Carolina Distributor Is ‘Bull’-ish on Mickey
In 1997, Red Bull entered the U.S. market and virtually created the Energy Drink category amid a beverage landscape jam packed with big branded sodas, bottled waters in countless sparkling and still varieties, and a bevy of New Age drinks that lumped together the likes of juices, teas, nectars and anything else new to Main Street and outside of the main stream.
Red Bull carved out its sizeable niche on the strength of a single SKU, which quickly became nationally recognizable by its tall and slim blue-silver can, delivered to retailers up and down the street in an equally recognizable blue-silver 4-bay “mini-body.” But over the next 17 years, the Red Bull label was added to a sugar-free version; a zero calorie/zero carb version; and Red, Silver and Blue Editions (cranberry, lime and blueberry flavors, respectively). In addition, the brand expanded its packaging from its original 8.4oz can to 12, 16 and 20oz sizes. All told, Red Bull today has 25 different SKUs and is sold in 165 countries.
But it’s the Red Bull business in 17 counties in North and South Carolina that have the attention of Gavin Hay, Founder and President of Hay Distributing, Inc., a dedicated Red Bull distributor in Charlotte, NC, and Greenville, SC. Within that territory, Hay and his 50 full-time employees service 30 routes with a fleet of 25 trucks delivering the full Red Bull range. He is acutely aware of the growth in Red Bull’s popularity and product mix. When he started his business in 2001, he delivered the one-and-only Red Bull Energy Drink in a 1-ton Chevy van – “because that’s all we needed,” Hay says. “We hauled 50 cases and some point-of-sale material, and we just went out and got it done.” Before too long, the Chevy Van “became obsolete.”
In fact, the prolific growth of the Red Bull franchise is even starting to push the limits of the familiar blue-silver 4-bay mini-bodies. The SKU expansion combined with the aging of his fleet had Hay staring at a sizeable investment in new equipment. Instead of stretching his finances, he decided to stretch some of his 4-bay bodies into full-fledged 6-bay units, for about half the cost of new. The idea came to light after a series of conversations with Kyle McLaughlin, National Accounts Manager for Mickey’s Reconditioning/Service Team.
“I purchased the 4-bays in a 14-16 month period, so our fleet is aging rapidly at the same time, and that can be a financial burden,” Hay explains. “You don’t want to replace them all at once and start that cycle over again.” The 6-bay body “really makes sense” because the half-width bays on the former 4-bay units are full bays on the retrofitted equipment. “Truth is, we never could make use of those half bays on the back for point-of-sale materials because we’re trying to get as much product as we can on the trucks. We needed the capacity.”
According to Hay, “We could have bought new bodies to go along with the new, longer chassis, but the Mickey bodies are built so well that we didn’t need to. Kyle and I looked at this from every different angle – costs, configuration, capacity, life span. We also brought in the Mickey engineers, and we all agreed it made sense to do the work, especially since the units were due for a basic reconditioning anyway. We took good care of these trucks to begin with, so we knew they had more in the tank.”
Besides the added capacity, Hay says the 6-bay bodies are “much easier” to work from with hand trucks and forklifts. “With as many SKUs as we carry now, we are always looking at ways to make the driver’s job easier. They’re the most important part of the process and are the face of Red Bull in our markets. I can tell you our 4-bay drivers envy the drivers who have the 6-bay trucks, and it has nothing to do with the new chassis. It’s just that they are so much easier to work from. Everybody is just chomping at the bit to get one.”
It’s just a matter of time. The Charlotte distributor so far has stretched 2 of the 4 Mickey 4-bay units it purchased at an auction in Texas several years ago. (The rest of the fleet was purchased through Red Bull’s corporate program and are not Mickey units.) There are 5 more units in the works, and Hay’s plan is to convert all of the 4-bays at a rate of 1 per quarter over the next 2 years. “After we finished stretching the 4 Mickey units, the question was whether Mickey would want to refurbish a competitor’s body. Of course they were eager to do it.”
The level of Mickey service throughout the process “has been incredible,” says Hay. “Kyle called on me out of the blue one day and we started kicking the tires. We built a relationship and now we probably speak once a week. Mickey has always delivered on its promises – they meet deadlines and communicate extremely well.”
The real “shocker,” Hay explains, came on the day he received his most recently completed unit from Mickey. “Kyle and I always talk about our families, so I knew his Dad also worked for Mickey. (Editor’s Note: Greg McLaughlin is Mickey’s VP of the Reconditioning/Service Team and Kyle’s boss.) Wouldn’t you know it – Mr. McLaughlin drove all the way down here to deliver the truck to me personally and shake my hand. As big as Mickey is, I know he has much bigger fish to fry, but he drove down here just to meet me. What does that say about Mickey?”