Harbor Wholesale Foods

Harbor Wholesale Foods distributes more than 10,000 different items, but it offers more than mere products. “We’re a trusted advisor to our customers,” CEO Justin Erickson declares. “They know they can go to us for help to support their business.”

Erickson’s great-grandfather, Carl V. Erickson, founded Harbor Wholesale in 1923 after emigrating from Sweden. The business, which was initially based in Aberdeen, Wash., delivered butter, eggs and cheese to restaurants and logging camps.

Ninety-one years later, Harbor Wholesale is still 100 percent family owned and is headquartered in its new, 212,000-square-foot distribution center in Lacey, Wash. The company serves the small grocery/convenience store marketplace throughout the Northwest states, Justin Erickson says.

“[We provide] most of the products you’d find in a small grocery store,” he says. “We also supply quick-serve restaurants and foodservice products.”

But advising customers is a cornerstone of its business. “We’ve become experts in retail merchandising, [such as] supplying them with industry data, suggesting the right price to sell those products and how to merchandise them,” he says. “We give them turnkey foodservice programs, help with product sourcing and menu development.”

Harbor Wholesale can provide those services at a moment’s notice, Erickson adds. “If you said, ‘Hey, I’m opening a store tomorrow and need some help,’ we would more or less come in and give you A-to-Z guidance on how to get that store up and running from a food [and retail perspective],” he states.

Stepping Up
Harbor Wholesale’s market regularly changes, but those shifts represent great opportunities for the company, Erickson says. “Convenience stores across the country are elevating their offering to be more competitive with Starbucks, quick-serve restaurants and in-store delis,” he says.

“As our customers look to us to step up and be more competitive in those ranks, they’re really looking at the business to make it better and looking to a company to provide guidance on that,” Erickson says. “It’s brought a lot of business to [us], particularly on the foodservice side of the business.”

Harbor Wholesale’s distribution center in Lacey also is geared toward helping clients be more competitive with cold chain systems that can handle anything they need. Currently, “We’re in the process of launching a new coffee program for our customers, which is going to be a higher-end, craft coffee,” he explains.

“[It is] more of the quality you would expect to find in a true coffee shop than a convenience store,” Erickson continues. “We’re going to bring all the components you’d expect to help them compete [against] a coffee house.”

Committed to the Company
Erickson is proud of the culture Harbor Wholesale has established, which has earned it the ranking of one of Washington’s Best Workplaces by the Puget Sound Business Journal over the past five years. “That award is given based on surveys conducted with all of our employees,” he says.

His staff also makes a team effort in their daily work. “We probably work hardest every day to break down the silos between the departments and get everyone to collaborate,” he says. “That’s the focus for our people.”

Its team includes his cousin, COO Scott Erickson, Director of Purchasing Dan Thompson, Director of Sales Bryce Schneider, Vice President of Sales and Marketing Ryan Peters and Vice President of Operations Cris Bade. “[They’re] making sure we’re fair with every team member in the company,” Justin Erickson says.

A new addition to Harbor Wholesale is CFO Jim Winkle. “He’s enabled us to get more disciplined in our financial reporting,” Erickson says. “Throughout the company, we have new people and processes to make sure we have that uncomfortable feeling of always trying to get better.”

He also praises his father, Chairman Mike Erickson. “He’s really been the instrumental person to get us where we’ve gone today,” Justin Erickson says. “He’s the one that’s taken the risk with his own finances to build the new building.

“He’s a very selfless person, very committed to the family business unlike almost anybody I’ve ever met,” he says. “Without Dad, we would not be here today to enjoy the opportunity to build our business.”

Marching On
Erickson wants Harbor Wholesale to continue to grow as a family owned and operated company. “I’d like to see the business carried on to the future generation,” he says.

“I [also] see us expanding further south and further east as time marches on,” Erickson adds.