2014 Wholesaler of the Year: The Odom Corp.
Beverage wholesaler credits community connection with success
With a distribution territory that spans parts of Washington state, Idaho, Oregon and all of Alaska, one might wonder how The Odom Corp., Bellevue, Wash., has excelled throughout the years while dealing with factors like challenging weather climates and a broad territorial footprint.
“The Odom Corp. has always operated in challenging geographical environments,” says Adam Hilpert, chief revenue officer for The Odom Corp. “Alaska was the original platform for the company’s growth, and servicing the needs of our customers across a state that has over 600,000 square miles — with extreme weather conditions — can be incredibly difficult. The very nature of the market we serve has mandated that Odom be flexible and responsive to the ever-changing environment around us.”
That flexible mindset is not the only contributing factor to the distributor’s success. Through longstanding relationships between its team members and customers, The Odom Corp. has developed strong connections to the communities it serves, Hilpert explains.
“Odom is able to provide local support and solutions while still benefiting from the scale of being a multi-state distribution system,” he says. “Customer service has always been at the heart of Odom’s core values, and this commitment continues today through the efforts of all of our talented team members. In an industry that is seeing a movement toward ‘mega wholesalers,’ Odom still believes that the connection with the local community is paramount to driving the long-term success of our business.”
This dedication to its markets and customers is one of the many reasons that The Odom Corp. was the recipient of a 2013 MillerCoors President’s Award and was selected as Beverage Industry’s 2014 Wholesaler of the Year.
Evolving with the times
With a history dating back to 1934, The Odom Corp. has experienced its share of changes during its 80-year history. Founded by Milt Odom in 1934 as Odom & Co., the Juneau, Alaska-based business originally sold liquor, coffee, meat, candy and baked goods. However, in 1937, the company expanded its portfolio when Milt Odom paid $1 to acquire the Coca-Cola franchising rights in Anchorage, Alaska.
Although Milt Odom passed away in 1988, the company still maintains its family-business roots with Milt Odom’s sons John, Bill and Jim carrying on the legacy. John Odom serves as chairman, president and chief executive officer; Bill Odom operates as vice chairman and executive vice president; and Jim Odom serves as executive vice president. All brothers also serve on the board of directors for The Odom Corp. Third-generation family members Brandon Odom and Danielle Odom also are involved in the business.
The Odom Corp. maintained its diverse business portfolio through the 1990s, at which time it decided to narrow its focus. “The Odom family has continued to evolve the business model over the past 80 years,” Hilpert says. “The company was once a diversified group of businesses ranging from foodservice to barge and tug operations. Over the past 20 years, the company has made strategic decisions to refocus exclusively on excelling in beverage distribution.”
Although its focus now is solely beverages, The Odom Corp.’s portfolio still remains vast with products from a variety of categories such as carbonated soft drinks (CSDs), still beverages, energy drinks, hard ciders, imported beers, craft beers and domestic beers. Within the domestic beer segment, the company has maintained a longstanding partnership with MillerCoors that spans more than 60 years, Hilpert adds. The company’s portfolio also differs for each market. For example, Alaska’s portfolio consists of CSDs, still beverages, and a variety of beers, while western Washington and eastern Washington/Idaho are composed of beer, non-alcohol brands and wine.
However, The Odom Corp.’s decades of experience have shown it the importance of monitoring its portfolio and potential brand partners to meet evolving marketplace needs. “We are constantly looking for brands that make sense to fit into our portfolio, and [we] have a group of people within our organization that actively solicit and evaluate new prospective supplier partners,” Hilpert explains.
One area that has shown significant growth within the Pacific Northwest is the craft beer market, he adds. As this segment continues to grow, The Odom Corp. has positioned itself to be a leader in this expanding market.
For instance, the company secured distribution rights for Escondido, Calif.-based Stone Brewing Co. in its western Washington market this March. “Since the transition, we have grown the business by almost 40 percent,” Hilpert says. “That kind of growth for an existing brand that has been in the market for over a decade is rare. We did it through great communication, focus and execution, all made possible by the outstanding brewery support.”
The Odom Corp. also partnered with Seattle-based Fremont Brewing Co. in 2009. From the beginning of the relationship it was clear that this brewery was going to be a winner, Hilpert notes. “This year we will sell over 150,000 cases of Fremont beer,” he says. “It is an incredible tribute to the hard work of the brewery personnel and our team members. More importantly, it has been a really enjoyable partnership to watch develop.”
The company also has leveraged existing relationships such as Bale Breaker Brewing Co., Yakima, Wash. Already a member of The Odom Corp.’s eastern Washington market, the craft brewer was looking to enter Seattle. The distributor convinced Bale Breaker to continue their relationship in the western Washington market, and the brand has already shown great results, Hilpert notes.
Craft beer, however, is not the only segment the wholesaler foresees having a bright future. The hard cider market also has caught the attention of The Odom Corp. “Odom is extremely ‘bullish’ on the [hard] cider category,” Hilpert says. “This category continues to grow exponentially and draw in new customers. Given the broad appeal in taste profile, there appears to be continued upside.”
Within the non-alcohol segment, consumer demands also are evolving. The Odom Corp. continues to be committed to collaborating with suppliers including The Coca-Cola Co. “Today’s shopper wants package options to meet all of their occasion needs,” Hilpert says. “Whether it’s a 2-liter bottle for a family dinner or a 7.5-ounce can for an afternoon refreshment break, The Odom Corp. is committed to providing consumers with those selections.”
Whether it’s craft beers, CSDs or domestic brands, The Odom Corp. has seen a number of successes within its portfolio for 2014. “We have been very fortunate to see some great performances this year,” Hilpert says. “The rejuvenated success of Miller Lite across our geography, the explosion of local craft suppliers like No-Li Brewing Co., Spokane, Wash., and Black Raven Brewing Co., Redmond, Wash., and the revolutionary excitement in Alaska around the Summer ‘Share a Coke’ program have all made 2014 a good year so far.”
The right team
To ensure that the company is serving the needs of both its brand partners and retail partners, The Odom Corp. turns to its more than 1,000 employees.
“The company has always recognized the importance of the people that make up the Odom team,” Hilpert says. “We believe in empowering our employees to look for the best solution to everyday challenges. This has led to many of our operational innovations coming directly from our team in the field.”
One of the ways The Odom Corp. tries to leverage its team to help assist its retail customers is through a segmentation of channels by region if the geography allows for it. “Depending on the geographical challenges, Odom attempts to segment the channels of trade into specific sales coverage [areas],” Hilpert explains. “We have found that the attention to the unique needs of each channel’s requirements has produced a higher level of return and satisfaction with our customers.”
The Odom Corp. utilizes a pre-sell model for its sales practices but also incorporates additional customer service through its comprehensive retail merchandising strategy. “Merchandisers are encouraged to identify and sell in prospective retail opportunities as part of their account call service,” Hilpert says. “This has been an instrumental part of the employee career path development process.”
Sales personnel also are equipped with iPad technology and Margin Minder, a Salient software program that helps to identify sales trends and opportunities with their customers, he adds. Sales representatives and management leaders also can utilize the latest software enhancements from Velocitor Solutions. The software has the capability to document, display and survey tracking in a retail location.
Expanding with the times
As The Odom Corp. continues to bring on new brands and staff to support this growth, the company has been streamlining its operations to make sure consistent practices are maintained. One way the company has done this is through warehouse consolidation.
“The Odom Corp. has actively consolidated many of its fully operational warehouses over the past five years, moving toward a regionalized warehouse model with a hub-and-spoke market coverage approach,” says Randy Halter executive vice president and chief financial officer of The Odom Corp. “Construction was recently completed on a new 225,000-square-foot regional distribution facility in Spokane, Wash,. sitting on 35 acres. This will enable Odom to source inventory for all of eastern Washington from a single warehouse while still maintaining a sales and cross-dock facility presence in each of the individual communities that Odom services,” Halter notes.
The new facility opened in July and operates at a climate-controlled 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The following are additional highlights for the Spokane warehouse: dedicated shipping and receiving doors, a warehouse management system to control rotation and quality, a voice-pick system to minimize selection errors, and a land footprint that can allow for a warehouse expansion up to 500,000 square feet if necessary. “This investment by the company will position us for growth into the future as well as allow us to more efficiently run our business of today,” Halter notes.
The Odom Corp. will use the Spokane warehouse to support its four Washington cross-dock locations: Wenatchee, Moses Lake, Pullman and Walla Walla.
Currently, The Odom Corp.’s real estate features 11 warehouses and 10 cross docks. To maintain consistent practices and standardized key performance indicators across all of these facilities, the company employs the Power Warehouse management system. “This system makes it much easier to monitor performance and share ‘best practices’ between Odom platforms,” says Jerry Dexter, vice president of operations for The Odom Corp. “By incorporating a system that is process driven, we have been able to increase productivity and eliminate unproductive work.”
The company also utilizes an array of fleet options through its partnership with Ryder Logistics. It also has equipped all fleet vehicles with Roadnet Technologies’ MobileCast technology and Lytx’s DriveCam program. “This has enabled the company to better coordinate daily delivery support in the field and realize a reduction in fleet-related driving incidents,” Dexter says.
But The Odom Corp. isn’t finished with its facility expansions. It also has plans for a new warehouse in Alaska. “Odom is currently in the process of securing a 37-acre site in Anchorage, Alaska, for the future construction of a new regional distribution facility,” Halter notes.
Concord, N.H.-based The Design Group, which also oversaw the Spokane facility, was selected for this project, he adds.
Marketing for the community
Because of the expansive number of brands that The Odom Corp. is responsible for promoting, the company utilizes an in-house marketing management team that works directly with suppliers and local media outlets.
“This enables Odom to develop customized local marketing campaigns or work with a supplier to regionalize the national initiatives to be more effective in our markets,” Hilpert says. “Whether it is the Alaska Iditarod Race partnership with Coca-Cola or the Washington State University partnership with Coors Light, each property has a uniquely regionalized feel as to how the program is delivered to the Odom markets.”
Throughout its portfolio, The Odom Corp. has developed a number of strong partnerships with local and regional entities, including Anchorage Aces Hockey, Spokane Indians Baseball Club, and Eastern Washington University Athletics. Through these partnerships, the company has activated a number of sponsorships at both specific venues and in the broader market, Hilpert explains. “By building an association with these premiere properties, The Odom Corp. reinforces its commitment to supporting the communities we live in,” he says.
However, partnerships with activities and venues are not the only way The Odom Corp. is reaching the communities it serves. The wholesaler also actively supports a number of charitable organizations, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Make-A-Wish Foundation of America, Second Harvest Food Bank, as well as many others. “Odom believes strongly in giving back to the communities in which we operate,” Hilpert says.
In addition to its charitable efforts, The Odom Corp. has forged relationships with a number of universities throughout the Pacific Northwest to offer summer internship programs and on-campus recruiting events, he adds. “We have found this to be a great source of talent for our company and have recently hired some of the interns that were with us this summer.”
The wholesaler also remains very active within the community it represents through numerous industry and trade association boards and committees. “We believe that it is important to take a leadership role whenever possible to help facilitate awareness of the value the distributor provides to the supplier and community at large,” Hilpert says.
What the future holds
As The Odom Corp. continues to add to its 80-year history within the beverage wholesale community, the family business is sure to remain an example of a company that will help the beverage industry flourish in the years to come.
“Odom will continue to seek out opportunities for growth,” Hilpert says. “A generational approach to making sound expansion decisions is at the core of Odom’s strategic plan. Odom remains committed to the beverage industry as its primary area of focus for future growth and expansion.”
The Odom Corp.
Headquarters: Bellevue, Wash.
Leadership: Majority owners John Odom, president/chief executive officer; Bill Odom, vice chairman/executive vice president; and Jim Odom, executive vice president. Executive leadership Adam Hilpert, chief revenue officer, and Randy Halter, chief financial officer.
Distribution area: Alaska, western Washington, eastern Washington, Idaho and Oregon
Products: MillerCoors, The Coca-Cola Co., Pabst Brewing Co., Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Crown Imports, The Boston Beer Co., Heineken USA,
Mike’s Hard Lemonade Co., Deschutes Brewery, Rockstar Inc., as well as other hard cider and craft beer companies
Distribution centers: 11 warehouses and 10 cross docks