Gold Coast Beverage Distribution

In the alcoholic beverage industry, some companies gain a bad reputation by the actions of people who do not use their products responsibly. To combat the potential for a negative reputation, Gold Coast Beverage Distributors Inc. has been closely involved in promoting moderation in the consumption of its products.

Working with the University of Miami, the company donated $10,000 to its Safe Ride program, where volunteers drive students home from popular bars on the weekends. “We take our responsibility efforts seriously, and promote moderation because we are good corporate citizens,” says Eric Levin, vice chairman. “The university wanted to expand its Safe Ride program to help protect its students, so we gave them a check to buy a new minibus.”

For more than 45 years, the company has been a wholesale distributor of beer for brands such as Miller, Heineken, Corona and Coors, and launched a wine and spirits division about a year ago, Levin says.

As a distributor in the industry, he adds, the company goes beyond simply delivering orders. “We take on many different functions for our customers, the 7,000 alcoholic beverage retailers in southeast Florida,” Levin says. “We work hard to provide analysis on past sales data, present information on what’s popular, and provide insight on where the market is heading. We also help them pack their shelves and displays, and often help them with signage and promotional displays. We really try to create excitement about our products. That’s the added value of working with our company – we’re not just there to take an order and drop off cases, we’re there to provide consistent, reliable service.”

NEW FOUNDATION

Stephen Levin, Gold Coast’s current chairman, bought the company 10 years ago with the goals to increase sales and profitability, while improving the company’s image and reputation, the company says.

Since then, it has doubled its sales and market share to become the largest beer distributor in the state of Florida. Gold Coast, to maintain this position, is expanding its offerings to reach a wider market. “We launched a wine and spirits division about a year ago, and we’ve already become one of the top 10 wine and spirits distributors in Florida,” Levin says. When his family took control of the company, Levin says, it made several internal changes and focused on ways to increase profits.

“We’re battling against Anheuser-Busch distributors, who are our toughest competitors,” he says. “We started focusing on consistent customer service, as well as expanding the volume and distribution of our products.

“We worked hard to be more effective and more efficient. It took two years for the company to become profitable [after it changed ownership], and successfully reinvent itself. We instilled a competitive work ethic to never be satisfied with performance, to continue to build on our successes.

“Once you stop moving forward, there’s nowhere else to go but backward. We ultimately wanted to improve in all areas, to become better than we were yesterday and even better than we will be tomorrow.”

Moreover, says Alfonso Fernandez, COO, the company focused on operational factors, such as reducing the rate of returns on each order.

“We created an operating standard that was not in place before,” he says. “Previously, we were worried about short-term performance. We’re now working on the long-term approach. It may cost more up front, but it [will pay off later.]”

TECHNOLOGY FOCUS

Now focused on long-term goals, Fernandez explains, the company is investing in technology as a way to improve communication. Using devices such as wireless PDAs, two-way radios, cell phones and laptop computers, the company is able to further ensure the accuracy of customers’ orders.

Improving communication is increasingly important to the company, because it services a large market. “Our territory is 3,800 square miles, from Key West to northern Brower County,” he explains. “The company has grown tremendously in the past 10 years, and we’ve almost doubled our volume and market share. Gold Coast has essentially become one of the country’s most dominant distributors.”

With Gold Coast’s substantial increase in volume comes a need for more sophisticated technology. Fernandez explains that its current technological developments have improved its performance in many ways.

“Our investment in technology allows us to get information and interpret and analyze data, which has given us much better results than anticipated,” he adds. “Also, our suppliers have gotten much better and more professional, because we now hold ourselves to higher standards, and hold them to higher standards, as well. They’re great partners and we’re both doing well as a result.”

NEW INCENTIVES

Although technological innovations have improved communication, the company has also worked to change certain employee behaviors. To cut excess costs by improving order accuracy, the company introduced an incentive program for positive performance. “There was a perception that a certain percentage of sales returns was acceptable and expected,” says Fernandez.

“We changed that quickly, and implemented incentives, both positive and negative, to write accurate orders and make sure everything is delivered efficiently. Since many people had the perception that returns were OK, we really had to sell the idea that we can do better. A high return rate is not acceptable; it’s a byproduct of errors, mistakes and miscommunication.”

Fernando Anon, controller and CFO, explains that selling the idea was not easy.

“Changing the culture of a company is like a cruise ship changing direction,” he says. “The change doesn’t happen overnight, but the incentive program played a big part in our ultimate success.”

PORTFOLIO GROWTH

Moreover, the company’s shift in culture has contributed to its reaching more than 65 percent of its market share in Miami, Levin says.

Gold Coast is also seeking continued growth by offering an expanded product line.

“We’re currently looking at a lot of different products, including juices and energy drinks,” Levin explains. “We’re constantly looking for new sources of growth.

Focusing on acquiring additional brands to increase its selection, Gold Coast currently offers brands such as Corona, Coors, Smirnoff Ice, Fosters, Milwaukee’s Best, Schlitz, Beck’s, Miller High Life and several other brands that run the gamut of taste and quality, the company says. Moreover, its wine and spirits division continues to add to its portfolio, as well, and is expected to grow into a strong division.

“Right now, we have a solid portfolio that is good for the market, and we ultimately want to provide customers with more choices than the competition.”

Divided into two different divisions – the north and south divisions – Gold Coast seeks to grow its portfolio even further. When the south division acquired the rights to the Miller brands, the company says, it saw a tremendous increase in sales and service, and also gained a competitive selection that is hard to match in the industry.

With this acquisition, the company acquired brands such as St. Pauli Girl and Sam Adams along with several other brands of alcoholic beverages, it continues.

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