[00:05:11] Josh Sharkey: Oh really?
[00:05:12] Tommy Gordon:
It's hot, man. I was just talking to someone from Arizona and they were like, it's been 110 degrees for two weeks in Arizona.
[00:05:21] Josh Sharkey: Oh my gosh. That doesn't
sound fun. It's been like 95 here.
[00:05:22] Tommy Gordon: It's hot. Yeah.
[00:05:26] Josh Sharkey:
So how did that go? I mean, you come from obviously a family of generations of a different kind of work. How did that work out for you? Was there any concern there are issues or what was that like?
[00:05:36] Tommy Gordon:
No, I think overall, like just a ton of support from my family, certainly to just sort of go do my own thing for a while. I think that they saw and see that as just super healthy to kind of go and kind of carve your own path for a while.
It was interesting for me. I think that when I was graduating from college, you know, as many of us do very bright eyed and bushy tailed, maybe not a ton of real life experience. Yeah. I had it in my head that if you want to do good in the world, you go into non profit. But if you just really care about making money, then you go into for profit.
And so at the time I was kind of over indexing my assumptions about work and leadership and value. And while, you know, I do think that phenomenal work gets done through different kinds of non profit organizations, they're flawed just the same way that corporations are flawed. And have to kind of continually reimagine and reinvent themselves in order to accomplish their overarching mission.
At the same time, it was actually at my grandfather's funeral. He passed away shortly after I graduated from college. I just remembered like he had been in business, you know, worked at Gordon Food Service his entire career. And just heard story after story of just like the meaningful impact that he had on people's life.
And so all of a sudden, kind of the lines got a little fuzzy in terms of like, Oh, okay, you only do good in nonprofit or you only make money in for profit. So there was just a couple of years stretch where. I felt like I was a little wobbly because it, it wasn't quite as black and white as I had assumed.
And a lot of amazing kind of impact work gets done through business. And also like sometimes some hard, less awesome things get done in the world through nonprofit. That was not my experience, but you just recognize it's blurrier and more gray.
[00:07:29] Josh Sharkey: Yeah. And I think this is a perfect example of where for profit businesses can do good for the world with Gordon.
[00:07:36] Tommy Gordon: Yeah, yeah.
[00:07:37] Josh Sharkey:
Well, let's talk about Gordon for a bit, and I was hoping I could dig more into, like, some of the stuff you've done at Gordon, and then more of what you're starting to do, but I'll wind you up a little bit, just in terms of the background on Gordon, and maybe you can fill in the blanks. A 125 year old company, largest privately held food service distributor in North America.
Yes. Over 20,000 employees, over 16 billion in revenue, five generations of Gordon family. And you also have this, these stores, there's like over 175 of these stores where people can come in and shop and you're now you do sort of drop shipping and digital orders as well. Can you talk a little bit about sort of how this all started and how it got to where it is today? Cause it's obviously a huge company and it started from pretty small roots.
[00:08:31] Tommy Gordon:
Yeah, it did. Well, you hit the highlights really well. Good trivia recall there, Josh. We'll just assume that you had that all memorized and you went.
[00:08:38] Josh Sharkey:
Oh no. I got a list right here. There's more, but.
[00:08:41] Tommy Gordon:
I'm sorry. My lights keep going off. Yeah. So Gordon Food Service started in 1897 by my great grandfather, whose last name was actually Inberg. He was the son of Dutch immigrants and he was also a Dutch reformed minister. So I think back then, a lot of times, like. Small communities, you know, the pastors of a church would also have side hustles, like the contributions from their congregation couldn't necessarily sustain their life and livelihood.
So he started Gordon Food Service, or at the time it was just sort of a local butter and egg delivery company with a horse and buggy, the horse's name. was Dobbin, which we ended up naming our, one of our first two different order entry systems. We named after the first technical employee Gordon food service, which was Dobbin the horse.
Yeah. So that's kind of how it started and was sustained for a handful of years. I think in 1916, there was a young man named a young teenager named Ben Gordon, who two different things happened. One is he met Ruth Van Westenberg, which was Isaac's daughter, threw like a church event and was compelled and interested in her and then simultaneously talked Isaac Van Westenberg into giving him a job.
in the butter and egg and at that point then margarine delivery business. And so Ben was, I guess, other than the horse, Dobbin was really employee number one. He ended up getting married to Ruth about five years later. And Yeah, just continued to kind of grow his responsibilities. I think he would do everything from, you know, picking products at the time, like warehouse, although I think warehouses probably look very different storehouses, whatever they were called back then, working the shop, doing the deliveries.
And then every Friday he would spend the day kind of trying to acquire new customers, acquire new folks to deliver to. So they did that for quite a while, just the two of them working at it. And then in 1942, it's sort of like the true sort of origin date of Gordon food service. Isaac decided that it was time for him to retire.
And so he passed the business along to Ben Gordon, his son in law and then Ben's brother, Frank, and they incorporated Gordon Food Service. Wow. Yeah,
[00:11:08] Josh Sharkey:
I didn't realize it was a different name in the beginning. That's crazy. Yeah. Yeah. Who would they selling the butter and eggs to?
[00:11:15] Tommy Gordon:
I think initially it was like congregants of his, like, Dutch Reformed Church.
And then neighborhood folks and things like that. It was in, like, the northeast side of Grand Rapids. So,
[00:11:29] Josh Sharkey:
Was it their farm? Was it like, were they raising the chickens?
[00:11:32] Tommy Gordon:
No, it was like a true distributor. So I think that like for, again, you know, much more in general, sort of localized economies at the time, they probably had congregants who were farmers and who were running out of steam, trying to sell their product and get their product to buyers.
And so they really only, as far as I know, I could be wrong, it's been 125 years, so the story might've gotten a little mixed up, but as far as I've ever known, really was just always sort of the, the distribution service. It's probably a few less steps in the supply chain at that time, but yeah, that's always been a distributor.
[00:12:11] Josh Sharkey:
And long was it just eggs and butter and margarine? When did they start taking in more products?
[00:12:16] Tommy Gordon:
I Think that like really probably, you know, incrementally between the years. You know, 1916 and 1942 when it became, you know, incorporated .
[00:12:25] Josh Sharkey:
So when Ben and his brother took it over, they had like a whole property.
[00:12:28] Tommy Gordon:
They had a lot more, yeah, they had a lot more than just, you know, butter, eggs and, and margarine. But also like, you know, like cold chains also looked really different technologically speaking back then, and so like trying to. You know, we didn't have to, like, you couldn't move ice cream because you didn't have freezers in your delivery vehicles.
And so I still think that it was pretty limited in what they could deliver and how far they could deliver it. And you just think about the way that, one, like a global supply chain has really made its mark on food. And then secondarily, that just like technological hardware in terms of reefers and Like three temp trucks and all that kind of stuff has kind of needed to evolve over time.
Gordon Food Service was one of the first, if not the first, sort of who had designed and developed like the frozen section on a delivery truck. But I don't think that emerged until my grandfather, Paul, was kind of at the helm. He really... Yeah.
[00:13:34] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. I remember reading about the proliferation of frozen food distribution.
I think Birdseye may have been sort of one of the originators because they wanted to sell their frozen vegetables and there wasn't, people just didn't buy frozen vegetables even though they're really. Great, because you preserve, you know, you freeze them right when they're at their peak. And they had to create this market around frozen foods because the stores didn't have freezers, and there was no frozen, you know, free, you know, trucks with freezers.
And they had to sort of create that whole market just so that they could sell their peas. Sounds like Gordon was a part of that original piece as well. Yeah.
[00:14:08] Tommy Gordon:
Yeah. Very interesting.
[00:14:09] Josh Sharkey:
What is, um, war room mentality? I was reading about the culture of Gordon, most of it sounds pretty straightforward. Integrity. Everyone's important. Customer is king. All things that I think we see with Gordon, but what's war room mentality?
[00:14:23] Tommy Gordon:
It's a willingness to do the hard thing, even when it's not the popular thing is how I kind of internalize that I'm sure different people sort of would translate that maybe with slight variations, but I think war room mentality is ultimately a commitment to winning long term.
That doesn't mean that we're going to have, not going to have failures along the way, but ultimately it's. It's largely about like, we're here to win. We want to do that. We want to be the best. We want to do, you know, grow the fastest. We want to provide the most value. And it's not always easy doing those things.
Sometimes you have to make hard decisions. To me, the thing that I've always appreciated about. You know, the notion of sort of war room mentality is that it's also kind of paired with those other cornerstone values that are a little bit more warm and fuzzy. And so I think that like they balance each other out really well.
I think one of the War room mentality sort of paired with things like everyone is important and networking organization and things like that really sort of lend themselves to our leadership philosophy, which is kind of the, you know, servant leadership sort of way of approaching things. And the underpinning of that for us is really just like.
A fierce commitment to balancing relationships and results. And I think that's sort of where this war room mentality, plus everyone is important kind of merges together in a really intuitive and hopefully useful and inspiring way where people feel really important, but they also feel accountable and they also feel like they need to produce good results in an environment where they know that their leader, their manager. Cares about them as a person, not just sort of as a cog in the wheel.
[00:16:10] Josh Sharkey:
It’s a great anchor. Cause I would never think of that with Gordon, because I think the first thing that I felt when I started to get to know you and, and more of the Gordon team was just like, man, these folks, I know it sounds cheesy, like you really.
Care about these customers, it's so obvious that customers came with you all and you're sort of maniacal and obsessed with how do you make sure that I like, I mean, that's what we, that's what I picked up, you know, right away. It was like, man, they really, they're, you know, just in the way that you, um, your mental model of how you make decisions about what.
What you're going to do with the company as it relates to customers, it was so evident that it was of the utmost importance that the customer felt like they were being taken care of. And I see that in so much of what, of what you all do. And so I actually think it's interesting that war room mentality is probably a really good anchor for that because you can't just give everybody everything that they need without having, you know, the balance.
That said, you know, I would love to maybe, this is a sort of open ended, but I'd love to hear you talk about the culture at Gordon because it's, there is a, you know, a tangible culture there when you walk in the door of the building or when you get in a call with a bunch of, you know, Gordon folks, but I'd love to hear how you think about it or how you talk about it with, you know, with your team.
[00:17:25] Tommy Gordon:
Yeah, it's interesting because I feel like culture is such a, it's such like a hot topic in any organization. And I think that particularly over the last couple of years, like there's books written on building great culture. And so I think something at Gordon Food Service that is interesting is that we can talk all day about our cornerstone values and our leadership philosophy.
And that matters. And we obviously like words matter and how we position who we are to new employees and onboard them and talk about ourselves matters. I think that for me though, culture is also just kind of one of those anomalies that is really tricky to sort of pin down in super specific ways. And so even though we have often, like we have these cornerstone values that if we're trying to talk about it, that's what we sort of point at and we say, that's our culture, that's what we mean, but I think the thing that.
Makes it really come to life for me is when you have just some of those like kind of stories where You can point to and say that might not seem like a really big deal, but it's really indicative of the ways in which our culture and those values come to light. So an example of this, and again, it's like, so it probably sounds so small, but when I was a sales rep getting started up in Northern Michigan one, it's just, it was a lot to intake all at once.
It's learning, you know. Hundreds of thousands of products and trying to be able to represent the breath of that portfolio to a bunch of new customers. It's also trying to like help your customers run successful businesses. And so it's just this like constant juggling of thousands of details, only about half of which are sort of your details and the other half of which are your customer's details that you're trying to stay on top of.
And so I just remember. You know, working in a seasonal market where we do the majority of our business between, you know, Memorial Day and Labor Day, those summer months are so critical for our customers to succeed. So like every case, if you miss something, it's a big deal to them. And so at the time it was like, if we, or they messed up and they didn't, the product that they ordered, it was.
In our minds, our job to drive around town, find someone we could borrow it from, drive it out, like we would just grind to sort of make sure that they were covered and that they could get through. And I remember that what that meant was like, I didn't get weekends for A long time and I was a new dad and I remember there was a moment where I had realized on a Friday afternoon, customer was getting short shipped, the truck had come in late from the vendor and I just started calling every number I could in Grand Rapids, which is about three hours away from where I was selling and just to get ahold of somebody and finally some just like warehouse guy who, you know, works on the line in the warehouse, heard the phone ringing, answered the call and just like, went and searched for the product that was missing, stayed late to do it on a Friday afternoon so that I didn't have to drive down there Saturday morning to pick, to like pick up the product myself.
And I just like that example, I just remember like, honestly, this sounds so small and I felt like on the brink of tears being like, I just, you just gave me an afternoon with my family that I really like was craving and felt like I needed. I've been so stressed and it's things like that where it's like in many organizations, there's this like, it's not my job.
My shift is over. I'm not getting paid anymore because I clocked out and that was number one. It was just truly this, this reflection of like, Does the customer need it? Well then, okay, of course, I'll just go get it. They need to have it. And two, it was sort of this, like, I'm going to be a team player. I'm going to care for my colleague that I've never met, that I don't know who they are, some probably wildly disorganized new sales rep up in Northern Michigan who doesn't know what he's doing, but regardless, I'm going to make it happen.
And so it's things like that. I think make. Culture comes alive. It's doing the right thing when nobody's looking and going a little further when nobody's looking.
[00:21:34] Josh Sharkey:
I love that. I also think that a common thread I always see is the bulletin board things that you talk about of your culture typically are not what drives the culture.
It's not typically, almost always, they're never the thing that drives it. It's the actions that everybody takes cumulatively over time that just becomes what your culture is. And then someone from the outside is able to tell you what your culture is because they feel it. I feel that with Gordon. Like, even if I never saw what was on, you know, on the website bulletin of like, here's what our values are, I think they're super evident.
It seems like almost, like so much of the role of the sales reps and all the reps at Gordon are like, they're so adamant about how they can help their customers, which has been awesome as we've been working with you all, but that comes through a lot as well. I don't know if that's, if it's particularly, you know, described to them that way or if that's just how it's come to be, but that seems pretty clear as well.
[00:22:25] Tommy Gordon:
Yeah, I think it's both. I think that what you said, like it is described to them, I'm sure, but where it really lands is when you see it, it's sort of the show versus tell kind of component that like, when you see your sales mentor act as a consultant and do more than just sort of deliver green beans to their customer, when they deeply care about the success of their customers.
That matters a lot more than, like you said, the bulletin boards. When you walk in the building, those serve as a great reminder of why we're doing what we're doing. But at the end of the day, it's the people that you watch in action over and over that you're like, man, they're doing a lot of extra stuff that isn't directly correlated to their paycheck because they just really, they care about this work. They care about these customers, They care about their colleagues.
[00:23:13] Josh Sharkey:
So what types of customers does Gordon serve?
[00:23:19] Tommy Gordon:
Yeah, basically anyone across the gamut that's doing food service. So, you know, I would say our longest, probably our largest and kind of longest tenured sort of customer base is sort of just the independent.
operator, the mom and pops of the world who are sort of anchored locally in a market and serving folks there with their particular kind of business. We also, you know, obviously that's evolved and you see a lot more like restaurant groups kind of emerging where each distinct kind of unit has its own flavor, its own brand, its own concept, all things like that.
So that's been kind of an increasingly rapidly growing kind of focus of Gordon Food Service. Also just in part, because I think that has emerged as a rapidly growing kind of segment within sort of the world of food. You see a lot more folks who have sort of learned how to kill it with one instead of just replicate that one.
They say like, let's take the operational expertise that we've developed in building that one, but let's do it a little differently with a little different menu, a little different flavor over here. So we call that like regional multi units, so like restaurant groups is another. Kind of focus, we do some national chains.
We're not coast to coast in the United States. We are in Canada, but not in the U.S. And so when we go after kind of national chain business, we partner with other regional distributors to make sure that we can compete with the even bigger guys that are coast to coast. So that's our way of making sure that we can maintain a high quality and consistent level of service.
So we'll work really closely with other regional distributors to make sure that we can do that business. That's all kind of on like the, what we call like the commercial side. Then on the non commercial side, it's everything from senior living to like hospitals and healthcare, higher education, K through 12, all of those folks where food service isn't really kind of the, the moneymaker, so to speak, or the core of what they offer, it's sort of adjacent to what their kind of core core function is.
So that includes things like jails, you know, all those folks got to eat, so we'll do everything from jails. To senior living, to hospitals and healthcare. Like I said, all those things, cruise ships. We do some cruise ships.
[00:25:44] Josh Sharkey:
How do you think about serving, you know, commercial versus non commercial customers? Is it a different business altogether?
[00:25:51] Tommy Gordon:
It is. And in part, just because I think it used to all be kind of one thing. So a sales rep, for example, could have. Um, hospital on their route and they could have, you know, uh, an independent burger joint on their route as really kind of the industry has evolved in those different segments evolved.
We recognize that one, like the service model and profile is distinct enough that we're kind of cheapening it for everybody if we're trying to do be all things to all people. So we separated it and now we've sort of got distinct business units and sales structures that are just so much. better equipped to kind of service the nuanced needs of each person.
[00:26:32] Josh Sharkey:
Are they actually separate entities as well?
[00:26:33] Tommy Gordon:
No, it's all Gordon Food Service. It's just sort of non commercial, kind of handles everything on that side. And then we have sort of commercial folks. That said, there is like an unbelievable amount of collaboration that happens between those things because we're all taking, we're all using the same.
[00:26:53] Tommy Gordon:
Assets, capabilities, warehouses, trucks, often drivers to, to take care of those customers. So we have to work pretty closely together, but they have separated it so that again, the customer just gets seen and serviced in a specific and particular way.
[00:27:11] Josh Sharkey:
And you also have these stores, which by the way, when, when I first started chatting with you and the team at Gordon. My wife, who's from Ohio, she's from this little island called Put in Bay, I said Gordon food, and she's like, oh, the stores, yeah, I've been there, and I was like, this is a food distributor, it's different, and she, we went back and forth for a while, and she's like, no, it's the same, and I said, it's different, finally, she learned she was right, and I was wrong, which is typical of what happens, and how did the stores come about, and what is that, Sounds like for sure, this is, it's more than just a B2B like selling to, you know, restaurants, almost like a restaurant depot type style where they can come in and pick up their product, but also customers, you know, consumers can come in and buy from there.
[00:27:51] Tommy Gordon:
Yeah. Yeah. So it's interesting when the, when the store business first launched, it was really, um, pretty innovative from a business model perspective because we were recognizing That our customers needed things to get through their deliveries oftentimes. And so before the days of last mile and micro fulfillment, it was really our way of saying, how do we better serve and support our customers who might have a Monday truck and a Friday truck?
How do we get them through if on Wednesday they're running low? And so initially the store was set up pretty much just in service of our wholesale, you know, restaurant customers. And we called it just, I think we just called it GFS cash and carry. It's just a place where we could. Drop french fries and get them through until their next delivery.
So it started there shortly though, we would have people kind of walking in and being like, Hey, do you sell food? And we sort of thought, yeah, and it sounds like you want to buy food. So it was interesting because there's obviously been sort of the, the emergence of sort of membership. Yeah, you know, big box stores.
And I think partially because of who we want to be, we just said like, we don't want to be a membership place. We just want to be open to anybody. And so we, um, started just adding to the signs, like open to the public. We didn't necessarily change our business model right away. We just said, if you want to come buy something and we have it, feel free to walk in our door.
Over time that has evolved pretty drastically. And I would say it's probably about a 50 50 split in terms of our store business being consumers versus, you know, business owners or, or non comp folks who are just trying to get through the week, we have folks on the, on the wholesale side are maybe pretty small they are just starting a food truck
They don’t necessarily want to take up on enough product. They don't, they're limited on storage who use the stores pretty singularly as they're like distributor. That's where they buy 90 percent of their goods and they do that just. You know, they just never get the truck.
[00:30:05] Josh Sharkey:
I have to imagine that was a big risk when you all first did it because it wasn't a ubiquitous thing back then. And you're just adding another service for your customers, but just an added expense. It's another place you have to store things, another place where you have to manage, you know, the operation of it. Just so the customers can have more, more opportunity to get their product. How long was it from, maybe you don't know this, but you know, I imagine when they launched it, it was like, well, hope this works.
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[00:31:30] Tommy Gordon:
Yeah, I think there's been quite a few of those moments where they've ventured into something and then said like, Oh boy, like, I know that was true when we ventured into Canada, which obviously you guys are working up with us north of the border as well now, but yeah, you know, I think that at the time when we launched the stores.
I believe we were still just in Michigan. Maybe we had started dipping into Northern Indiana, but we were really just like a regional, very Midwest kind of Michigan business. And so our first store that we launched was only a couple miles from our distribution center, which I think at the time we only had one distribution center.
And so I think that the risk felt fairly measured. Because even though they were like, I hope this works, I hope people use it. You know, worst case scenario, we. Have overflow storage for other things for a while and, and can kind of see if it works. It ended up being great. And the stores have obviously, as you said, grown to 176 plus stores across multiple kind of geographies.
And continuing to, to grow. So I think relatively quickly, there was a pretty clear demand from our customers that this was something that was really useful to them.
[00:32:48] Josh Sharkey:
I don’t know the best way to ask this, but I wanted to talk a bit about competition because one, I mean, the restaurant industry is now hitting about a trillion dollars in revenue as of this year, which has to likely mean about 30.
300 billion or so in spend, I would assume 30 percent of the revenue. How do you think about competition? And also, like, how often are, I mean, there's very few of the very sort of scaled food distributors like Gordon Food. There's a, it's a small handful, obviously. And then there's these regional, you know, distributors, it sounds like you partner with and maybe some smaller ones, but how often do new distributors pop up?
And how do you think about the competition in the ecosystem in general?
[00:33:28] Tommy Gordon:
Yeah. I mean, it's been, it's been an interesting couple of decades and obviously food distribution has become a pretty mature industry. There's been a lot of consolidation and acquisition over the last 25 years, um, where a lot of those smaller regional players.
have gotten acquired by much larger folks. So I will give the caveat of like how I answer this is not necessarily sort of the corporate official response to how we think about competition. But for me, I think, you know, the best defenses are really great offense. And the best offense is to just obsess over your customer.
If we can have the clearest view of who our customer is, what they want, how to make them successful. Then I think that we will continue to kind of outperform our competition across the markets that we're competing in. That said, we want to pay attention. We want to know what's going on in the market. And so certainly when it comes to the other large players, again, we're the largest privately held company.
And I think that we try to really take advantage of the ways in which being privately held can work in our favor. Certainly one of those is that we can make. Decisions that position us really well for the long term without necessarily having to report that out instantly. Like you can kind of have a longer, a longer tail on how long you try something new to see if it works.
Whereas if you're, you know, often in a large public company that gets. Like it's challenging if you've got a lot of shareholders that you're trying to satisfy.
[00:35:10] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah you get way more freedom to take risks and, and play the long game, which, you know, clearly we see.
[00:35:15] Tommy Gordon:
Yeah. So I think that that has certainly been a big competitive advantage. The other thing I will say, and again, I don't think that this is necessarily our corporate position, but I also think that while we are, get pretty ruthless on the street when we're selling against other competitor reps, it's important to sort of be fierce in that competition. Yeah. Which oftentimes turns into like a, we're going to like get the business.
We're going to win. It gets fairly cutthroat. That said, I don't want to under assume or underestimate the competition. And so oftentimes when we think about like new innovations that we're pursuing or new ways of doing business, I want to assume our competitors are doing the same thing, things that we believe are going to be major disruptions coming down the pike, we would be silly to assume that our competitors aren't also.
Thinking about that, going after it. And so to me, that means like it instills a pretty serious sense of urgency of like, I don't want to, we don't want to be lagging. We want to be leading. And so how do we continue to make sure that we allow fierce competition to just continue to make us better for our customers and be. First to market on the things that really matter to them.
[00:36:30] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah absolutely. Yeah, I think estimated value of competition is not respecting your competition. It's a great way to, it's a great way to lose.
[00:36:37] Tommy Gordon:
[00:36:37] Josh Sharkey:
So, yeah, I want to talk about, so, so tactically what things that Gordon is doing, like, especially when it relates to, you know, technology and digital innovation.
Before we get to that though, can we chat a little bit about your new role? What you're getting into because you've been in digital technology and innovation for quite a while. And yeah, you're stepping into something new.
[00:36:57] Tommy Gordon:
Yeah, it's going to be a big, it's going to be a big shift. So I'm stepping into the role of general manager of our Great Lakes Central division, our oldest and largest division, which, you know, fortunate for me, that means that I'm, I'm stepping into an organization that is.
I've been killing it for a long time, so I'll be stepping in and surrounded by people that know this work. And do it really well for the most part. So I'm excited and grateful to sort of have that be true. It's going to be a much more sort of grounded and operational role than I think where I've been living the last, you know, couple of years in technology and innovation in particular, which has a natural bent towards what does the world look like in five years, 10 years from now, and how do we make sure that we're positioned to continue to.
Succeed in that environment. While that still is going to be true to a degree as a general manager, it also is increasingly true of like, are our customers happy right now? Are we doing the best to service, you know, our division today? And so I'm going to have to learn a lot about, you know, what does it look like?
Like, what are the implications for our customers if we're not, you know, hitting the mark in warehousing? What are the implications if our transportation team isn't necessarily positioned well or resourced well enough or et cetera. So I think it's going to, it's going to be a huge learning opportunity for sure.
I'm excited to think about the ways in which my experience in digital and technology can potentially, you know, further seep into the corners of our Kind of operational business in ways that we maybe haven't taken advantage of yet.
[00:38:47] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. How is the supply chain like going to be changing over the next five, 10, 20?
I mean, there's so much technology, obviously now among other things, what has changed in the last 10, 15 years? And what do you see as like more changes happening over the next couple decades?
[00:39:00] Tommy Gordon:
Well, I think, uh, certainly, and we've kind of already indicated this with just our store strategy, but you know, I think. Folks like Amazon, which is so cliche to talk about Amazon all the time, but they've really changed the, changed the game for. Anyone really selling it, but specifically like consumers now expect to get anything, anytime, anywhere. And so as someone, as an organization, whose kind of main role in the world is moving product, that has pretty serious, that expectation has serious implications for how we operate.
And so. Like this concept of just like last mile and sort of winning the last mile kind of battle is something that I think is probably top of mind for a lot of folks in our business. There's obviously a lot of like kind of infrastructure opportunity there. Like, do we have the right fleet? Do we have the right automation in our warehouse to kind of move things through quickly, but also just from like a AI, large language models.
Generative AI perspective, like kind of shifting from this, can we be super responsive to, can we actually start getting more predictive so that when somebody needs something, we've already got it as close as it's like as close as we need to get it in order to sort of complete that last mile more effectively.
So that notion of just like predicting and anticipating what customers want and when they'll want it is. Is a huge opportunity from a technology standpoint to make sure that we can be really well positioned as a distributor.
[00:40:38] Josh Sharkey:
What's exciting about that also is that it also means the food is going to get better because the more you can predict what's needed, the less time you need to store it, to get to the, you know, which has a downstream effect to agriculture, right?
You don't need to store lettuce for 20 days anymore. You can store it for much less time because you can get it, you know, at the door quicker.
[00:40:58] Tommy Gordon:
Yeah. Well, Josh, you also like bring up something that I think is kind of an important layer within food service as it relates to last mile, which is like. We have to think about food safety and cold storage and a cold chain in a way that you don't have to think about if you're shipping shoes, if you're, you know, if you're Zappos, it's like shoes don't go bad from the time they ship to the time they arrive and food does.
And we have to be really mindful about the quality implications of food when it gets shipped, but also the, the health and safety implications for the person who's ultimately eating that, if we don't, if we're not incredibly diligent and rigorous, kind of every step of the way, that gets risky and that's where foodborne illness comes.
So the nuance of last mile and food is an even more complicated problem to solve. Even more complicated problem to solve.
[00:41:52] Josh Sharkey:
Even with Amazon, they, with delivering food, we order, you know, every once in a while my wife and I will order Whole Foods and it gets here in a couple hours, maybe the next day. But that said, sometimes they send the wrong product, they have a substitution, sometimes it's the product is missing.
That's a much harder challenge with restaurants when I use a very specific spec. You know, I'll expect that spec and, you know, consumers, obviously they might be okay if you sent a different type of ham. You ordered Black Forest and they send Virginia or something, but probably not the case with restaurants.
So it's a bigger challenge with food distributors than, than with consumers. Let's talk a bit about technology because you all do a lot of it and you've been innovating a lot. One, what role should technology be playing now in distribution in your world?
[00:42:41] Tommy Gordon:
Well, it's interesting because I mean, even the notion of, you just said, like, we do a lot of technology or we're pursuing a lot of technology. I think one of the things that I at least try to really like anchor myself and our team is in when there's just like a lot of noise kind of happening in the technology space in exciting ways and in ways that if you're a nerd, it's just like, I just want to follow every rabbit trail. But again, I go back to just like staying really rooted.
And who our customers are and what their most pressing problems are. And so I think one of the things that can be risky with pursuing a lot of technology is you get so enamored with the technology itself that you forget the problem that you're really trying to solve. And so I think one of the things that we try to do is say, like, let's not pick a technology that's really cool and sexy, and then go look for problems for that technology to solve.
Let's really make sure that we are really laser focused on understanding the problems that our customers are facing. And even to a degree, anticipating the problems that we believe they will be facing in the future. And then let's start developing our technology strategy around those things. Again, I feel like I'm kind of a one trick pony.
I'm just sort of beating this, like keep the customer at the center of your decisions, because there's so many interesting, cool things. To focus on from a technology standpoint. So I think that's kind of a big opportunity that does have implications. Certainly in the types of technology that we bring to market and bring to our customers, it also just has implications in terms of like, what type of technology do we choose for Gordon food service to just be a better distributor?
I think the way that we kind of. Think about bucketing our technology and our digital solutions is sort of in three broader buckets. One, it's just solutions that make Gordon food service, the best distributor to do business with that can sometimes be customer facing things. Like, can we have the easiest.
Ordering platform for customers to use. Can it be something that they don't need to get trained on? They can just log in and it makes a lot of sense and they know how to find the things that they need, things like that. They can also though mean really getting. sharper when it comes to the type of automation that we invest in to enable our teams to work faster and to move product quicker and to predict what kind of, so it's kind of all of that sort of all of that stuff that is really intended on how do we make Gordon Food Service the best to do business with the second is really around this concept of like, how do we enable our customers to be.
As successful as possible. And so that to me is where like partnerships with folks like you guys just become so important because we can, we hear from our customers all the time we're in those restaurant kitchens, you know, every single day of the week, hearing the things that are making their life more difficult.
And so if we can get really good at finding and filtering the best solutions so that customers can start solving those problems. I think we really want and care about our customers being successful long term. And then the third bucket is really like, how do we think about sort of further downstream, think about like positioning our customers to leverage technology to make the diners experience kind of most compelling.
I think that's something else that we can certainly be thinking about. And so any of that sort of front of the house. Type stuff, is that something that we can partner with our customers on?
[00:46:18] Josh Sharkey:
I couldn’t agree more. Our number one, we call them first principles, but it's also a core value. With meez is operational empathy and everything goes through this lens of being empathetic to how our customers operate, what, you know, they don't have time at 11am to deal with something because there's deliveries coming and somebody showed up late and somebody spilled something.
And, you know, understanding how they go about their lives day to day. It's imperative to building the right technology, because otherwise, to your point, you can build something really incredible that nobody can use. And who cares?
[00:46:51] Tommy Gordon:
Yeah. That sounds really cool. Call me when, when it solves the fire that's literally burning in the back of my kitchen.
[00:46:58] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. My biggest frustration is usually when it takes nine months to implement a system. Yeah. The world changes, especially now the world changes in nine months. So by the time I get this thing up and running, you know. Yeah. My business is completely different, so. Yeah. You also, I mean, obviously Gordon is a massive company and we've had the honor and privilege of being able to work with you all, but we are tiny compared to Gordon, so I'd love to like get a sense of
[00:47:23] Tommy Gordon: Small but mighty, Josh. Small but mighty
[00:47:24] Josh Sharkey:
You know, we're not in the billions yet. Still in the millions, but um, you know, how do you think about working with these small companies like meez and others that you work with? Being such a large organization, like what, how do you think about that? What are the biggest challenges and then are there certain expectations that are pretty clear that you, that you set with your team, anything you could share there? I have a million questions, obviously selfishly, but I'd love to hear more about that
[00:47:48] Tommy Gordon:
Well, I would say like, I give you permission to sort of. Like fact check me and even like, this can be a public reckoning if I'm saying anything that's off kilter from your experience as a partner. But certainly I think first and foremost, it's just shared values and shared principles on what it is that we expect when it comes to like how we support and surround and take care of customers.
I think we've, again, like you can have the best and greatest technology that exists, but if a customer feels totally left hanging when it breaks. Or, you know, like that is as important to us as how excellent your actual solution is. It's just how deeply do you care about making sure that your users, your customers, our shared customers can be really successful when they use it.
If it's just going to add headache, that's certainly something that we. That we want to avoid. So I would say almost more than the kind of solution itself is just like, who's the team behind the solution and how aligned are we in terms of kind of those shared principles about caring for the customer, which is certainly a huge reason that you guys kind of rose to the top.
[00:49:01] Tommy Gordon:
I think you guys are an organization full of food service people. Like these are challenge you're, you're solving challenges that you've lived through yourself. I love when that is sort of what is anchoring a business or in particular, a startup is when it's coming from the perspective of like, I wish this solution existed when I was operating restaurants, because it would have solved a ton of my problems.
Like that sense of sort of operational empathy or organizational empathy, Josh comes a lot easier when you've lived those experiences yourself. Absolutely. That is certainly a big one. I would say the other thing, just in terms of like how we partner is I really try, and I hope we've tried to, to tell the truth kind of every step of the way with our partners.
And I think that requires a lot of self awareness and a lot of vulnerability at times to say like, Hey, we will probably not be as fast as you and taking this to market that you would like you are smaller, leaner, quicker. And so while I want to be the distributor partner of choice for every prolific entrepreneur and every amazing startup.
I also think the way to do that is to just like tell the truth and like point out where the potential roadblocks and landmines are before you guys feel like we're already kind of. sunk in this thing. Like, I, I just think that making sure that we're really telling the truth proactively versus just when asked.
[00:50:38] Josh Sharkey:
Well I can attest that was told to us. And, and then you were, because of that, you were able to beat some of the expectations that we might've had in terms of speed. I will say, I think, Similar to how we, we hire at meez, as much as possible, if not always, at least maybe independent of the engineers, chefs and, or folks that have run restaurants or have been in restaurants.
And we see a lot of that with the team at Gordon as well, which has been so... Instrumental to how we work together because one thing that I've been really appreciative of is the collaboration. We've been building products in collaboration with Gordon and the beauty of the collaboration is that it's not, you know, typically, I assume when you're working with really large enterprises, there's a dictation of like, here's what we want.
And it must be like this and that's not the case, you know, we're building product that will work the barometer, of course, being that this will work for all of our customers and all of Gordon customers and that it also is something that's going to be incredibly helpful for the Gordon team. And that collaboration I think has been really just a pleasant experience because it's not this, you must build it this way because this is specifically what we need.
More so like, Hey, because we all have customers in mind, let's make sure that this works for for all of our customers. And that's made it really easy for us because we're able to build product that at the same time helps. with your team, but helps all the customers in the food business.
[00:52:05] Tommy Gordon:
Yeah. Well, I think the other thing that I would just say has been a phenomenal kind of lesson learned for us over the last couple of years, as it relates to just like really building the partnership muscle is thinking a lot.
And I know that we worked really hard on coming up with like an agreement that felt like we both have skin in the game and where incentives are appropriately aligned. And so that is certainly something that. To your credit, like, I think that you guys didn't just sort of coalesce because we're bigger on the things that really mattered to you.
But I never felt like we were adversarial with each other. It was just like, again, let us share from our perspective, what feels scary about this thing or what feels unachievable if it's structured this way. And so I just feel like going into it, we both wanted to have skin in the game and it felt, it feels like incentives are really appropriately aligned where if we succeed, then we all succeed together.
And if it doesn't succeed, then we all sort of incur. You know, the consequence or the risk of that together.
[00:53:20] Josh Sharkey: Yeah absolutely. I mean, I think any partnership, the recipe for success is a win, you know, relationship is when success means that both parties are winning. And I think that's how, you know, how this has been set up. So I've been really appreciative of that as well. And we've gotten some really great products out of it.
[00:53:34] Tommy Gordon:
So, yeah, we definitely have. You, I was going to pump you guys up a little bit, and I would say one thing that is true of our people in part, because we are so, so serious about like the relationships that we've built with our customers.
But oftentimes, like, especially at the beginning, there can be a little bit of this, like, who's this, I don't want to say like healthy skepticism, but a little bit of this, like, who's this new player coming into our customers with us. And the way in which you guys sort of navigated those questions from the beginning with zero defensiveness.
And just like, uh, we're going to continue to prove to you over time, more of that show versus tell that we will respond with urgency when something breaks. We will answer your questions with transparency. And so like at the root of a great partnership in my mind is trust. And that means that like really clear feedback that
[00:54:33] Tommy Gordon:
goes both ways is important, but also just like the lack of defensiveness and listening that you guys have approached this relationship with has broken down any skepticism so much faster than when, you know, folks enter into that with like, uh, Assumption of that trust not being earned.
[00:54:51] Josh Sharkey: earned. Well, I appreciate that. It's actually one of our first principles. It's more of a stoic principle, really. The just asking yourself... Ooh, are we
[00:54:59] Tommy Gordon: getting into stoicism? I love it.
[00:55:01] Josh Sharkey:
Well I'm a big believer in a lot of the, you know, Marcus releases that And so I try to instill some of it into the team. But things like, you know, asking yourself, how are you complicit in the situation?
That the environment that you're in and it's very easy to identify all the things that are wrong. But if you just focus on anything that you can control, Yeah. It, one, it makes it a lot easier to stay positive and happy, but also for us, we have a lot that we have to, you know, get better at and that just makes us better when you're asking us questions or drilling us about things that that just means it's another opportunity for us to get better or address that and and see where we're at.
So, so I appreciate that. And I, and generally, I guess what I would love to say here is that I really just appreciate the partnership. It's been just such a pleasure to be able to work with the whole Gordon team, and you've been fantastic. I know you're moving on to another role, so I don't know how much we'll be able to chat, you know.
[00:55:55] Tommy Gordon:
I'll keep tabs. Don't worry.
[00:55:56] Josh Sharkey:
But, and each time I go to visit, you know, Grand Rapids, hopefully, we'll get to each other. But, is there anything else you'd like to share, you know, with the audience? This is obviously restaurant owners, chefs, mixologists. People who love the food industry, probably a lot of, you know, food distributor reps as well. Like anything you'd like to share?
[00:56:15] Tommy Gordon:
I guess the sort of last thing that I would just like to share is just thanking them. I think, you know, food and food service and restaurants, like It is just, it's a cornerstone of our culture and how we connect with each other on a daily basis. It's what our holidays are built on.
It's what, what our special occasions, that's how we celebrate. And I think so, so many food service folks across the gamut just often go unseen by the person like eating the food. And so like, I just think that there is something to just, at any moment we can, to just sort of pause and celebrate and elevate the people kind of across the food value chain, but specifically to your listeners who are working in, in food service.
Like, it is hard work. It's a hard business. It's what makes people's memories, you know, So meaningful to them. It's like the magic that happens around a great meal is something really difficult to quantify. And it's something that is really important to our lives in our world. So I just like not to get overly corny, but I just think and hope that people feel kind of the appreciation from someone who lands pretty smack dab in the middle of the food value chain and sort of relies on folks upstream and downstream.
It's just incredibly important work. So I guess that would be my, my last thing to share is just, thank you. It's such important work that often goes unnoticed. So,
[00:57:50] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah, I appreciate that. And I couldn't agree more. I think people actually are starting to understand and appreciate more what goes into getting food on a plate to your table and there's so much to it.
And I think obviously the pandemic was a great way to illuminate some of the some of the challenges in the industry, but I think it's getting better. So
[00:58:13] Tommy Gordon:
I Think so too.
[00:58:14] Josh Sharkey:
Thomas was this was awesome, man. I really appreciate it. Yeah, Thank you for taking some time to chat with me.
[00:58:21] Tommy Gordon:
I appreciate you too Josh, Heck yeah. Thanks for inviting me.
[00:58:28] Josh Sharkey:
Thanks for tuning into the meez podcast the music from the show is a remix of the song art mirror by an old friend Hip hop artist, Fresh Daily for show notes and more go to getmeez.com/podcast That's G E T M double E Z dot com forward slash podcast. If you enjoyed the show, I'd love it if you can share it with fellow entrepreneurs and culinary pros and give us a five star rating wherever you listen to your podcasts.
[00:58:52] Josh Sharkey:
Keep innovating. Don't settle. Make today a little bit better than yesterday and remember, it's impossible for us to learn what we think we already know. See you next time.