Spokane Journal of Business

Odom Corp.’s new digs

Beer distributor expects to ship 5 million cases from new West Plains facility

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-—Mike McLean
Dale Birchell, of Odom Corp.’s Spokane-region distribution center, says the company projects 3 percent sales growth here this year.

The Odom Corp. expects to ship 5 million cases of beverages—mostly beer—this year through its new distribution center on the West Plains, says Dale Birchell, Odom’s regional operations manager.

The company also projects 3 percent of growth in sales through its Spokane-region operations this year, which is on par with average annual growth over the least eight or nine years, Birchell says.

Odom moved its new Spokane-region operations to the 200,000-square-foot facility at 5810 W. Thorpe Road in September, giving it enough room to handle anticipated continued growth beyond the next decade, he says. Currently, 150 people work there, and Odom has 400 employees regionwide. 

The Bellevue, Wash.-based beverage distributor owns the $20 million facility, having relocated there from a leased 100,000-square-foot warehouse nearby, at 4122 S. Grove Road.

For the most part, Odom distributes products directly to grocery stores, restaurants, and convenience stores, he says. 

“We deliver to retailers on 24 local routes,” Birchell says. “Another 20 routes cover outlying areas. A small amount of distributors purchase from us.”

Odom’s nearest other distribution center is in Coeur d’Alene, where it occupies a 60,000-square-foot facility that includes 40,000 square feet of warehouse space. About 100 employees are based out of the Coeur d’Alene facility.

“Coeur d’Alene is tight,” he says. “We’re looking and discussing possible expansion there.”

Birchell oversees operations there as well as at smaller facilities in Lewiston.

The Spokane distribution center supplies all of Eastern Washington through a spoke-and-hub concept that includes five smaller sales and docking facilities in Pullman, Moses Lake, Omak, Walla Walla, and Wenatchee. 

As of last week, the Spokane warehouse inventory totaled about 300,000 cases of beverages. Birchell anticipates that in the summer, the warehouse will have 420,000 cases on the premises at any given time, which would be about 60 percent of capacity.

“We built here with the idea that this facility is going to last 10 years with the footprint we have now,” Birchell says.

The Spokane distribution center also is designed with expansion in mind.

“We have the ability to add another 60,000 square feet to the warehouse without disrupting business,” Birchell says.

Odom also owns land just north of the facility where it could build in the future and double its current capacity, he says.

The new facility includes a 16,000-square-foot cooler in which craft beers and kegs are stored at a constant 38 degrees. The rest of the building is held at 70 degrees or cooler with the aid of two massive air-moving machines.

The facility has 8,000 square feet of office space that includes one large conference room and three smaller conference rooms to accommodate corporate meetings. It also has a full kitchen for catering corporate events.

The warehouse also has space dedicated to stocks of marketing and promotion items ranging from neon signs to coasters.

Odom owns the distribution franchise here for major domestic producers MillerCoors, Pabst Brewing Co., and North American Breweries, which includes Seattle-based Pyramid Brewing Co. among other beer makers scattered throughout the country.

Odom also distributes 47 brands of craft brews, including beers produced by Northern Lights Brewing Co., of Spokane, and Laughing Dog Brewing Inc., of Sandpoint.

It also handles imported beer from 54 producers, 32 brands of soft drinks, a dozen brands of hard cider, and 12 brands of other adult beverages.

Beer sales are flat for major producers, Birchell says.

“Our main suppliers have declined a little,” he says. “Craft beer is driving growth.”

The big producers are responding to the changing market by expanding their own lines of specialty products, Birchell says.

“MillerCoors is putting less emphasis on yellow beers and getting into ciders and the craft world,” he says.

Overall sales, though, are as strong as ever.

“It’s as close as you’re going to find to being recession proof,” Birchell says of the beer industry as a whole. “When the economy goes bad, business stays flat or may even pick up in the short term.”

The warehouse operations are performed in two shifts. A night crew works four days a week and prepares outgoing shipments for the delivery team. A day crew works five days a week and handles incoming shipments.

The conventional beverages, such as Coors and Miller Lite are stacked high on pallets, while the craft and lower-volume specialty beverages are stored on racks. 

An electronic inventory system keeps track of the location of every item in the warehouse and ensures that the first item of any product that arrives at the warehouse is the first shipped when a customer orders it.

Much to the relief of the night crew, Odom has installed an automated shrink wrap machine at the new plant, which robotically secures orders by wrapping them tightly in a giant sheet of plastic film. Prior to having the machine, it was a tedious and labor-intensive process for the night crew to wrap each order manually, Birchell says.

The Spokane distribution facility was designed and constructed with energy-saving features, he says.

For example, lights in the warehouse turn on when they detect motion, and they turn off in areas of the warehouse where there’s no activity. 

The roof has domed skylights that diffuse natural light inside the warehouse, reducing the amount of artificial lighting needed during the day.

Heating and cooling systems are all computerized, Birchell adds.

The facility was designed by Boston-based The Design Group, which also acted as the contractor, hiring out much of the labor locally, he says.

Odom has 1,900 employees companywide and has facilities in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Alaska. The company was founded in Alaska in 1934.

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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