Progressive Grocer - January/February 2010 - (Page 32)

Outstanding Independents Awards Recognizing excellence in the grocery business Values for OUTSTANDING INDEPENDENT early 80 years ago in 1931, Alex and Lee George, the sons of Lebanese immigrant merchant Moses George, purchased a small produce firm in Hickory, N.C., for $17,000. Today, that enterprise, Merchants Distributors, Inc. (MDI), is a cornerstone of what Forbes magazine says is now the 143rd-largest privately held company in the United States. In 2008, Alex Lee, Inc., led by Lee’s son, Boyd, reported revenues of about $3 billion with some 10,000 employees in the Southeast, including 1,700 MDI employees who supply over 600 supermarket chains and independents in 13 states. MDI’s annual sales are estimated at $1.8 billion. Alex Lee also operates Lowe’s Food Stores, Inc., a North Carolina-based retail grocery chain purchased in 1984 by MDI, and Institution Foodhouse, Inc., a broad-line foodservice distributor with facilities in Hickory, N.C., and Florence, S.C. But there’s more to MDI and its parent,Alex Lee, Inc., than the numbers. Behind them is a story of hard work and determination, of business leaders staying true to values of fairness and customer service embedded in the company at the very beginning. These values have helped the company prosper despite economic crises and tough competitive challenges.• Progressive Grocer • January/February 2010 GROWTH N By Bob Gatty Alex Lee's 1 million-square-foot distribution center, built in 1997, includes a sophisticated warehouse management and labor-tracking system. Wholesaler A foundation of family, innovation and values to succeed has brought MDI into focus this year as PG’s Outstanding Independent Wholesaler. “One thing that will never change is that for us to be successful, our customers and our suppliers need to be successful,” says Matt Saunders, MDI president.“This philosophy has always been part of MDI’s culture, thanks to Moses George. He was a merchant by trade who instilled this business philosophy in his two sons, and it is as strong today as it was back then.” MDI, notes Saunders,“was built on a foundation of key values that made it successful then and will help us to grow and prosper going forward — Accountability, Communication, ExcelA H E A D O F W H AT ’ S N E X T lence, Family, Frugality, Innovation, Integrity, Profitability and Respect.” The company, he says, has always focused on driving retail sales, getting the lowest cost of goods for customers and minimizing its own expenses.“Lower expenses translate into a lower cost of goods for our customers. Our priorities have not changed, but we are much more intense in our efforts to drive retail sales in this economy, and we have become fanatical about improving our expense ratios through operational enhancements that lead to better productivity.” Saunders, a former Supervalu, Inc. corporate VP of sales and marketing who joined MDI three years ago, says those core values are apparent in virtually every aspect of activity in which the company is involved. “This is a company that lives and dies by its values,” he says. Frugality? Saunders says the company is determined to be prudent.“All of our focus is on providing the lowest cost of goods to our

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Progressive Grocer - January/February 2010

Progressive Grocer - January/February 2010
Nielsen’s Shelf Stoppers/Spotlight
Progressive Grocer’s Outstanding Independents Awards: Independent Inspiration
Outstanding Regional Retailer: All Together Now
Outstanding Community-based Retailer: Sharing the Vision
Outstanding Independent Wholesaler:Values for Growth
Independents Report: A Lasting Legacy of Leadership and Inspiration
Fresh Perspectives: Spartan’s Fresh Outlook
Produce: Priced to Move
Refrigerated Meat: A Great (Meaty) Start
Frozen Seafood: Reel it In
Beverage Alcohol: Let it Pour
OTC Medications: Extended Flu Season
FutureTech: Going Mobile
Retail Profile: Food Lion: Renewed
GMA Director’s Note: Leading the Charge
Best Practices: A New Approach to Knowledge
Food Marketing Insights: Got Talent?
Upcoming Events: International Eats
What’s Next

Progressive Grocer - January/February 2010