Laser Focused on its Customers
C&S’ supply chain initiatives have improved delivery experiences for its customers
After more than 100 years, C&S Wholesale Grocers sets itself apart by focusing on how it can help its clients’ businesses thrive. “We are the partner of choice for our customers to grow their sales,” Chris Smith declares. “It drives customer loyalty.”
Smith is the executive vice president and chief supply chain officer for the Keene, N.H.-based firm, which is the largest wholesale grocery supply chain company in the United States. Founders Israel Cohen and Abraham Siegel started C&S in 1918 as a supplier to independent grocery stores.
“Now, we service customers of all sizes,” Smith says, explaining that the firm’s client base includes more than 7,700 independent supermarkets, chain stores, military bases and institutions. C&S supplies them with more than 137,000 different products.
“Our buying power provides our customers with a wide assortment and the best pricing available,” he continues. “We offer the largest variety of perishables, have a growing private label business and outstanding, quality people who have been critical to building relationships with our customers.”
Smith joined C&S last year after gaining extensive experience in the retail and healthcare sectors. Previously, “I spent a dozen years at The Home Depot,” he recalls, noting that he also served 12 years at McKesson Corp., which specializes in medical supplies and pharmaceuticals.
Both firms are customer-centered leaders in their spaces, which prepared him well for his role at C&S. Today, “Our retailers are facing competition from various constituents in the food industry,” Smith says.
Its clients also have witnessed substantial consolidation in their markets. “It puts pressure on our customers to make sure they’re doing everything they can to provide value to their clients to be able to compete locally,” he explains.
C&S also has had to make technical changes to its operations as well, with the rise of e-commerce. However, “That is not something we are unfamiliar with,” Smith asserts, noting that the company has supported Stop & Shop LLC’s e-commerce business for many years.
A recent addition that brings C&S pride is its new distribution center that opened in Houston this past June. Spanning 720,000 square feet, it has the capacity to store 27,000 unique grocery and general merchandise items.
“It’s a large facility that shows the commitment to our customers and our associates in the Houston market that we are growing that business for years to come,” Smith says, adding that it was critical for C&S to open its new location on schedule.
“We have a strong background in being able to execute large scale projects,” he says, noting that C&S accomplished this by having a cross-functional, dedicated group of people onsite for the duration of the project.
Employer of Choice
Not only does C&S focus on providing value to its customers, but also ensuring that its own employees enjoy coming to work. “One of our key priorities is our journey to become an employer of choice,” Smith says.
This year, the company started to achieve that goal. Through this process, “We’re focused on everything from the physical work environment to our compensation and benefits that we offer our employees,” he says.
Recently, C&S launched benefits that included vacations for new hourly employees during their first year. “We’re making sure that people get their benefits quicker at the company,” he says.
C&S also invested $26 million in improving work environments. In addition to opening its new facility in Houston, the company has updated its other locations. “We’re also very focused on enhancing common areas, break rooms and bathrooms,” Smith reports.
But the improvements have not ended there. ”We are providing new material handling equipment to our employees as well as an upgrade to our voice-picking technology,” he adds.
Another important focus for C&S is upgrading its technology systems. Recently, the company partnered with FourKites®, the provider of the largest predictive supply chain visibility platform, to launch C&S Delivery Alerts.
The system uses logic-based messages to track store deliveries in real time, such as when trucks leave warehouses or when deliveries are an hour away. “Our clients say [this] is very important for them,” Smith says.
By monitoring where their products are, C&S’ clients can manage their businesses more effectively. Currently, more than 260 of the world’s largest shippers use FourKites’ platform across all areas of their own supply chain operations, including customer service, transportation analytics and procurement.
C&S has already seen strong results from its new system, including a 65 percent reduction in internal productivity loss, as well as improved delivery experiences for its customers. “It’s all about transforming the customer experience and providing superior service from orders to delivery,” C&S Chief Commercial Officer Joe Cavaliere adds.
“C&S Delivery Alerts gives our customers all the information they need to plan – from employee schedules to shopper promotions,” he states. “When customers know when to expect their deliveries, they can make operational choices that reduce costs and drive their revenue.”
FourKites CEO Mathew Elenjickal also praises C&S. “When it comes to best practices during the initial FourKites implementation phase, C&S has been a true thought leader,” he says.
“They’ve deployed the platform to hundreds of active users throughout their organization, and their adoption of the technology is among the most enthusiastic we’ve ever seen,” he adds. “We’re proud to partner with such a visionary organization.”
But C&S’ technology additions have not ended with here. “We’re implementing a new transportation management system and upgrading our voice picking systems,” Smith reports, noting that the firm also is adding lean and Six Sigma processes. “We want to make sure that we continuously improve for our customers.”
Doing it Right
Smith is proud of C&S and the culture that the company has built within its operations. “Any company that focuses on its people and becoming an employer of choice is something that resonates with me,” he declares.
He adds that C&S has set itself apart with these initiatives. “Not all companies do that,” Smith says. “That is something that really excites me, especially as I reflect back on my first year at the company: we’re doing the right and most important things.”
After a century of success, C&S wants to enjoy another 100 years of business. But, Smith says, the company will not be able to rest on its laurels.
Instead, “One of the most important things that we’re focused on as a business is we’ve got to make sure we have the best talent,” he says, noting that the company will need to ensure that it can retain employees while hiring new ones as well.
To achieve that goal, “We’re focused on improving our culture with our organizational health initiatives and giving people the opportunity to do their best every day,” he says, noting that the firm has embraced “the C&S way,” which strives to bring out the best in all of its employees.
“We are very focused on improving the customer experience and providing operational excellence. We receive regular feedback from our customers through our Customer Satisfaction Process and we have aligned our teams to be organized as Customer Experience Teams.”
These initiatives, he notes, will allow C&S to expand organically and through new business. “We are bringing the right talent within the organization that will lay the foundation for the next 100 years,” Smith says. “After my first year here, I can see we’re doing some really good things.”
In addition to supporting its clients, C&S Wholesale Grocers focuses on giving to charities. “It’s part of our passion for making the communities better,” Executive Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer Chris Smith says.
Over the years, the company has contributed to United Way, Feeding America, and several local and regional organizations.
This is accomplished through its CS Cares program.
“Our community involvement is led by our principles,” C&S says. “We are engaged towards corporate citizen supporting causes that positively impact our communities.”
One initiative C&S focuses on is the elimination of hunger. “More than 48 million Americans are hungry or at risk of hunger, including over 15 million children,” it says. “To address this challenge and support new solutions and ideas, C&S is partnering with some of America’s leading hunger-relief organizations.”
Another initiative is protection of the environment. “Greenhouse gas, acid rain, vehicle emissions and industrial pollution are all having serious impacts on our planet,” C&S says. “To promote the health of the environment, we’re taking steps through energy conservation, technological innovations and mindful choices.”
C&S Wholesale Grocers has won recognitions for its work. Recently, “We were proud to be named one of the 2019 100 Best Adoption-Friendly Businesses by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption,” Chris Smith reports.
FourKites®, a leader in supply chain predictability, also named C&S as one of the most innovative companies in its space. “We also were a winner for their Golden Kite award for customer experience,” he adds.
C&S Wholesale Grocers highlights its private label brands, which provide value and quality to retailers and consumers across a wide variety of categories worldwide, with brands that include Best Yet.
Since 1893, Best Yet has worked continuously to earn its reputation as a brand of dependable products. Best Yet offers a national brand equivalent and quality products priced competitively, including truckload buying opportunities.
Another C&S brand is White Rose, which has become a trusted household name in the New York Metropolitan area and adjoining states. Customers recognize that they can purchase high-quality products with the best value at a savings over the national brand. C&S has refreshed the packaging inclusive of adding a Double Your Money Back Guarantee.