also recently made substantial investments into the retail side of its operation where IT has been a major area of focus. In order to be suitably prepared for future growth, the company opened up a colocation facility to help handle up to $4 million worth of new IT systems. At the same time, Pharmaca relocated its warehouse and fully upgraded all processes previously in use.

“We have built the business up to be ready to handle at least 100 stores in the future,” Richard states. “As we start to acquire more and more pharmacies, we wanted to ensure we had the infrastructure in place to support them when the impact of that growth really kicks in.”

The upgrades Pharmaca made to its website and wider retail infrastructure helped the business achieve double-digit sales growth towards the beginning of 2020. However, just a few weeks later, the company was facing a new and unexpected challenge – Covid-19.

“On the West Coast, where most of our stores are located, Covid-19 restrictions were strict, but we were really fortunate in that whatever we lost in customer traffic in stores, we just about picked up on the ecommerce side of the business,” Richard says. “Most of all though, we were incredibly lucky to have such great staff.

“People have always been the heart of the company, but during the pandemic they selflessly put themselves on the front line every day, helping our customers at a time of need. The same goes for other areas of the business; we couldn’t have recorded 60 per cent growth in December in ecommerce, as well as have the fulfillment of our stores, without our distribution center team members and the team at our home office. Thanks to them, we haven’t had to close any store for even an hour throughout the crisis. I am just really grateful and appreciative of everything our people do.”

As well as proving themselves to be some of the industry’s most dedicated and resilient workers over the last 12 months, Pharmaca employees are also among some of the sector’s most highly qualified. Around three quarters of team members in Pharmaca stores hold some form of further education degree or certification and the company’s workforce includes pharmacists, herbalists and naturopaths. The knowledge and experience of its team means that Pharmaca is qualified to sell a wide number of professional brands and high-level products that many of its competitors cannot stock.

“Most of the time, the professional brands we hold can only be sold through doctor’s offices, but because of the education level we have in-store, we are one of the few retailers that can sell them,” Richard points out. “Manufacturers want to make sure that somebody is there to explain their product and ensure it is the right product for the consumer, so we are very fortunate that we have got the right people in our stores to do that. Those specialist professional products have been a big area of growth.

“Up until Covid-19, we were experiencing a lot of good growth in natural and organic health and beauty aids too,” Richard adds. “Owing to our strict quality assurance guidelines, people know that when they come to Pharmaca they can trust what is on the shelf. Since March 2020, the beauty trend has switched to fighting Coronavirus and so we have seen an uptick in masks, sanitation products and vitamins instead.”

Growth strategy
No matter what consumers need from their local Pharmaca, they can be sure that they will receive the same high quality in-store experience every time they visit. When it comes to populating the company’s retail workforce, Pharmaca covets people who want to help others and those that are curious to learn. Building on this trait, the firm has created a company-wide, customer-centric culture that is all about ‘doing right by the consumer.’

“At Pharmaca, we help over 10,000 people a day make good wellness decisions for themselves and their families, either in the pharmacy or through our retail operation. As a result, it is vital that we have people who wake up in the morning and go to work excited in the knowledge that somebody is going to come in and they are going to be able to help them,” Richard declares. “We don’t have drive-throughs because we want to talk to people. For example, if you or your child is taking an antibiotic, a probiotic is a really good thing to take at the same time. A lot of people don’t know that, but if we are having that conversation with you, we can suggest it as something you might want to do.”

Though its dedication to customer experience won’t change, Pharmaca’s national footprint is likely to increase dramatically across the next five years as the company looks to grow through acquisition. Pharmacies that are already established parts of their respective communities, such as a recently purchased site in Santa Monica, California, remain a key strategic target.

At present, around 60 per cent of Pharmaca’s online sales come from states where the company does not currently have a physical presence, and around two thirds of the firm’s sales come from places more than 50 miles away from their nearest Pharmaca COMBased on these statistics, the company believes that the North-East, the South-East, and the Washington DC area could all be potential areas for growth, as well as filling in the Chicago market.

“Over time, we have found that in places like LA or the Bay Area or Seattle, where we have got multiple stores, it is easier to handle business and any issues that result. Consequently, the ideal situation over the next 12 months would be to find an area or two with the right demographics for us to grow into and then try and get five or six pharmacies in that metropolitan area,” Richard reveals.

“We strongly believe that in five years’ time we are going to need to be a chain of 50 or 75 stores in order to be able to compete. As more and more independent pharmacies struggle with DIR fees, we can step in and fill voids in local communities as we build towards being a size that can not only survive, but thrive.”


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