Randy Cooke

Why FSW chose KC for its thriving e-commerce business

Food Service Warehouse is a Denver-based e-commerce company that supplies food service equipment to restaurants and individuals throughout the U.S. Although the company is headquartered in Denver, it recently consolidated operations into a 475,000-square-foot facility in Hunt Midwest Subtropolis in Kansas City, where it has an option to expand up to 1 million square feet. Randy Cooke, director of distribution for FSW, explained to members of the Kansas City Area Development Council’s E.D. Alliance why his firm chose to locate and grow its operations here in Kansas City.

Cooke knows firsthand how quickly his company is growing. When he began working for the company, he had three hourly associates. Within a month, he had 60 associates working under him.

In 2014, FSW signed a 10-year lease with Hunt Midwest for 475,000 square feet, with the option to expand up to 1 million square feet of warehouse space. According to Cooke, FSW CEO Madhu Natarajan knew that locating within Subtropolis would provide his company the flexibility to expand quickly.

Shortly after the ink on the contract dried, Cooke took on the challenge of consolidating two warehouses — one in Denver and another 200,000 square foot space in Kansas City — into one unified space, while simultaneously ramping up hiring. Within a month, Cooke had grown his team from 5 hourly associates to 60, and moved 350 trailer loads of product from Denver to Kansas City without any service interruption to hist customers.

Today, FSW is a one-shift operation employing 43 full-time associates in the underground space at Hunt Midwest Subtropolis. There, the company stores approximately 4 million different items totaling $14 million worth of inventory.

He shared with the KCADC E.D. Alliance his challenges encountered during his company’s growth spurt, and what benefits he’s realized from locating within Kansas City.

As one of Amazon’s vendors, Food Service Warehouse is now shipping its products internationally to Canada, and will soon begin shipping to Mexico as well. It’s also landing new national restaurant accounts, like Bojangles, a southern fast food restaurant chain with 675 locations that just finished its IPO and plans to open an additional 40 to 50 stores in the coming years.

“We’ve got a big growth potential and all of that is coming out of Kansas City,” Cooke said.

On Kansas City’s talent pool

Growing quickly presents a number of challenges, Cooke said, especially as it comes to hiring. As a Kansas native, Cooke knew FSW could find a high quality of labor in Kansas City.

“I’ve worked on both coasts and will brag about the work ethic in the Midwest. I feel like we have a better quality. I think we have people that care more and enjoy coming to work. When I was on the east coast it was difficult to get that kind of attitude,” he said. “I look at it from an e-commerce standpoint; My box is my storefront. I have to find those associates who care what they’re doing, because they’re making that presentation when it goes out to the customers.”

But because the company identifies as itself as young, edgy and tech-savvy, Cooke struggled to find the right mix of younger associates who would not only adapt to the technology more easily, but would remain with the company for a longer period of time.

“We had to ramp up so quickly that I went through temp agencies,” he said. “I struggled a bit. We didn’t do that much advertising just because we didn’t have time to put a plan together.
Where I think I would have better success is if I had done campus recruiting.”

Despite his struggles, Cooke is clearly doing something right. Of the employees he hired roughly one year ago, he’s only seen a 2 percent turnover rate.

On the advantages of being underground

One of the newest items FSW plans to carry are K-Cups, the individual coffee serving cup designed for the Keurig. Because they must be stored at a certain temperature, it’s easy to carry these items in Subtropolis, where the climate is an average 72 degrees year-round.

Cooke said his truck drivers benefit from 24/7 access, while he enjoys the perk of avoiding weather elements.

For more information on FoodServiceWarehouse, including a blog designed specifically for new and upcoming restaurant owners, visit the company’s website.