Sid Kurlander & Son Inc.

Santa Rosa’s family-run wholesale candy and traditional tobacco shop
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
James Logan

With more consolidation taking place and more national names taking over in the distribution industry, family-owned and -operated businesses are few and far between. Even less likely are companies with more than a century of history, but Sid Kurlander & Son Inc. is an anomaly in wholesale distribution. Based in Santa Rosa, California, the candy and tobacco distributor has been in business for generations.

“We’re one of the few mom-and-pop wholesale distributor operations left in California,” says Dennis Kurlander, vice president of Sid Kurlander. “Most of the distributors in this business are large corporations or big-box stores, covering multiple states.”

Growing on generations

The framework for Sid Kurlander dates back to the 1860s in Santa Rosa with Dennis’s great-grandfather, Joseph Kurlander. “He started hand rolling cigars and selling them,” recounts Dennis, who now represents the fourth generation of family involvement. “My grandfather, Sid Kurlander, for whom the company is named, also made a career of selling tobacco and candy products.”

In 1947, Sid and Dennis’s father came together to officially form Sid Kurlander. “I grew up in the business,” says Dennis. “I used to sleep on some of the tobacco boxes while my brother and parents worked,” he laughs.

Now at 76 years old, Dennis is proud to say family involvement still spans generations at Sid Kurlander. “My brother, Monte Kurlander, is president but he is semi-retired,” he says. “His son-in-law and some nieces and nephews are also involved.”

“My daughter is our office manager — she’s fifth generation and my granddaughter is the sixth generation involved in the business,” adds Dennis. “In fact, about 10 out of our 35 employees are family members. Anyone who isn’t direct family certainly feels like family here too.”

Next-day service

Today, Sid Kurlander serves small retailers, restaurants, service stations and convenience store customers across a smaller range than most distributors: just five counties in northern California. “We stock product and run our own deliveries out of a 35,000-square-foot facility in Santa Rosa, so we’re still fairly small compared to some competitors with 100,000-square-foot operations,” says Dennis.

Dennis says that what Sid Kurlander may lack in size, the company makes up in service. “Service is what sets us apart,” he stresses. “The success of our business has been keeping service at the forefront. We’re small enough where John Doe’s liquor store calls and says, ‘We just ran out of Marlboro cigarettes or M&M’s, can someone stop by?’ and we can make that extra delivery, where a larger competitor might not be back for a week or longer.”

In fact, Sid Kurlander prides itself on next-day delivery. “We have a great sales team,” says Dennis. “Every Monday, our sales force goes out to their routes, writes orders and processes them; then we pull the merchandise and prepare for shipment, staging the orders for the next day’s route.”

Other companies who only run through a route once every couple of weeks cannot deliver the same kind of service as Sid Kurlander. “Our customers really appreciate our turnaround time and our responsiveness in deliveries,” says Dennis.

The company’s main products are candy bars and specialty tobacco products, but Sid Kurlander also stocks some nonperishable grocery items, catering to the convenience store side of the business. “Our proximity to Suma and Napa counties also gives us access to many boutique wine labels,” adds Dennis. “We also carry a selection of local wines for our customers.”

Moving forward

As with any retail-based business, Dennis says Sid Kurlander has seen its share of ups and downs over the years, but keeping a close eye on overhead costs and margins has kept the operation in check. “Even through the recession, we scaled back and tightened our belt, but we didn’t lay anyone off,” he reveals. “The downturn certainly took a toll, but we made it through by keeping a close eye on overhead, accounts and customer collections — once this gets away from you, it can lead to trouble.”

“We certainly have many longstanding relationships with customers we trust, but things just aren’t the same anymore where you can completely rely on a handshake deal,” continues Dennis.

The downturn in the tobacco industry is another factor at play for Sid Kurlander. “I’m not a smoker myself, it’s really just part of the business, but the country is headed toward being smoke free in years to come,” he says.

To combat the changing market and different customer demand, Dennis sees diversification in the company’s product line, while holding on to the same family-friendly service. “I take great pride in the fact that we have so many family members involved and through them, I know we can get through just about anything,” he adds.

With more than a century of family history, Sid Kurlander & Son Inc. remains one of the few mom-and-pop wholesale distribution companies in northern California.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Pedroncelli Winery