Modern distributors like Harbor Wholesale Foods have transformed their businesses by expanding their scope.

The best wholesalers refine order-taking and expedient delivery, while leveraging the actionable possibilities of the sales-related data they collect for the customer. Readers of Part 1 and Part 2 of our profile on Harbor Wholesale Foods already know this. They also know that advances like these are made possible through a combination of human expertise and technology, a blend that can fuel peak service and support.

“The expectations of the industry and the consumer are changing quickly and it’s critical we keep up with and meet them,” states Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Harbor Wholesale, Ryan Peters. “New services, products, and programs grow out of that necessity. Fortunately, we’ve got experienced eyes continually taking an informed look at data, which expands our capacity to help customers significantly.”

The wholesaler as consultant.

Harbor Wholesale’s category managers are a case in point. They apply their knowledge of what’s happening in the stores and the industry data they work with on behalf of the customer. This manifests a number of ways, for example, comparing individual store sales and ordering patterns to industry trends in merchandising and hot new products that look like a fit.

It’s indicative of how the Harbor sales and marketing teams function as a technology-empowered consultancy. They suggest layouts and food programs, menu ideas, technology, and even improvements to outside store aesthetics. To ensure any plan for the store is working, Harbor provides in-depth business reviews to evaluate sales performance and recommend necessary changes to achieve mutually agreed upon results.

“Service, products and programs that extend beyond the basics provide our customers’ stores market differentiation,” explains Peters. “The more successful and relevant their stores are, the more successful and relevant we’ll be.”

The wholesaler as foodservice provider.

Harbor Wholesale’s interest in and development of foodservice programs is a case in point. Hot case items, freshly made sandwiches, and fried chicken to go are just some of the offerings which have shown consistent profitability and have become as good as fixtures for convenience stores. A fairly recent development for the industry, the veteran’s acumen with which Harbor Wholesale handles the category is rooted in decades of experience.

“Foodservice is anchored in our DNA,” states Peters. “We have a long history with it and have built the infrastructure necessary not only to support it, but to bring it forward. Investing in deep product assortment, turnkey branded programs, and food handling processes all play a role. Our team of reps provides a foundation of assistance to help our customers capitalize.”

The wholesaler as coffee purveyor.

Though coffee has been a convenience store staple from the beginning, competitive stores can still make an impact on the consumer with the right kind of presentation and superior product choices. Some operators, especially the smaller ones that Harbor serves, often find themselves without time to make careful product and placement decisions—opening up another avenue where Harbor could assist.

“Operators with attractive and compelling coffee brands anchored by local roasters usually do quite well,” says Peters. “We’ve put together our own coffee program that can be deployed with a minimum of effort and features two exclusive, local brands, Watertown Coffee Co. and Split Shift Coffee. Our team consults customers on the right coffee program, roasts and marketing for the local community. Our service techs install the equipment and ensure it’s always running at peak performance.”

The right products. Effective merchandising. Fresh ideas. Each contributes to convenience store profitability, and each is available from today’s progressive wholesaler. “At the end of the day it’s all about improving store performance and profitability, while delivering a great shopping experience for customers, “says Peters. “Whatever tools and strategies permit us to help achieve that for our customers, we’ll adopt, just as we have since 1923.”

SSCS and the Harbor Wholesale Trade Show

An SSCS sales consultant meets a childhood idol at the Harbor Wholesale Trade Show 2017.

Wholesalers like Harbor and back office providers like SSCS are part of the third-party infrastructure that convenience store owners depend upon to optimize their businesses. As partners, they can consult with each other regarding the needs of their mutual customers, often leading to complementary solutions that make the lives of operators easier and more profitable—a case in point being compatible file formats for ordering and receiving.

Expertise sharing of the kind we are talking about often takes place at industry events—especially regional ones where everyone knows everyone else, the kind of familiarity that can really hone in on a specific store’s needs and get them in contact with the specific supplier that can help them, such as technology providers like ourselves.

SSCS finds these incredibly productive events, and tries to attend as many as we can. It just happens that the Harbor Wholesale Trade Show, exactly the kind of regional event we are talking about, is coming up on March 14–15 in Tacoma, Washington.

SSCS will be in attendance mixing with industry professionals from every part of the convenience store industry. If you are in the area, we certainly hope you stop by and visit us at Booth #531.