Pipeline Packaging, the largest industrial packaging distributor – and upcoming commercial distributor – in the United States, enjoys a successful business strategy: Partner with other growing companies, treat them and their businesses with respect and be the people that are essential to the customers’ ongoing growth. Fulfilling that strategy requires a multi-focused approach that includes a healthy product mix, warehousing and just-in-time delivery, a variety of packaging engineering services, and above all, a dedication to the philosophy of customers first.

“We provide packaging and turnkey solutions to the people who put the products in the containers,” President Mary Dahl explains. “We are the largest steel pail, plastic pail and tin can distributor in the United States. We also sell anything from 2-ounce bottles through 55-gallon drums and 275-pound totes.”

Millions of people have looked to Herbalife to help them live healthier and more active lives for more than 30 years. With 3 million-plus independent members and distributors of its food, nutrition and personal care products in more than 90 countries and many more millions of daily consumers, the Los Angeles-based company has grown to become one of the world’s leading direct sales companies since founder Mark Hughes sold his first protein shake in 1980. 

Instead of just staying the course and maintaining its business at its current levels, Herbalife continues to grow and expand not only in terms of its global footprint, but also its internal operations. “We have a philosophy that we can always build it better,” COO Rich Goudis says. “We never cross the goal line, we just continue to move the ball down the field.”

Helping customers keep things clean has been Dalco Enterprises Inc.’s mission for more than 50 years, and co-owner and President Ted Stark III says the company’s base of experience has made it one of the market leaders in the upper Midwest. One of the primary reasons why Dalco has maintained such a strong position for such a long time is the fact that it remains a family owned and operated company. 

Founded in 1959 by three partners, Stark’s father joined Dalco a year later, bringing his financial expertise to the startup company. Two of the founding partners left soon after, selling their shares to Stark’s father. By the early 1970s, the last of the founding partners had left Dalco, leaving Stark’s father with full control of the company. 

Stage Stores and its family of fashion retailers, including Bealls, Goody’s, Palais Royal and Peebles, got their start in the industry guided by the idea that no market is too small to warrant their attention. In recent years, the company has found that there is also no market too big. 

“In our history, we have typically targeted stores that have a population of less than 50,000 within a 10-mile radius,” Executive Vice President of Stores Russ Lundy explains. “These are smaller towns that are underserved by retailers or have maybe one or two other competitors in the market. We’re one of the few retailers able to bring a department store with national brands to towns with our smaller footprints. Our average store size is around 18,000 square feet.” 

Though the less-than-50,000 crowd has been its industry niche for quite some time, the company has entered a few larger markets and with great success, Lundy says. Of the 40 new stores and 10 relocated stores planned to open next year, Lundy says five or 10 will be located in larger metro areas. 

Some firms choose to keep their customers at arms’ length, but not Performance Food Group (PFG). “We feel like it’s still important for our people to be able to [get to know] our customers,” Fred Sanelli says. “It’s a relationship business.”

With a staff of more than 12,000, PFG is the parent company of several foodservice distributors, including Performance Foodservice (which includes Roma Food), Vistar and PFG Customized Distribution. PFG delivers food and related products to more than 130,000 clients across the United States. 

Senior Vice President of Operations Jeff Williamson credits PFG’s success to its staff. “It’s the execution in the field that really drives the results,” he says.

When hiring, the company looks for people with experience and the right attitude for working at PFG. “They have to be a certain type of individual,” he says, explaining that they have to be able to cope with conditions such as erratic schedules. “You don’t know if you’re going to end work at the same time every night.”

As an independent, family owned company in an industry dominated by large, national corporations, Kohl Wholesale stands out in the distribution world. “There’s fewer companies like us around now than there were 20 years ago,” says Greg Whitney, director of marketing for the Quincy, Ill.-based company. “What sets us apart from our more than 60 competitors is our go-to-market strategy, which is our true emphasis on service to the customer.”

A commitment to customer service is one of the principles that have long defined the company. Kohl Wholesale is owned and led by brothers Rick, Mark and Matt Ehrhart, representing its fifth generation. Dick Ehrhart, the fourth generation, is also very active in guiding his three sons.  

The family’s leadership is credited with the company reaching its 140th anniversary this year. 

“Our owners are what has brought us to where we are at today,” Whitney says. “Because of them, our future is bright, and we’re setting the goal to turn the company over to the next generation. We’re celebrating our 140th anniversary now, but we hope to eventually celebrate our 175th and beyond.”

Glazer’s investments in technology and staff education are keeping the company ahead of the increasing growth and diversity of the products it carries. “We are striving to be the best distributor in the nation by accommodating superior technology and service,” says Rob Swartz, COO of the Dallas-based alcoholic beverage distributor. “Three years ago we began investing heavily in leadership development and technology, which we believe allows us to set a high watermark for service in the industry.”

These investments include a number of tools such as inventory management, warehouse management and automated driver scheduling systems integrated into a company-wide SAP system. The SAP system, which the company began rolling out in 2012 and anticipates to be fully operational later this year, will also give suppliers and salespeople immediate access to sales data. “We believe cutting-edge technology drives our efficiency and makes us more competitive,” CEO Sheldon “Shelly” Stein says. “We’re interested in any technology that helps us to be a better distributor.”

Not many of the early-to-market online retailers can boast the level of success that eBags.com has seen. Founded in 1998 and launched live in 1999, eBags says it has grown into the largest online retailer of bags and accessories in the world by offering options to suit any need and lifestyle and providing superior customer service. 

“Our mission is to enrich customer’s lives and journeys with the perfect bag,” President and COO Robert Cassidy says. “We fit their needs at their desired price point.”

Based outside of Denver in Greenwood Village, Colo., eBags.com was founded by four individuals who had worked for many years at Samsonite. Today, eBags has a product offering that includes more than 500 brands and more than 55,000 bags. It also operates Handbags.com and the eBags corporate sales site, and it has its own private-label products sold under The eBags Brand moniker.

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