Pat Lucci began his career in food service as the owner of a Mr. Donut franchise in Buffalo, New York. As the chain of eateries began to reformat, he took on a new opportunity to serve as a major link in the supply chain for these restaurants. It all began with Twin Bakery Supply, a business Pat owned and operated with his parents and brother, which opened its doors in 1972. In 1979, Pat knew he could develop a strong distribution business to serve a new area and established Niagara Distributors (Niagara), which now serves a majority of the state of Florida.
Pat decided to begin serving the Caribbean as the business took off. The islands to the south stood as undeveloped territory for the industry. Knowing he could easily fill a strong niche in the tropical market region, Pat and his team got to work. Now, Niagara serves customers in Florida with a fleet of delivery trucks, running up and down the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The business has also established export capabilities for customers in St, Croix, St. Thomas and St. Maarten.
A family tradition
A third generation of Luccis has gotten into the distribution business. While Pat remains actively involved in the company, his daughter, Janet Lucci, serves as company president, while his son, Rick Lucci, serves as vice president. The siblings manage day-to-day operations, building relationships with new customers and ensuring that their team meets the needs of existing clients.
“Rick and I got into the business through family,” Janet explains. “We both worked in the donut shops growing up. Rick worked as a truck driver for Twin Bakery Supply, but this was my first exposure to the distribution business.” In 1983, while Janet was in school, her father approached her and Rick with an opportunity. He was having trouble managing some operational issues while bouncing between Hollywood, Florida, and Buffalo New York to manage the companies. Janet says the introduction was a bit of a trial by fire, but she has never looked back.
Standing out from the competition
Janet and her crew offer a broad selection of refrigerated, frozen and dry goods as well as kitchen supplies including trays, wraps, storage items and utensils. Customers have come to rely on Niagara to keep the basics in stock and offer options for custom orders. The selection includes a vast array of flour, sweeteners, yeast and fillings as well as value-added products such as cakes, whole pies, bagels, rolls and pastries. The selection continues to grow as the business takes on new accounts and caters inventory to the needs of customers.
“One of our greatest strengths is that we are a mid-sized company,” Janet explains. “We are very responsive and we don’t have to go through the red tape, processes and procedures of larger suppliers to get things done. We talk to our customers and come to understand what they need. We can send them samples and try to get new items for them without requiring the high ordering volume that other businesses do.”
One new customer that has been a game-changer for Niagara is Whole Foods. The company has a strong and growing relationship with the natural food grocer, which has shifted some of the focus for inventory. “This partnership has taken us in a new direction,” Janet elaborates. “Natural foods are a growing niche in our industry. More consumers are concerned about what they eat. We are offering more products that are gluten-free and all natural to keep up with the demand of Whole Foods and its customers. It has been amazing to see all of the new products we are brining in on a monthly basis and our inventory is always evolving.”
A positive outlook
Niagara’s high level of customer service and ever-growing product line keep customers coming back. Repeat business was a major benefit to the business throughout the recession, although Janet says the business did not see much of an impact. “When things started to get bad, we were worried,” she says. “We expected the worst, but actually, the downturn had the opposite effect on us. First of all, people have to eat and a lot of people eat bread. Beyond that, I think that when people are stressed out or anxious, they turn to comfort food and drinks. Instead of the business declining, we actually grew throughout that period.”
With the local economy stabilizing after a few tough years, Janet and her crew are looking ahead to growth. The company has opportunities to expand services to new markets both in Florida and the Caribbean. With a seasoned staff, a high-quality and well-stocked inventory and deep industry experience, Niagara Distributors will continue to hold down a strong corner of the market into 2015.