Merchants Market Group – Serving the islands since 1967

written by BVC November 21, 2017

Business View Caribbean interviews Rick Wilson, President of Merchants Market Group, as part of our focus on best business practices in the Caribbean.

In 1961, Isabel Amengual fled Cuba and began her career in food service in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1966, she moved with her employer to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands to help turn around a failing food service business. In 1967, the company was purchased and renamed Merchants Market. “When Merchants Market first opened, it was primarily a retail establishment,” says Rick Wilson, current President of Merchants Market Group. “But it wasn’t long before Isabel saw a need to become a broadline, full-service distributor focusing on quality food and non-food products. There was a definite need to have inventory on island to fully service the customers by having a wider variety of quality products and providing shorter lead times in between ordering and delivery.”

In 1974, the company expanded into St. Croix. “We opened the consolidating warehouse in Florida in 1975.” Wilson continues. “And then we opened the operation in St. Maarten in 1985; and then in Anguilla in 1993. We service a number of other islands such as St. Barts, Turks & Caicos, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda with direct ship containers. The Florida facility, now located at the Port of Palm Beach, serves as the procurement and consolidation facility supplying our island distributors, who then serve all customers on each island from resorts and hotels, to local and chain restaurants, to the beach bars, “mom and pop” restaurants, hospitals, schools, and other government agencies. Each facility has gone through upgrades and renovations to establish Merchants Market as the leading broadline distributor with over 200,000 square feet of warehouse space dedicated to servicing the USVI and Leeward Islands. We have 140 employees, and this year we are celebrating our 50th anniversary.”

Wilson says that the company’s primary customer base is restaurants, hotels, and resorts. “We do service some grocery stores,” he explains, “but our primary focus is the major food service operations. Grocery stores, in general, buy from a different supply source because the pack size of the products that are used in restaurants is different than what you would buy to take home. So we are focused on food service operations such as restaurants, hotels, and resorts.”

While Merchants Market is not the only food service provider in the region, Wilson points out the company’s many competitive advantages. “Over the years, we’ve had competition that has serviced every one of our locations,” he says. “Our points of differentiation are the breadth of our offerings, the quality of our products, the level of service that we provide, and the buying power by having our own consolidating warehouses in Florida and consolidating the purchasing of all of our customers under one roof, so they all reap the benefits of that. We have brick and mortar at our four main locations that we own, which not all of our competition has. Some people just ship in and drop containers; we have full warehouse facilities with dry storage, frozen storage, and multi-temp, refrigerated storage. We are a broadline distribution company, meaning that we have everything from produce to fresh meats, to frozen meats, to dry goods. So, the breadth of our offerings is far superior to any of our competitors. We also have a fleet of refrigerated trucks, so our delivery boxes are all refrigerated to maintain the cold chain. Our trucks are loaded off of a refrigerated dock to our pre-chilled trucks, so that we maintain that cold chain and that is definitely a point of differentiation. We have a stable, dedicated, and experienced staff at all locations. We have some employees that have 35 or 40 years with the company and because of these reasons, we have a lot of very loyal customers.”

The recent hurricanes that swept through the Caribbean have damaged various parts of the Group’s facilities, but Wilson insists that the company will rebound. “Obviously the most recent game changing events were Hurricanes Irma and Maria,” he states. “Every one of our locations received some damage and was impacted at various levels. We have, unfortunately, had to close our St. Maarten facility as there was significant damage to the roof, exterior, and interior of the facility. We are working with a contractor to finalize the plans for rebuilding. We will practically have a new warehouse when we reopen, but this is great news for our customers as we will have increased efficiencies in place when we reopen and these efficiencies will benefit all of our customers.” 

“In addition to the remodeling of the St. Maarten warehouse with features to increase efficiencies, we will be doing an addition to our Anguilla warehouse. Our continued goal is to improve efficiencies and streamline processes while still maintaining a pulse on our customers’ needs and being in tune with market demands. We are investing a great deal of money and resources into all of our facilities to make them more efficient and productive. We have recently invested over $1 million in our fleet, our warehouse equipment, and facilities, and we will continue upgrades as business recovers from the hurricanes. Our short term plans include a major systems upgrade, more energy efficient lighting, new refrigerating doors in our warehouses, and a resetting of the warehouse layouts to increase our order selection productivity.”

“These island communities – St. Thomas, St. Croix, Anguilla, and St. Maarten – need to rebuild and they are rebuilding, business by business. It is going to take a while to have everyone up to pre-hurricane conditions but it will happen. The people on these islands are proud and resilient. They have gone through this before and they will rebuild. We have already seen numerous businesses reopen and this will continue. We have had to make some operations adjustments because of these storms and we will continue to make adjustments to meet our customers’ needs as the market returns to normalcy. We have a vision to be the largest food service distribution company in the Caribbean region by continually satisfying our customers every day and in every way better than any of our competitors.”

As Merchants Market Group recovers and rebuilds, Wilson gives credit to the company’s long-time employees and the McEnery family, who purchased the firm in 2013 and has since made significant investments in upgrading its phone, computer systems, and fleet. “The reason why we are celebrating 50 years is because of the dedicated employees that we have; they have helped us build this business and continue to work hard to do that. They service our customers and their commitment to Merchants Market is unparalleled. As we continue to grow as a company, we are working to give back, not only to our customers, but to our employees – to provide them with greater future opportunities through training. Part of our Mission Statement is that we will provide all of our employees with the opportunity for personal and professional growth and that is something that is important to us and we are working diligently to live up to that statement. The McEnery family is committed to helping our employees and the island communities rebuild after the devastating hurricanes. They are committed to this organization, compassionately and financially, to rebuild this company for our customers and employees, and we’re looking forward to the next 50 years.”

AT A GLANCE
WHO: Merchants Market Group
WHAT: A full-service food distributor
WHERE: Headquarters in Riviera Beach, Florida
WEBSITE: www.merchantsmarket.com

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Badia Spices, Inc. – Established in 1967 by Jose Badia, Badia Spices, Inc. is one of today’s leading family-owned Hispanic food companies. Badia manufactures, packages, and distributes over 120 products, including spices, seasoning blends, marinades, sauces, teas, health items, and other products to more than 70 countries around the world. – www.badiaspices.com

Sorrento Lactalis – Sorrento Lactalis is a division of the Lactalis American Group, the world’s largest dairy corporation. The company’s products include fresh and packaged mozzarella, ricotta, and mascarpone cheeses, string cheese, and cheese snack products for the food service and retailer markets in the United States. www.galbanicheese.com

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