Centralization, Motivation Drive Growth of Tankersley Foodservice

by Sam Eifling  on Monday, May. 24, 2010 12:00 am  

"It fits like a glove. It's a beautiful setup. And it hasn't done anything but go straight up since we moved into this facility. "

Now with offices in Fayetteville, Little Rock, Tulsa and Nashville (Howard County), Tankersley's reach extends from Oklahoma City to east of Little Rock and from Joplin, Mo., to Texarkana. Thirty-six sales reps cover that territory, led by a management team that has been extraordinarily consistent: None of the people in the core group has left the company during the past 10 years. (News flash: Don Tankersley attributes their apparent satisfaction in part to quarterly bonuses.)

Tankersley credits his company's affiliation with UniPro, a food service distribution cooperative of 350 independent food distributors, with helping to keep its costs competitive. Between them, UniPro affiliates represent about $58 billion in sales, equivalent to Sysco Corp. ($38 billion), U.S. Foodservice ($17 billion) and Ben E. Keith Foods ($2 billion) combined.

The overall food service business nationally was down 6 percent in 2009, Tankersley says, but his firm was up 6.5 percent. In 2010 so far, the company is up another 10 percent.

"One thing about the food business, it doesn't have the peaks and valleys of a car dealership or something," Tankersley says. "People are always going to have food. It's pretty steady business even in a recession."

But nearly all other UniPro affiliates were either down or flat last year. Tankersley Foodservice's growth earned it the distinction of being named UniPro's distributor of the year in 2009. The UniPro representative told Don Tankersley his was the only company in the rep's territory who saw growth in the recession year.

The company strives to retain business by making as few mistakes as possible - Tankersley said a recent week saw 10 errors in 50,000 units shipped - and commitment to fix any gaffes immediately. If a restaurant gets shorted a case of greens or a few gallons of mayonnaise, say, a driver has to "hotshot" the order in a partially filled truck. It's a blow to the bottom line, but Tankersley sees it as integral to retaining business.

"We've hotshotted to Oklahoma City before - and that's 200 miles - when we've made an error," Tankersley says. "You have to do it to keep that customer happy."

In one fluorescent-lit, 34-degree chamber of the warehouse, Thomas Moon, who oversees operations at the warehouse, shows off the computer systems in a small forklift meant to reduce errors. He, like others at Tankersley Foodservice, takes pride in running software and warehouse systems equal to those of the industry titans such as Sysco. A new coding and tracking system called Retalix Power Warehouse will soon allow the company to track the tip-to-tail costs of and revenue from every single crate that comes through the warehouse, allowing the company to determine the precise value of every unit it handles.

The company's low error rate - 0.25 percent on the day before Arkansas Business' visit, about a third of the industry average - Moon attributes to a bonus system that can pay workers up to $200 a week for meeting levels of performance and accuracy. "Money talks," he says.




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