For Jerry Garland, leading Associated Wholesale Grocers to new levels of growth has become old hat.
The president and chief executive officer of the cooperative, which is based in Kansas City, Kan., this year oversaw the opening of a new 723,000-square-foot distribution center in Pearl River, La., that serves as the hub of its Gulf Coast division, and achieved record highs for both sales and patronage rebates for members.
“AWG has added so many distribution facilities over the past few years; it has really been no big deal,” he told SN about the new facility about 40 miles outside of New Orleans. “All the backstage support has been consolidated into our corporate structure, so we can concentrate on building sales in the division. As we open new centers, our overhead is spread over a larger base so all AWG members benefit in lower costs.”
The new facility, which is capable of handling $2 billion or more worth of business, could supply more than 300 stores, the company said — half from AWG’s new Gulf Coast division that stretches from Tallahassee, Fla., to Houston, and the other half from the company’s current Memphis, Tenn., division.
AWG’s sales in the most recent fiscal year totaled $7.85 billion, up 2.7% on a 52-week comparison. In addition, members saw their stock price increase and enjoyed a dividend of $173 million, or 2.76% of sales. The company also paid a special $5 million dividend.
“It was another good year to be an AWG member,” said Garland.
In addition to the new warehouse in Pearl River — the company’s eighth distribution center and its seventh full-line warehouse — AWG also expanded its corporate offices by 28,000 square feet to bring certain functions together in the same building. It is the first time all corporate employees have been working under the same roof in Kansas City since 1992.
AWG also made advances in leveraging digital tools to foster a “virtual community” among members, the company said in its recent annual report.
One such tool is the “web blast,” though which the company can notify individual store owners and personnel about upcoming deals, specials and other merchandising information.
Another is the Customer Connect Center, or C3, through which AWG helps its member retailers monitor social media and other outlets to better respond to customer feedback about their individual stores. It also aids in generating content that members can use on their social media account to help engage customers and create online community.
At the end of the most recent fiscal year, AWG said it had more than 600 members operating more than 2,400 stores in 21 states.
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