Great Western Distributing
Issue Winter 13
Great Western Distributing has been providing refreshments to the panhandle of Texas for more than 60 years, and the family owned company has no plans to make way for competing conglomerates.
President Chris Reed’s family began wholesale beverage distribution in 1952 and the reins of Great Western Distributing have been passed down from generation to generation. “I was born into the business,” Reed says. “I didn’t know anything else. I would sweep the floors when I was 11 years old and when I was 16 – after I would leave school – I’d go out and sell these seltzer waters to take care of the grocery stores on my route home.”
The company’s headquarters remains in Amarillo, Texas, from where it distributes beer, liquor, water and soft drinks. Its customers are off-premise liquor, convenience and grocery stores, as well as on-premise nightclubs, bars and country clubs. Great Western Distributing’s main supplier is Coors Brewing Company.
Great Western Distributing gains as much knowledge as possible from its suppliers to ensure products are merchandised and priced properly. “We do everything that needs to be done to make sure the store will move it off the shelf,” Reed explains. “If the brand isn’t going to work, we are honest. We utilize quality customer service and brand knowledge to build these products.”
Great Western Distributing’s management group consists of younger professionals who Reed says are more forward-thinking in branding than the leaders before them. Reed admits – and includes himself in the group – that sometimes produces ideas that are far outside the box. “Sometimes we have to put ourselves back in the box because it’s wild and crazy stuff,” Reed says. “We aren’t scared to take risks, we grew up in that risk-taking era. My uncle is vice president and my father is chairman, and they hold themselves in when it comes to risk. It’s a great mixture there.”
Since Coors is its main supplier, a majority of the company’s products are recognizable throughout the United States but Great Western Distributing is always searching for the next hidden gem to introduce. “We have a line of spirits that comes out of Holland and Canada that we believe is on the forefront of making it in the United States,” Reed shares. The line offers a variety of gin, vodka and Canadian whiskey.
True to its Roots
The Reed family started the Careers Cowboy Club, which is open to community members and employees, to preserve its western heritage in the community. “We feel if someone’s not out promoting that great western heritage that we will lose that,” Reed says. “We promote Amarillo the cowboy way and we can’t afford to lose that western way.”
The club includes about 220 members who hold cook-offs to attract tourism and raise money for charity. Along with starting the club, Reed says he also serves on nine community boards and his father, Vance, serves on five. Serving the community in this way allows the Reed family to impact all of its customers.
“We physically can’t give people money and serving on the boards is a way we can give back to people by making the community a better place to live,” Reed says. “Charity is big in both mine and my father’s hearts.”
With conglomerate distribution companies situated throughout the United States, Great Western Distributing looks to grow itself to prevent those companies from swooping into its hometown and taking over. “Our mission is very clear: We want to get bigger,” Reed says. “In order to remain in this industry you are going to have to get bigger.”
In preparation, an additional 10,000 to 15,000 square feet will be added to the current 30,000-square-foot warehouse in Amarillo. The original warehouse was built in 1952 and has been expanded three times, Reed says. As the company acquires and grows, additional space is always needed.
“Everything is so close right now that we have orders picked incorrectly,” Reed explains. “When we spread out, that will provide improved efficiency and accuracy.”
Great Western Distributing is also looking to acquire or merge with a Miller Brewing Company distributor in the area. “With Anheuser-Busch being the largest player in the United States and the world, we want to go out and beat those big guys,” Reed says. “It would be a lot easier if we had some of the brands the Miller distributor had.”
With more warehouse capacity and possible acquisitions or mergers in the future, Reed says he is hopeful this will all aid in securing the company’s territory in the Texas panhandle. “There are mega distributors out there that are getting bigger every day and eventually you will never be able to keep them away,” he adds. “I want to see my family, nieces and nephews in the business, as well. They need to experience the greatness.”