Refrigeration necessary Featured

6:14am EDT April 29, 2004
When a tornado hit Jackson Township two years ago and damaged a local school, an Avalon Foodservice Inc.'s regional manager and a driver supervisor took a multi-temperature truck to the school, loaded its perishables and brought them back to the company's warehouse for safekeeping.

When the school was able to handle the product again, Avalon redelivered the food to the school.

"The wholesale foodservice distribution industry is unusual in that competitors carry basically the same products and product lines," says Avalon President Terry O'Connor. "A distributor can set itself apart from its competition by being either the lowest cost provider or by providing the best service to its customers."

Whether it's supporting the local community or creating happy customers, O'Connor says Avalon is dedicated to finding products to help solve its customers' problems. Orders can be placed in five ways, based on the customer's convenience or comfort level: online, via the Web, by fax, by telephone or in person with a sales account manager.

Nursing homes use a health care menu program to track inventory, nutritional requirements and resident needs. Avalon drivers deliver product directly to the customer's refrigerator, freezer or storeroom, and the company provides customer training on safe food preparation and storage.

This focus on customer service is not only reflected in the company's day-to-day operations but in its growth over the last nine years.

When The Schroer Group purchased Avalon in 1995, the company's delivery area consisted primarily of Northeastern Ohio, plus parts of Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia. Today, Avalon services customers throughout Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, Western New York, Northern Kentucky, Northern West Virginia, Eastern Indiana and Southern Michigan.

Sales have grown from $23 million in 1995 to $55 million at the end of 2003, and the work force has grown from 68 to 111 employees.

This growth hasn't come free. O'Connor says The Schroer Group has invested nearly $3.5 million in capital expansion, including in regular upgrades of computers and software; transportation equipment; beverage and chemical equipment for customers; machinery; last year's move into a new, state-of-the-art 12,000-square-foot office addition; and various property improvements.

Looking ahead, Avalon has hired the nationally known distribution-consulting firm Williams & Associates to remap its warehouse to increase productivity and efficiency. It recently started phase one of this renovation by adding a fresh chicken room and creating an addition to its current 100,000-square-foot facility. How to reach: Avalon Foodservice, (330) 854-4551 or www.avalonfoods.com