Thayer Distribution Employs High-Tech Supply Approach To Help Vending Operators Stay On Trend

Posted On: 5/30/2017

  • Printer Friendly Version
  • Decrease Text SizeIncrease Text Size
  • PDF

TAGS: Thayer Distribution, Gallicchio family, vending, micro markets, vend distributor, Juan Gallicchio, vending operator, Maria Gallicchio, Maria Gallicchio, Marina Dunn, Diego Gallicchio, Guido Gallicchio, Georgia Gallicchio, Sofia Gallicchio, Alex Gallicchio

GIBBSTOWN, NJ -- Juan and Maria Gallicchio left their native Argentina 40 years ago with three young children in tow, $400 in their pockets and hope of a better life in the United States. Step by step, they have realized that dream, establishing Thayer Distribution and building it into a major full-line product distributor that serves vending operators and convenience store wholesalers in the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern regions. From its modest beginning serving the greater Philadelphia market, the Gibbstown, NJ-based distributor today supplies confectionery, snack and frozen and refrigerated foods to customers in 14 states, from Maine to Virginia, and West Virginia to the metropolitan New York market.

Thayer's founders began their well-earned retirement eight years ago, and the next generation of the Gallicchio family now heads the business. With two distribution centers, 270,000 square feet of warehouse space, a fleet of 27 delivery trucks and 120 employees, much has changed. But at Thayer's foundation remains Juan and Maria's customer-centric approach and belief in implementing and innovating technologies to reliably deliver the highest value and greatest convenience.

Thayer Distribution, vending, Gallicchio family
FAMILY AT WORK: From left, the Gallicchio family -- Diego, Maria, Marina (Dunn), Sofia, Georgia, Guido and Juan -- break ground for addition to Thayer's warehouse in May 2015. It opened in January 2016, doubling the existing space to 165,000 square feet. The Thayer Metro facility, which serves the greater New York City market, has an additional 105,000 square feet.

Guido is the eldest Gallicchio sibling and Thayer's chairman of the board. Diego, the middle child, joined in 1989 and is president. Marina Dunn, the youngest, came aboard in 1994 and is Thayer's vice-president. Georgia, Guido's wife -- dubbed "the fourth child" by Juan and Maria -- is the company's chief operating officer.

Sofia, the first of the Gallicchio's seven grandchildren, and Guido and Georgia's daughter, joined the family business two years ago. Her sister, Alexandra, will join her in representing Thayer's third generation, after she graduates from Wake Forest University School of Business this spring.

Thayer Distribution's second generation took a big step to accommodate the firm's continued growth when they broke ground for an addition to the company's warehouse in May 2015. It opened in January 2016, doubling available space to 165,000 square feet. The vending product distributor has an additional 105,000 square feet at its Thayer Metro facility in North Bergen, NJ, which serves the greater New York City market and also has a cash-and-carry operation in which local wholesalers can shop for product.

"I could never imagine that the little business a couple of immigrants started a long time ago with very little money would become the company that it is today: a first-in-class distribution company," Juan reflected. "I would commend the vision and efforts of the second generation to put the company where it is now. I have immense confidence that the third generation will keep bringing innovation and productivity to Thayer."

Hello To A Humble Beginning

Juan and Maria settled in Queens in 1976. With no more command of the English language than the word "hello," Juan found employment as a salesperson for Goya Foods. His territory was in the tough streets of Harlem, where conducting business was a struggle and he often feared for his safety.

In 1978, Juan met fellow Argentine Carlos Mena, a salesperson for Goya in the Philadelphia market. He convinced Juan and Maria to move to the City of Brotherly Love, where he promised to introduce them to his Spanish-speaking bodega customers, to whom he could sell candy.

Thayer Distribution, Gallicchio
FROM LEFT... Juan and Maria Gallicchio, Marina Dunn, and Diego, Guido, Georgia, Sofia and Alex Gallicchio.

So the couple started Molino Distributors out of their home. Juan sold only $200 worth of candy in the first week. To supplement the family's income, he took a night job as a security guard for a local lumber company.

"I remember one night my dad came home from the security job. It had been a miserable winter day, snowing and raining," Guido recalled. "It was so cold that when my dad got home, he stuck his feet into the oven. His feet were blue. He had terrible shoes; he couldn't afford boots. That image has stayed with me to this day and still fuels me to always move forward."

As promised, Mena introduced Juan to his customers and the orders began trickling in. He spent long days on the street as salesperson, deliveryman and payment collector, and his good reputation grew. Maria took phone orders, pulled and organized merchandise, and managed billing late into the night.

"We knew that the business was starting to do well because the stock of candy grew from being just in the basement," Diego recalled. "When it took over the living room, dining room and finally the kitchen, we thought that things were going to be okay."

The couple's business reached a major turning point when there was enough business to purchase their first warehouse. It was 7,000 square feet, with a single loading dock and no windows, located on West Thayer Street in north Philadelphia.

Growing was a challenge, however, as interest rates were high and the lending environment was unfriendly, especially for a new business.

The next big break for the fledgling distributor came in 1979, when Juan heard of a company called Anpesil, located in North Bergen, NJ, that sold to candy wholesalers like him. He made a trip to its facility and met the company's owner, Antonio Pelaez, a Cuban businessman.

Lacking enough cash to purchase the products he wanted, Juan told Pelaez he would return the following week. But Pelaez insisted on walking the Philadelphia entrepreneur through the warehouse and loading his truck up with $2,000 worth of merchandise. He told him to return the following week to pay him and to restock. Juan was concerned that he would not sell enough product to pay Pelaez within a week, but he did, and Molino Distributors quickly grew and became a steady Anpesil customer.

Juan and Maria saw the benefits of buying from Anpesil and believed wholesalers in the Philadelphia area would benefit from having a local "redistributor." So in 1986, they approached Pelaez to partner with him to bring to Philadelphia what he had pioneered in New York. Together they formed Anpesil of Pennsylvania.

At the time, Guido was commuting to Rutgers University and began working in the family business in the afternoons. Georgia (who later became his wife) joined the company shortly afterward and spearheaded its vending division.

Juan and Maria continued to work hard, choosing to reinvest in the business instead of taking a vacation for more than 15 years. Their children pitched in and learned many aspects of the business on summer breaks. They built a team of employees who shared their work ethic and vision, many of whom have been with Thayer 20 years or more.

In 2010, the Gallicchio family purchased the Pelaez family's shares in Anpesil of Pennsylvania. They rebranded the business since the original Anpesil Distributors was still operating, but the common ownership no longer existed. They decided on Thayer Distribution, paying homage to the street where the company acquired its original warehouse. Soon after, the Gallicchios opened Thayer Metro, extending into the metro New York market.

Tech Savvy

Juan and Maria embraced technology early on. They hired a programmer to develop a rudimentary accounting program to automate their invoicing process, and it continues to play a vital role in Thayer's cutting-edge approach to distribution.

"My brother remembers realizing the work efficiency gained from that first piece of technology, when our parents were able to come home and spend time with us rather than having to spend all night writing out invoices," Diego recalled. That inspired Guido and Diego, who both studied business in college, to teach themselves programming. Their first project was developing an inventory-tracking program.

"Our father used to have to look at how many Doritos and Fritos there were and dates," Diego recalled. "Now it's all automated and the system projects how much we have to buy. Technology gives us a big advantage logistically and in how we are able to serve our customers."

Thayer Distribution, vending
READY TO ROLL: Thayer's fleet of 27 delivery trucks supply confectionery, snack, and frozen and refrigerated foods to vending operators and convenience store wholesalers in 14 states, from Maine to Virginia, and West Virginia to the metropolitan New York market.

The brothers have built and continue to adapt many systems, and because they are 100% homegrown, they have the ability to customize them as needed. "If we have an idea, we just walk down the hall to each other and figure out how to implement it," Diego said

Thayer's "virtual trade shows," launched 20 years ago, are among the many innovations the brothers have developed to deliver convenience and add value for their customers. Customers sign on to attend the online open house and visit manufacturers' virtual "booths," where they can take advantage of discounted show pricing. They then have a week to plan for delivery of six separate order shipments.

The brothers also developed an online ordering system over 20 years ago, and most recently released a mobile app designed to make ordering even more quick and convenient.

"The feedback about the app has been very positive," Sofia reported. "With our customers on the street all day long, it's a natural direction to move in for them to order from their phones with ease and convenience. They can access the app from anywhere and place an order as they walk through their warehouse."

The app has a "favorites" feature that allows customers to set up a template to easily reorder regular products. They can also order by scanning a product's UPC with a phone's camera. After hitting the "submit" button, the customer gets a call from Thayer's inside sales team; within 10 minutes, the team confirms and reviews the order with them.

Human Touch

Orders can also be called in, or sent by email or fax. Every customer receives Thayer's printed catalog. Each customer is assigned an account representative who is expected to be attuned to their buying patterns, guiding them based on the latest product trends and available supply.

"It's very important to us that every customer is able to reach a Thayer representative when they call in," Marina emphasized. "We understand how valuable our customers' time is, and we want to be a true partner to each one to collectively grow our businesses in healthy ways."

Thayer is an authorized vend product distributor for many manufacturers, including Hershey Co., Mars Inc. and General Mills. It automatically reports rebated product purchases with most major suppliers.

Thayer has also integrated Unified Strategies Group's order center into its own system, which allows it to automatically receive and fulfill orders placed on USG's platform. Likewise, Thayer's system reports purchases for vending operators who are members of USG, a buying cooperative headquartered in Arlington Heights, IL.

Another way Thayer leverages its technology on the backend to save its customers time is by categorizing their invoices based on the customer's internal accounting codes. "We built in functionality that can save their accounting department three or four hours of categorizing," Diego explained. "We do the grouping and sorting. We always focus on how we can improve our service to make operators' lives easier. We want to be their partner."

State Of The Art

Thayer's approach to technology is especially visible in the warehouse, where every employee wears a mini computer on his or her wrist. Developed in house by Guido and Diego, the devices automate all warehouse processes, including receiving, picking, rotating and loading.

"I like to say that we're a technology company, through distribution. It's a big reason our suppliers trust us as much as our customers do," Georgia observed. "Each warehouse employee's handheld is the conduit in which that is possible; the handhelds direct our warehouse staff at every point of the process."

Thayer Distribution, vending
TLC: In Thayer's warehouse, special flooring with a skid- and impact-resistant surface provides added measure to protect product integrity when pallets are in transit. Additionally, poured concrete walls maintain a cool temperature to preserve chocolate products during hot summer months.

That includes tracking the shelf life of a product from the minute it is received by Thayer and directing warehouse personnel to pull merchandise in sequence from the optimum location to ensure proper product rotation.

The wearable computers then instruct personnel, based on the weight and density of each case of product, on how to build each pallet. "This way, there isn't a case of chips on the bottom of a pallet with a heavier case of chocolate bars on top," Georgia explained. "Our core business is the independent vending operator and, we understand how they run their businesses and how we can help."

The COO emphasized that Thayer is especially well positioned to supply micromarket operators, an automated retail segment that is rapidly expanding, because of the diversity of products it supplies to the convenience store channel including novelty and seasonal items along with larger c-store type pack sizes.

Additionally, Thayer's massive warehouse expansion allowed it to triple the size of its freezer space, which allowed the addition of new product lines and the ability to accommodate a steady stream of new frozen items. All frozen items can be ordered and delivered in less than 24 hours; there is no need to pre-book them.

Thayer makes weekly deliveries to ensure its customers are always stocked with the products they need. It also offers next-day delivery for orders placed by 2 p.m., with the understanding that operators' immediate supply needs can sometimes be unpredictable.

Thayer's system records exactly what product is packed on each pallet, and drivers provide that information to its customers upon delivery. Customers can specify the way they want their products grouped.

"Our order fill ratios are almost always 100%, and we have a very low 'mis-pick' ratio," Diego pointed out. "We've been building the system for more than 25 years. If we see an issue, we fix it. We built a good mousetrap, but we are always looking to adapt and correct our systems. We want to avoid any mistakes that will cause issues for our customers or add extra expenses to our distribution."

Thayer also takes extra measures to assure product integrity throughout the supply chain, including taking a 360° photo of each palette that leaves its facility. A special machine tightly shrink-wraps each pallet.

In 2016, Thayer invested in an onsite generator large enough to power the entire facility, assuring that it will function during power outages.

The vend product distributor's warehouse walls are made of poured concrete to maintain a cool temperature to protect chocolate products in the hottest weather. Its entire delivery fleet is temperature-controlled to maintain product quality no matter how hot the weather.

"We have such tight controls and high standards that many customers trust us enough to drop off shipments without them being there," Marina said.

Special Delivery

All of Thayer's trucks have onboard computers and global positioning systems that allow the distributor to accurately inform its customers when the driver will arrive, and to track his whereabouts. The trucks' trailers are fitted with liftgates to accommodate Thayer customers who don't have loading docks. Its vehicles are also equipped with electric pallet jacks to facilitate safe and easy delivery.

"We're very selective about who gets to put on the Thayer uniform, because our drivers have more interaction with our clients than any other member of our team," Georgia said. "Our drivers are more than drivers; they are ambassadors of good service."

Click for Full Size Image