Tucked away in the northeast corner of the Conway Industrial Park sits a company that interacts daily with some of the world’s largest consumer brands while providing products to more than 1,000 customers. There is a very good chance that if you’ve driven across this state and purchased candy, a beverage, or prepared food from a convenience store, the product you purchased was there because of Conway wholesaler Douglas Companies.
Founded 46 years ago in Texarkana by Bob Douglas, Douglas Companies quickly (1978) opened a second location in Conway. That was followed by another location in Jonesboro. In 2005, a consolidation of all locations into the Conway facility allowed for investments in technology that catapulted Douglas’s growth. Company leadership credits the consolidation with a 117% increase in sales. That makes the company the 44th largest privately-owned company in Arkansas with an annual revenue of more than $250 million.
Today Douglas is run by siblings Steve Douglas and Susie Douglas Munson. Together they oversee the 150 employees who deliver a variety of more than 7,000 types of products to customers in six states. Their warehousing and inventory operation is a thoroughly modern process on par with well-known consumer logistics giants.
“Technology is a big part of our company,” says Munson. “We’ve automated our warehousing, distribution, and sales.” Munson says that the investments in technology allow every Douglas employee to focus on the most important part of their business – relationships with the customer.
Frequently, that customer relationship is so strong that it’s hard to tell where the customer stops and Douglas’s influence starts. Douglas Companies’ role extends far beyond that of a wholesaler into that of trusted advisor and consultant. Douglas Companies has extensive “Plan-O-Gram” capabilities for every size of store. They use item movement analytics to ensure that each store is stocked with what their customers want.
Determining what customers want today is done by looking at the real-time inventory trends across more than 1,000 accounts. But how does a convenience store plan for what customers will not only like – but expect – in the future? Munson says they employ a number of industry-leading programs to meet the challenge. “Consumers are more sophisticated now. They have a wide variety of tastes. And they have high expectations.”
Through decades-long relationships with household name brands such as Nestle, Kellogg, Hershey, and more, Douglas leads their customers through a changing consumer landscape with training events like their own Annual Trade Show with more than 170 industry vendors in attendance. They also provide customers and employees access to retail insights from global companies. Recent partnerships have included hosting the “Hershey Mobile Customer Insights Center,” a traveling “lab” and display designed to help stores grow sales and customer engagement.
Through decades-long relationships with household name brands such as Nestle, Kellogg, Hershey, and more, Douglas leads their customers through a changing consumer landscape with training events like their own Annual Trade Show with more than 170 industry vendors in attendance.
Recently, Douglas responded to the industry trend of increased food options in the store by building a full test kitchen in their Conway facility. The test kitchen helps store owners try out and even develop new recipes and prepared food before integrating it into their store.
“We help our customers create and maintain their own brand,” says Munson. “Our employees are helping merchandise the store. We’re involved with store fixtures and layout. It’s a consultative role.”
Like many companies, a top priority for Douglas is competing for top talent. The company employs drivers, warehouse employees, IT professionals, sales people, and merchandisers, along with the traditional back-office support you would expect from one of Arkansas’s largest privately held companies. Munson says she wants more people in central Arkansas to understand the opportunities Douglas can offer an employee but to also understand the quality of employees currently on their team.
“A lot of our people have worked here for a long time. Our tenure of management staff is 15-20 years. Our drivers are home every night and can earn between $55,000-$65,000 annually. They’re professionals who we count on to maintain relationships with our customers just like our sales and merchandise teams. And because we’re growing, we’re always looking for good people.”
Douglas Companies thrives by helping their customers compete and succeed in a constantly changing consumer environment. That work takes place behind the scenes and out of the view of the final customer. Their Conway facility uses industry-leading technology and hosts some of the world’s best-known consumer brands. That facility is tucked away in the Conway Industrial Park. And finally, Douglas Companies is providing high-quality employment to a broad range of 150 central Arkansans. That’s something that definitely deserves our attention.