Distributor of the Year

PROFILE: VEND NORTHWEST DISTRIBUTING CO.

Headquarters Location: Portland, Ore.
Number of Employees: 11
Exclusive Product Lines: Mars Chocolate North America, Kellogg Co., Biscomerica Corp., Kraft Foods Inc., Kar’s Nuts
Estimated 2009 Sales: $12 million

 

Vending is not an easy business these days, but Curtis Wokal, vice president of operations, Vend Northwest Distributing Co. in Portland, Ore. still loves it. “It’s different every day,” he said.

After high school, Wokal spent eight years in the military before joining Coca-Cola Co. as a driver. Sensing more growth opportunity at Vend Northwest Distributing Co., he joined that company in 1994 as a warehouse employee.

At Vend Northwest Distributing, Wokal became aware that vend products and equipment were constantly evolving as he worked his way up the ladder at the company. He learned to appreciate the constant influx of new products available to vendors, and the large variety of snacks.

In these difficult times, he works closely with manufacturers to bring vending operators the best deals on products.

Individual attention to customers is important to Wokal. He monitors the number of cases his customers order, and if they get close to qualifying for a rebate, he gives them a call. “I say, hey, order one or two more cases and you’ll get a check for $150, for example,” he said.

Wokal believes location managers are less likely to be persuaded by a lower price on certain products in the machine than they used to be. He feels this means operators can and deserve to charge higher prices.

Wokal also believes in regular communication with his customers, which is why he started a blog called “Vend Northwest E-Zine.” Previously, he’d sent weekly emails, but after a competitor signed up and contacted his customer list, he decided to do a blog instead.

MAINTAINING A BLOG

“(The blog) is working really great,” said Wokal. “Every Thursday I try to come up with something helpful.” He calls these “e-thoughts.”

The posts are usually about work, but sometimes they get personal. When Wokal’s family dog passed away, he wrote about it. “I got so many calls about the dog,” he said. Besides expressing sympathy, customers told him how nice it was to get to know him personally. He appreciated it. “I want everyone to feel like family,” he said.

Wokal’s idea of family includes running routes for operators when a driver calls in sick. “Anything for a customer,” he said.

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