By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
In just a matter of a few weeks, a dream that began about eight years ago will become reality.
It was in 2010 that Koerner Distributor, Inc. began seriously considering building a new facility. But new business opportunities changed the focus and shelved those building plans for a few years.
By the end of February 2018, however, a much-needed, state-of-the-art, 185,000-square-foot headquarters and warehouse will be completed and become the new home for the distribution company that has been in business in Effingham since 1982.
It will be the third location for Koerner Distributor, but the first since moving into its current facility on West Wabash in May 1985.
And it’s a move that’s sorely needed for the company that distributes beer, wine, spirits and non-alcoholic beverages each year into 60 of the 102 counties in Illinois. As a result of growth and success, Koerner Distributors has simply outgrown its current home.
“We just have no room left,” admitted Paul Koerner, president and CEO of the company. “It’s a miracle we get product out of this warehouse. It’s only because of the diligence of our management team and associates. Somehow, they have made it work.”
But in a matter of days, it will be an entirely different environment for everyone.
They will leave a packed and crowded 100,000-square-foot facility and move into the building, located at 1601 Pike Avenue at the corner of Raney Street in the city’s Industrial Park.
“About two years ago, we hired Precision Distribution Consultants,” Koerner said. “We asked them to evaluate our operation because we were concerned it wasn’t as efficient as we needed it to be. We had acquired new territory, but without a good process for creating efficiencies.”
After the acquisition of Orange & Blue Distributing in Champaign, the Koerner operation included warehouses in New Baden and Carterville, in addition to Effingham and Champaign. All total, Koerner Distributors employees about 250 full-time equivalents.
“PDC showed us what our warehouse operation should look like,” Koerner explained. “It was clear our current facility could not support the transformational changes we needed to make. We did look at adding on to this facility, but decided building a new warehouse was the best route for us to take.”
The new facility is quite impressive. Whether it’s the corporate offices, the large meeting room/hospitality center, the space for the graphic artists, the additional room for point-of-sale materials, the training room or the warehouse, there is ample space for working, storage and even further growth in the future.
The main warehouse will utilize a new racking concept to store products, wider aisles and new equipment to increase efficiencies a great deal.
“Our guys will now have the ability to maneuver without running into our own product line or each other,” Koerner noted. “This new racking will increase our linear square footage a great deal, plus we will now utilize the modern walkie-rider equipment, which is so much more efficient than the old tow motors.”
In addition to the walkie-riders, which are much faster than the tow motors, the company will also be using computer technology called “voice pick.” That technology will actually instruct the walkie-rider operators where to go in the warehouse to pick up the products needed for delivery. It’s very similar to a GPS approach.
“Right now, we average picking up about 150 cases of product an hour,” Koerner noted. “With this new technology, we believe we might be able to triple that production.”
All of the inventory will be consolidated into the new facility. Right now, it’s divided between all four distribution centers. As a result, the number of truck docking stations has increased from 3 to 16. The centers in New Baden, Carterville and Champaign will become drop sites. Products will be loaded into trucks in Effingham and delivered to the other centers.
Koerner said the front office area is a more open design that will help improve communication. He added the area is brighter, cleaner and more secure.
He also likes the opportunity the large meeting room/hospitality center provides.
“We have about 100 people on our sales staff,” Koerner said. “We have such little room right now, we only have company-wide sales meetings two to three times a year. With this new meeting area, we plan to have sales meetings once a month. It’s remarkable the opportunities this new facility will provide us.”
Koerner is very proud of the company started by his parents, Carl and Carolyn Koerner. In fact, one room will look much like his parents’ dining room, complete with their dining room furniture that has been in storage, along with other memories. Obviously, this will be a very special room.
But Koerner is also quick to credit the company’s employees.
“We owe all our success to our people,” he said. “We’ve been very blessed to have a solid foundation of associates that have done extraordinary things for our company. We go through a diligent hiring process and try to make good decisions. It’s proven to pay off for us.
“The City of Effingham has been very gracious,” Koerner added. “They helped us with job grants and other incentives so we would relocate within this community. I think they’re excited about our new building as well.
“And the community of Effingham has supported Koerner Distributors extremely well, as have the 60 counties we work in. We have great relationships with our customers.”
So what does the future hold?
“Right now, we just need to focus on this move and execute and implement all the recommendations made by PDC,” Koerner said. “We need to make sure our service remains at a high level.
“We hope to remain a strong distributor in this industry. We’ve completed a number of acquisitions during the years and we’re certainly receptive to further acquisitions if the right opportunities present themselves.”