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  • Power 50 Profile Ranking: 19
  • Title: president and CEO
  • Company: Associated Wholesale Grocers
  • Key Developments: Building its customer base following a string of transactions
  • What's Next: Expanding its partnership with IGA
Gary Phillips - Power 50 Profile

Associated Wholesale Grocers is working to achieve growth from a string of recent transactions that have expanded its customer base.

The cooperative wholesaler, which serves more than 2,300 stores in a 23-state area, has shown a knack for turning deals into successes.

At the heart of that is Gary Phillips, president and chief executive officer, who draws praise for pragmatism and people skills.

“Retailers tend to be skeptical of wholesalers and manufacturers, but Gary works well with all sides,” said Jeff Reasor, president and CEO of Reasor’s, Tahlequah, Okla., who is an AWG board member. “He walks the fine line between running a co-op — with issues such as finance and achieving economies of scale — and taking care of the retail customers.”

Those skills will be crucial as AWG moves to capitalize on recent transactions. One of those was the acquisition last September of a distribution center in Fort Worth, Texas, that enabled the co-op to build on its Texas base by serving existing and new customers. That list includes Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas, one of AWG’s newer accounts.

“Among all the business leaders with whom I’ve worked in my career, Gary Phillips truly stands out,” said Michael Byars, Minyard Food Stores president and CEO. “ I am proud to call him a business partner, trusted advisor and friend. Our customers benefit because of his commitment to delivering outstanding customer service to our Carnival, Minyard and Sack’n Save stores.”

The acquisition of the Fort Worth distribution center also helped grow AWG’s partnership with IGA. AWG said the facility would help it supply IGA-licensed products to new IGA customers in a number of regions. AWG already had an established business supplying IGA stores in regions including the South and Midwest.

“This is a great, growing partnership between IGA and AWG,” said Mark Batenic, chairman, president and CEO of IGA USA. “AWG is talking to co-op members who aren’t affiliated with a banner program about the benefits of IGA.”

Batenic said the Nashville division of AWG is also doing a strong job with building IGA business, in particular citing Houchens, which now has close to 60 stores under the IGA banner.

Among other recent deals, Homeland Stores, a subsidiary of AWG, earlier this year purchased the stock of United Supermarkets of Oklahoma, Altus, which operated more than 20 stores. Analysts saw the move as an opportunity for AWG to expand its market share in the state.

AWG’s task isn’t easy as it attempts to expand business in geographic areas challenged by competition and the tough economy. But its formula seems centered on the customer, which bodes well.

“They are poised for more growth, because they’re serving the needs of independent retailers,” Batenic said. “They are winning due to attention to detail, formats the customer likes, convenient locations, quality perishables and great private labels.”