For more than 60 years, family owned LeVecke Corp. has specialized in giving its customers the finest service possible. Even in today’s very different business environment, “We’re not going to let go of that [philosophy],” COO Joe LeVecke says.
“That sense of quality and customer service [is what] we have been taught since birth,” he declares. “If you talk to anyone in this company on their own, they’re going to tell you, ‘LeVecke is resourceful and willing to do anything.’”
The Mira Loma, Calif.-based firm says it is a multi-faceted company in both the beverage alcohol and spirits industry. Today, LeVecke Corp. specializes in the manufacture and distribution of beer, wine and spirits.
Members of the LeVecke family started LeVecke Corp. in 1949 as a beer distributor. “It took them six months to sell their first case,” LeVecke says. He notes that his elders also formed relationships with nationwide retailers that still continue on today.
“Through those relationships with those retailers, they were encouraged to get into wine and spirits,” LeVecke says. In the early 1970s, LeVecke Corp. started to manufacture distilled spirits for retailers.
“We’re now in our fourth generation of family leadership,” LeVecke continues. The majority of the company’s business consists of manufacturing private label products for retailers, including tequila and rum. “Our primary customers are Vons, Safeway, Supervalu, Kroger and Costco.”
LeVecke Corp. provides bottling services and manufactures some of its own national brands, including Pau Maui Vodka. The beverage is distilled in small batches from the Hawaiian Pineapple at the company’s micro-distillery on the island of Maui.
“LeVecke Corp.’s success through the last half century can be traced to the company’s commitment to quality, service and fairness in pricing,” the company says.
The company also has teamed up with Jackyl lead singer and Full Throttle Saloon star Jesse James Dupree to manufacture one of its national brands of beverages, America’s Outlaw Bourbon Whiskey. “Jesse James has got a great philosophy and a marketing mind,” LeVecke says.
“His market is the blue collar worker that’s busting his knuckles, every day, working on the production line,” LeVecke continues. “He wants to produce a product that’s specifically geared towards him. [Jesse has] said, ‘This isn’t a celebrity brand; this is the people’s brand. I just happened to be the conduit.’”
LeVecke started working for the company full-time in 2010, and says he was raised in the business. “I remember as a kid, my dad putting me in a box and sending me down the conveyor line or [gave me rides] in a forklift,” he recalls.
Today, his father, Tim LeVecke, is chairman, and his uncle, Neil LeVecke, is president. He notes that the family atmosphere has nurtured the company’s focus on customer service.
In addition,“We commit to our customers a five-day lead time,” LeVecke declares. “Our team fulfills at [a rate of] over 98 percent, which is unheard of in the industry.”
He praises the company’s sales team, led by Vice President of Sales Steve Vento. “He’s an amazing category manager,” LeVecke says. “He’s keeping [our clients] up to date on what’s really going on the industry.”
Whenever LeVecke Corp. adds a new product to its lines, it makes a concerted effort to make sure the launch is flawless, LeVecke says. The company might staff a new line with as many as 14 people before it is confident it can produce the product with its usual team of four to nine employees.
“We always commit to making sure we get a good quality product out the door, no matter what it takes,” he says.
LeVecke adds the company has had strong support from its vendors, which include Sovereign Flavors, a flavor producer based in Santa Ana, Calif. “Sovereign Flavors has been fantastic, keeping LeVecke Corp. ahead of the curve,” LeVecke raves, citing the leadership of owner David Ames as the reason for Sovereign’s success.
LeVecke is especially proud of his company’s contract bottling operation. To him, the business demonstrates LeVecke’s “resourcefulness” and “how we’re willing to do anything [for clients]. [That] is why brand owners of spirits look to LeVecke to offload some of their bottling,” he says. “Some of the folks out there want to start their own brand, but they don’t necessarily know how to do it.”
LeVecke Corp. can handle the process for those clients as their products move from the concept stage to eventually being placed on store shelves. The company even can help name new products and design their labels. “There’s very few companies in the bottling business that can help on the design side,” LeVecke explains. “Most of the bottlers out there are purely manufacturers.”
The company works with Gleason Design Group, based in Irvine, Calif., to create labels. “They’ve done a lot of work for our customers, from Costco to Supervalu to Safeway,” he says, praising its owner, John Gleason. “He does great work. It takes a lot to get the concept all the way [to] the shelf.”
LeVecke adds that his company’s bottling work is set apart from others by its own unique manufacturing abilities. Often, clients will come to the company with a specific idea for a bottle that requires the firm to adapt by changing its own processes.
“A good example is a bottle that may be shaped like a head,” LeVecke says. “Sometimes those are difficult bottles to run on a bottling line.”
The secret, LeVecke notes, is to manufacture it with as few hands as possible. ”If you can automate the manufacturing, you’re able to keep the overhead low for your customers, [and] therefore, [you’re] keeping their margins high,” he says.
One example is the bottle it produced for Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, a spirit owned by singer Sammy Hagar. “That [is] a very unique bottle,” LeVecke says. “It’s a round bottle with a long neck [that has] a complete wrap-around label on it, almost like a barbershop pole.”
The singer and his business partners had approached LeVecke Corp. after they learned about the company’s Pau Maui Vodka. When Hagar tried samples of the rum, “He loved it and now we’re in full production of his product,” LeVecke says.
Pride of Maui
LeVecke Corp. operates a distillery in Maui, where it bottles Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum and produces its own Island 808 and Pau Maui Vodka brands. The company is in the process of adding Hawaiian flavors to its Island 808 line of vodka, such as its Backscratcher, Zombie Cocktail, coconut and pineapple flavors.
Even before the construction of the distillery four years ago, the company had the benefit of enjoying sales on the islands for many years. “You can’t go to any store out there and not find those drinks in Hawaii,” LeVecke declares. “Now we’re focusing on … getting it on the mainland.”
Located in Makawao, Maui, the company’s distillery “is settled at the base of Haleakala Crater,” LeVecke explains. “It sits among the pineapple fields and sugar cane fields. If you go to the edge of the property, you get a gorgeous view of the edge of the entire island.”
The facility’s master distiller, Mark Nigbur, has got “an engineering mind mixed with a business and entrepreneurial mind,” LeVecke says. “He’s an exceptional partner.”
LeVecke Corp. has seen much recent growth in Washington, which until this past June had allowed liquor sales only at the state-controlled stores. But, with the industry now privatized, “it’s like the wild west in Washington,” LeVecke says. He notes that the company is working with the Washington-based Costco on both margarita and vodka beverages.
In addition, the consumer’s demand for craft beverages is very strong, LeVecke says. “[We] see a huge demand from people wanting to get a product that’s been developed by an artisan,” he says.
The company is in the process of developing a business plan in its Londonderry, New Hampshire-facility, that would cater to craft distilleries nationwide. LeVecke wants to be a resource that would allow the micro-distilleries to get up and running as quickly as possible.
Another product that the company is developing with a customer is an alcoholic beverage that would come in a soft bag. LeVecke notes that there is a strong desire for this type of packaging among consumers who grew up drinking beverages in such a container, like Capri Sun beverages.
Some competitors have begun making products in this format, and LeVecke Corp. intends to follow. “People are moving away from glass and plastic and moving to products with less of a carbon footprint,” he says. “We are speaking with a company that is [developing a product].”
Picking Up the Pace
LeVecke sees a strong future for LeVecke Corp., particularly after the upgrades the company recently made to its Mira Loma facility. “[That has] been a primary focus over the last year,” he says.
Because the facility had a strong record for so many years, few improvements had been made to it. But since LeVecke oversaw its changes, it has grown to cover 170,000 square feet and has 56 bottling tanks.
“We need to make sure our tank room can process and make the product as fast as production can bottle it,” he says. Within five years, the company wants to be able to produce approximately 5 million cases annually and have sales of $200 million.
Already, he says, the company has seen benefits from the upgrades. “A year ago, to make a tank of vodka, it would take us four hours,” he reports. “We can now process and blend that tank in 45 minutes, almost quadrupling the pace.”