June 7, 2023
When it comes to the lingo and logistics of wholesale distribution, bottled water and pre-packaged power snacks aren’t that far removed from fasteners or pvc fittings. So says Chris Smythers, president and CEO of Merchants Grocery Company, a leader in the convenience distributors industry. Jason chats with Chris about the challenges of convenience supply management, the value of striking out on your own (even when those endeavors fail), and the lifelong benefits of association membership.
“When I first started in the business, I was always Elvin Smythers’ son. I never realized what that really meant until later on,” recalls Chris. “I see very clearly now some things I did not see clearly then.” Like most “distribution kids,” Chris spent his youth climbing on conveyor belts before his dad assigned him legitimate, paid duties. He left MGC in his early 30s to pursue other passions, and while those didn’t pan out as expected, the experience sharpened his focus. “When I came back [to MGC], I had much more determination of, okay, I really wanna work in this business and be with Dad,” he says.
MGC provides inventory management plus marketing support for retailers who fuel anyone on the go across the Virginia region. Tobacco management is a crucial aspect of their business, but Chris has opted to keep MGC out of the equally lucrative (and legally costly) CBD industry until it becomes more federally regulated. Whichever way the market swings, his team is prepared. “We wanna partner with [our customers], try to help them succeed and give them ideas, opportunities to make additional profits and bring back value to their businesses.”
Some of Chris’ best ideas result from problem-solving with fellow Convenience Distribution Association members. I strongly encourage people, especially young people, to get involved in associations,” he says. “Over the years, I collected a lot of those notes. I still haven't achieved some of those [goals] yet, but at the same time, I have achieved a lot of those, and they've helped our company tremendously.”
MGC proves that behind every gummy candy, you’ll find the same tight margins, tech advancements, and tax issues in the wholesale convenience arena as in other distribution verticals.
“I think that people should never close any doors and be open-minded about what the future can bring because you just never know where you're gonna end up.”
“Without the involvement that I've had and the friendships that I've formed, I would never have made it to this point in my career. I've got such great mentors and friends, and that all has come from being involved in the associations like CDA.”
“I really feel like in some cases there's a lack of education in the industry where people aren't going to school and learning how to be a wholesaler, and they're not very excited about it either.”
“I can pick up the phone, or I can send a text, or I can email any of these folks that have been friends of mine for 25 plus years and they're there. You know that we all are kind of in this family together of wholesalers, and we try to help each other out.”
Distribution Talk is produced by The Distribution Team, a consulting services firm dedicated to helping wholesale distribution clients remove barriers to profitability, generate wealth and achieve personal goals.
This episode was edited & mixed by The Creative Impostor Studios.
Special thanks to our sponsor for this episode: SupplyMover, the only CRM, e-commerce, and sales enablement suite built for distributors.