Brewing Up a New Distribution System

Comer Distributing and Rutherford & Associates show that it takes two to make a partnership a success


What would happen if an established beer distributor took a risk on a software company that had no experience servicing the beer industry? For both Comer Distributing Company and Rutherford & Associates Inc., it meant company growth, the addition of new and well-known customers and vertical market expansion.

Comer Distributing, a wholesale beer distributor that distributes many brands of domestic, craft and imported brews from around the world—including MillerCoors, Corona, Seagram’s and Mike’s Hard Lemonade— serves nearly 650 customers and distributes 1.1 million cases throughout 11 routes. But that wasn’t always the case.

Background story

Founded in 1971, Comer Distributing started as a small, 250,000-case operation with only three routes and a single supplier. As the company grew and acquired more brands, its antiquated IT infrastructure and software hindered its ability to operate with maximum efficiency. The entire process of moving product from the supplier trucks through the warehouse and off to the retailers was too slow. Because information was limited with no customer reporting or real-time data available, Comer Distributing’s competitive advantage in the marketplace faced diminishment.

Beyond these internal challenges, there were complications stemming from a changing marketplace. The beer industry as a whole was consolidating. Breweries had more people involved in day-to-day operations, meaning that distributors went from one person to manage—to about 20 people to manage. Retailers were becoming more demanding with their requests. And more suppliers were involved with a single brewery—complicating the entire supply chain.

To meet these growing challenges and prepare for the future, Comer Distributing needed a solution that would help increase visibility throughout the supply chain, enhance warehouse efficiency and provide access to real-time information through customized reporting capabilities.

Rutherford sets the bar high

Comer Distributing began to interview the traditional, well-known route accounting software vendors but found that these providers could not present an affordable solution to meet all its needs. Then came Holland, Mich.-based Rutherford & Associates. Though this company was successful in the soft drink industry, it had never worked with a beer distributor. Despite this, Comer Distributing was impressed with the functionality, price and flexibility of Rutherford’s eoStar system, a route accounting software package that integrates back-office applications with mobile devices in the field to promote supply chain visibility and access to real-time data. Because of these functionalities, Comer Distributing decided to take a chance and work with Rutherford to customize eoStar not only for their specific requirements as a distributor but to the requirements of the beer industry as well.

The two companies added functionalities that made daily and monthly reporting, data entry and price and inventory maintenance more user friendly. Custom reporting features enabled management to attain complete visibility into the entire distribution process, which it never had. To give sales personnel and drivers easy access to real-time data, such as inventory and customer information, Rutherford installed eoStar on Intermec hand-held devices provided by Baltimore-based Barcoding Inc.

“At Comer Distributing, we have always been willing to take risks when it comes to employing the latest technology,” said Chip Comer, President, Comer Distributing. “In this case, we put a great amount of trust in Rutherford, Barcoding and Intermec. Virtually every position in the company was affected by the transition to eoStar and by giving these innovators control over our data integrity, we were essentially handing them the keys to our company.”

Distribution evolution

Integrating Rutherford’s eoStar route accounting software with Intermec’s hand-held devices revolutionized Comer Distributing’s everyday business.

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