Food Service & Agriculture and Technology

Innovation always at the forefront for R&A

Beer distribution software has landed company 110 distributors doing $10 billion in beverage sales last year.

October 12, 2018
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Rutherford
Rutherford’s new operating space for its product engineering team. Photo by Ehren Wynder

Rutherford and Associates is making waves in the beer distribution network. Since moving to Holland with only three coders, it has grown to more than 70 staff members providing a wide range of services in the distribution software sector, and the company has run out of space.

The company originally was founded by Michael Rutherford and his wife Ann in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1986, but they moved the company to Holland in the late 1990s to pursue a business relationship with Brooks Beverage Management. The beverage distribution company, at the time, was going through an expansion and wanted a system to link all of them together.

“What they wanted to do was take a look at the sales running across all their distribution centers … so we set up a system, and I wrote some software that they could have computers — this is pre-internet — so they wanted to have computers backing each other up,” Rutherford said.

Around 2002, the company picked up Mars Electronics, a subsidiary of M&M Mars, as a client. The company handled the technology in M&M Mars’ vending machines and wanted the software to be able to track purchases.

The business with Mars Electronics allowed the company to reinvest in itself. Rutherford was working with just two other programmers at the time, and the three of them wanted to keep their trajectory going.

Rutherford and Associates began development on eoStar, an enterprise resource planning software that leverages .Net and SQL Server technology from Microsoft and fully integrates key pieces of functionality, like warehouse management, voice picking, purchase forecasting, surveys, web order entry, and mobile sales and delivery applications, into a single database. 

“We kind of shifted on to Microsoft,” Rutherford said. “We took about two years to rewrite the software from scratch. I think it ended up being about 1.25 million lines of code before I shipped it off.”

Rutherford did all this with just himself and two other programmers, he said.

With eoStar in its toolbox, Rutherford and Associates started going after beer distributors as clients because it’s a highly regulated industry, Rutherford said, and he saw a need for such distribution software in that sector. The pull for beverage clients also allowed him and his coders to invest more capital in their business.

“The government was regulating them, lots of liability, auditing, all that stuff was important,” Rutherford said. “So, we got into the beer space and then got to their trade shows. That was always fun.”

Rutherford and Associates employees quickly gained a name for themselves as “the beer guys” even when attending trade shows alongside some big-name companies like Lockheed Martin.

As Rutherford and Associates picked up more bigger clients with bigger needs, it required the company to diversify its services, including warehousing, tracking retail accounts and connecting suppliers.

“It kind of tied us in more and more into the corporate world, so we’re in a pretty good spot,” Rutherford said.

Sebastien Charroud, vice president of product management at Rutherford and Associates, had substantial numbers to indicate the company’s growth. Its first client on the eoStar platform was Comer Distributing in South Carolina in 2004, which is a 1-million-case-per-year distributor. Three years later, the company managed to pick up Manhattan Beer Distributor in New York, a 55-million case distributor.

“Within three years, we’ve had four of the largest beer distributors in the country, and some of the suppliers took notice,” Charroud said.

In 2008, Rutherford and Associates gained the support of The Beverage Works, a Red Bull distributor servicing the metro New York and New Jersey markets, and one of the largest Red Bull distributors in the world, Charroud said.

The company got into the Coca-Cola space in 2010 and now has 35 independent Coca-Cola bottlers on its system across the U.S.

In 2014, Rutherford and Associates got into the Anheuser-Busch system, getting distributors in Ohio, California, South Carolina and Georgia.

“Last year, there were over $10 billion of beverage sales on our platform, and we’re in 40 states and there are 110 distributors on our platform,” Charroud said. “In 2004, it was six people. Now, we’re at 74.”

Charroud added the company only had 24 employees in 2011, meaning it’s tripled over the past handful of years.

But with all of the growth comes growing pains. Where the company now operates out of an 8,500-square-foot office building, it is adding 12,000 square feet with the acquisition of a white box down the road.

Rutherford’s product engineering team will relocate to the new space, which will allow it to continue growing with other nonbeverage opportunities the company is pursuing, Charroud said.

The new site comes equipped with Steelcase furniture and desks for collaborative or solo work, meeting rooms, a reading room and game room for breaks and a “newly christened” pingpong table.

The implementation and support services staff will remain in the current building.

The company also is deliberate in staying on top of new trends in information technologies and making sure its employees are up-to-date by offering $5,000-per-year tuition reimbursement toward such training, Charroud said.

“We want people to go back to school,” Charroud said. “That’s on top of what we do with conferences, professional trainings and things of that nature.”

Charroud said there are three “pillars” to Rutherford’s technology investments: business intelligence, mobile and cloud technologies.

The business intelligence pillar refers to Rutherford’s responsibility in handling client information around business transactions. To that end, the company has a dedicated machine-learning engineer to interpret the relevant data.

“We have a data scientist starting (soon) who’s going to augment that team,” Charroud said. “That’s going to provide a different toolset to better attack those problems.”

For the mobile aspect, communication and collaboration are critical. Charroud said for any given client, about 75 percent of its users are working off-site, so information is best leveraged on mobile devices.

“They don’t want a binder or a printed report, or PDF or ‘I’ll get back to you when I get to the office,’” Charroud said.

Rutherford also is an early adopter of augmented reality glasses, which Charroud said would replace mobile devices within the next couple of years. The prototype glasses have a built-in Android computer and come with voice recognition, product recognition and a number of other features.

“You can look at a package of beer for instance,” Charroud said. “And you can have sales information about it, so we’re working on adding augmented reality capabilities to our platform.”

The third pillar, cloud technologies, gives Rutherford the opportunity to optimize user experience, or “give a refresh to the platform,” Charroud said.

“Then the benefit for our customers is they don’t need an IT staff, they don’t need servers because essentially we handle everything on the cloud for them,” he said.

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