The Davidson Company Inc.: Proudly Distributing New England Specialty Foods

The Davidson Company Inc. (Davidson) began in 1974 when David and Eva Rowe purchased a small distribution business, which today has blossomed into a Connecticut-based specialty food and beverage distributor. Bob Rowe, second-generation president of Davidson, along with his three brothers James, Stephen and Thomas Rowe, senior vice presidents at Davidson, are proud to embrace their parents' legacy.

“I started in 1976, sweeping the floors,” laughs Bob. Bob is proud to explain how Davidson has grown significantly in the nearly 40 years since the Rowe family purchased the business. The tiny, converted gas station that once served the New Haven and Waterbury areas of Connecticut now provides specialty foods to customers all over New England and two counties in upstate New York.

Davidson has changed locations a few times over the years out of necessity, as well. In July 2012 the company moved into the newest facility in Newington, Conn.

“We’re operating out of a 120,000-square foot building,” Bob says. “It’s a big change. Our last location was half the size. It was very tight.” A lifetime of steady growth has allowed the Rowe family to continue expanding vertically and horizontally. Today the business employs almost 300 people.

Faster Food

Part of Davidson’s success in the food distribution industry can be chalked up to quick turnaround. “We turn our orders around in 12 hours,” explains Bob. “We deliver door-to-door to over 350 stores, and we have daily deliveries to over 84 larger-volume stores.”

The company has an in-house fleet of 32 trucks, including four tractor-trailers. Filling orders is eased along by a computerized management system that helps Davidson employees know what needs to go out, where it is and when it’s gone. “Steve has been the driving force behind the warehouse operations for many years and has developed an accurate and productive team,” says Bob.

Davidson’s team consists of almost 300 dedicated employees, each of whom shares the Rowe brother’s dedication to service. “We look for motivation, knowledge of the food industry, it depends on the position,” explains Bob. “James heads up the entire sales department and has created a very knowledgeable sales team and that’s part of our service atmosphere.” Davidson offers the availability of regional district managers in seven states to stay in touch with clients’ needs.

Davidson’s niche is described as specialty foods, and the company’s selection is broad. According to Bob, the catalog continues to grow. “We have a large selection of ethnic, kosher and imported foods,” he explains. The company attends several major food shows and conventions each year, shopping not only for trending food items, but for customers too. “We’re constantly looking to reach out to a larger base,” says Bob.

The company has food items for a variety of tastes and dietary preferences. The running list includes organic, gluten-free and kosher items, as well as delicacies from every part of the world.

“We went to the Fancy Food Show in Washington D.C., in June 2011,” says Bob. “There were over 50,000 different items and we definitely saw a few things that looked interesting.”

As far as products go, Bob says the team will continue to stay ahead of the curve on specialty trends. “I believe that a specialty distributor should be a specialty distributor,” he explains. “When you move away from that you water down your business. We’re very specific. Trying to be everything to everybody only makes you a jack-of-all-trades, but the master of none.”

Bob is also looking for sales growth, but understands that the industry changes and items can go from specialty to commodity quickly. “We’ve lost items to large wholesalers,” he admits. “It’s terrible when it happens, but it also means you did your job. You oversold it and the bigger companies’ piggy back off consumer trends.”

Maintaining the Market Share

Many industries have struggled throughout the recession, but Bob says his business has not taken the same beatings. “I don’t get hurt that much in a bad economy,” he explains. “It’s been a little soft this year, but the fourth quarter is our best time.” Since Bob has been running the business, he reports 10- to 14-percent growth yearly. “We’re at least 10 to 12 so far in 2012,” he says. “We have such a good sales force now that we can absorb a fair amount.”

The biggest difference in operating a business, Bob says, is competition. “There are lots of huge distribution companies nationwide,” he explains. “It’s always a threat, but we’re valuable in New England, always with service second to none. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, so our relationships with our clients are deep. We have always said our service and our products are our specialty.”

Bob likes to keep his employees involved, too. “It has to be hands-on,” he continues. Many of his products are boutique items, which can make finding customers more difficult.

Still, Bob’s team continues to reel in more interest in the line of specialty products. The company’s geographic footprint is expanding to bring assistance and products closer to customers. “We’re hoping to expand south into New York and New Jersey,” says Bob. “Bigger is not always better, but it’s important to have a big presence in the area you serve. The closer we are to our core business, the better off we are.” The company may not be the largest in the industry, but each member of The Davidson Company Inc. team is committed to service, ensuring sustained growth in a tough market.