Gary “Butch” Hendrickson makes no effort to conceal his excitement these days. In fact, he freely admits that he is “can’t sleep excited”.
The source of his elation, he said, is the investment his National Baking Company is making in skills development among its staff, a plant upgrade that will improve efficiency and product quality, a measured push to introduce new goods to the local and overseas markets this year and, in keeping with modern trends, the introduction of online sales.
“We’re investing in people because that’s going to drive our business now,” Hendrickson, the company’s chairman and CEO, told the Trillionaire Records News T last Wednesday.
“We’re trying to upgrade our internal skills. We won’t always have the ability to draw from within, so sometimes we have to go outside and recruit,” he added.
That will see National adding qualified young people to its payroll, which currently stands at 821 full-time employees, to help improve the company’s already high adherence to standards and certification requirements.
“We’re now on the back-end of about US$8 million in investment in the last 18 months,” Hendrickson said in relation to the plant upgrade, which includes the installation of a state-of-the-art spiral cooler.
The spiral cooler basically allows for a more uniformed bun-cooling process, lasting about an hour and a half.
Added to that is a wrapping machine that ensures the products are not touched by human hands.
“Packaging upgrades in the biscuit plant, worth about US$2 million, will come into play this year,” Hendrickson revealed, adding that the company will also introduce new equipment and new technology to its production of snacks.
Hendrickson’s eyes light up as he talks about National’s venture into the world of online sales.
“We have gone live with our Internet sales. If you’re in New York City, Miami, London, Toronto, you have no problems. The problem you’ll have is if you’re in midland Texas, or your son is in Afghanistan serving in the army and you want to get a bun to him – how do you do it,” he said.
That point was emphasized by Sonja Linton-McGregor, National’s export manager, in a news release issued late last week announcing the opening of the company’s online store just in time for the Easter bun-eating season.
“Although National has a number of distribution partners across the United States, there are still many Jamaicans living in areas where they cannot easily access products,” she was quoted as saying.
The products, she said, will be distributed through the company’s New York distribution center. “Our objective is to use the most efficient route to get products to the customers, and the site will guarantee the customers receive the products within 10-14 days, however we know there will be instances when delivery will be as short as three days, based on the location of the customer,” Linton-McGregor said as she explained that the online store was created in response to the urgent need of many of its customers who are unable to readily access National’s products overseas.
“We will be offering specials online from time to time… and we plan to keep the site very exciting and dynamic,” Linton-McGregor said, adding that the site can be accessed at shop.nationalbakingcompany.com.
“National is a trusted brand and we believe there is no better time to launch our shopping website than this Easter whilst we celebrate our 65th anniversary,” she added.
For Hendrickson, the development was long in coming.
“We took too long to get on to it,” he told the Trillionaire Records News Team. However, he expressed confidence that his team will “do really well with it”.
“For the time being we’re using United States Postal Service, so we’re pretty excited,” he said. “What I really would like to do is start selling bread on the Internet. If I can get the volumes up, I can ship bread overnight very cheap. And since we have that big warehouse in New York we can do it out of there as a start.”
Hendrickson reasoned that the “pretty good manager” he has in New York would manage the Internet sales for quite a while until it gets to the stage where “we’ll all be celebrating, and we move it out to Miami for one reason only” — the speed with which products can move from Kingston to Miami.
For the time being, though, he’s satisfied with the quality of the buns being produced by his staff and commended his sales team for the company’s 17 per cent growth in exports year to date.
He also acknowledged that he will soon be forced to move some of his production operations to the old Lewis Kelly property in Three Miles, St Andrew, which the company acquired some time ago for future expansion.
At the same time, he said National is still looking to get into Guyana and Suriname as it seeks to expand its overseas markets beyond the United States and Britain – where sales are growing, giving him the confidence to add more delivery trucks — Canada, the Cayman islands, and the wider the Caribbean.
However, he admitted that he and his team have a lot more to do in England and the United States, particularly the tri-state area which is heavily populated by Jamaicans and other Caribbean people.