Welcome to the Gooder Podcast where we talk with powerhouse women in CPG about their journeys to success. This episode is sponsored by Retail Voodoo. A brand development firm guiding mission driven consumer brands to attract new and passionate consumer base crush their categories through growth and innovation and magnify their social and environmental impact. If your brand is in need of brand positioning, package design or marketing activation, we are here to help. You can find more information at www.retail-voodoo.com.
Diana Fryc 0:43
Well, hello Diana Fryc here I am the host of the Gooder Podcast where I get to talk with the powerhouse women in the food, beverage and wellness categories about their journeys to success and their insights on the industry. This episode is brought to you by retail video. Retail Voodoo is a brand development firm and our clients include Starbucks kind Rei, PepsiCo, highkey, and many other market leaders. We provide strategic brand and design services for leading brands in food wellness, beverage and fitness. If your goal is to increase market, share, drive growth or disrupt the marketplace with new and innovative ideas. Give us a call and let’s talk you can find out more at retail-voodoo.com. Well, today we get to meet Miss Miss not miss. We get to meet Erika Cottrell, Vice President of Marketing with Harbor Wholesale. Erika is a proven leader building beloved brands with inspired marketing and innovation that consumers customers and employees love consumer centered leader leveraging entrepreneurial proneural midsize and fortune 500 experience to lead the strategic planning, development and execution of a company’s business objectives. She has driven significant growth and strength in leading teams through growth and challenge and change while inspiring them to work with passion and confidence. Well, hello, Erika, how are you today?
Erika Cottrell 2:14
Good. Hi, Diana. Nice to see you here.
Diana Fryc 2:17
Yes. Where are you located?
Erika Cottrell 2:20
I am home today, which many of us can understand? So? Yeah,
Diana Fryc 2:26
yeah. And you are in Washington State? Yes. Correct. Yeah. I love it. Love the local. Oh, yes. I finally had a really quick I want to congratulate your team again on the skipper’s position. For those of you outside of the Northwest market. Harbor wholesale acquired a brand that is sort of a Northwest ish family brand long term. Yeah. A
Erika Cottrell 2:54
lot of nostalgia. Brand.
Diana Fryc 2:57
Yes. And so really excited to see and curious to see what ends up becoming of that brand that is now moved into CPG. And who knows what maybe there’ll be a theme park soon. I know.
Erika Cottrell 3:12
We have all sorts of fun thoughts.
Diana Fryc 3:15
Oh, my goodness. Okay. Well, sorry for that tangent. Okay, well, I like to talk about your story. But first off, I always love it when brand owners and leaders get to tell us about the company and the brand that they’re working with. Since you guys are a little bit different than what you know, harbor Wholesale is a little bit different than the types of clients I have on the show. But the same. I wonder, tell us a little bit about what’s good to your story, first of all, are first off I always like it when brand owners and business leaders get to tell us about their brand and their business. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Harbor Wholesale and why it exists?
Erika Cottrell 3:51
Yeah, it’s a unique company. Mostly, most people would probably wonder why I’m on this podcast when you hear hardware wholesale. So it’s almost 100 year old company that started back in 1923 by the Erickson family. And it is now a fourth generation run. Northwest distributor. It’s the largest independently run distributor in the Northwest. We service 4500 convenience stores and independent stores with all sorts of wonderful items. But the thing that really drew me in was the fact they also have created seven different brands that they own. And they are exclusive to harbor. Okay, and so skippers was our most recent acquisition, but the other brands have are all homegrown. So it’s really interesting to get to be part of the distribution as well as the creative side of new brands.
Diana Fryc 4:55
Yeah. So right now, maybe at a really high level. Can you tell us what those brands are and kind of what the categories are in what it is that you are wanting to service your clients with by having those brands? Sure, a lot. But
Erika Cottrell 5:13
yeah, so we have brands like skippers which seafood. But then we also have brands that we’ve created, like via Vita pizza. And we have two different coffee companies split ship, coffee, and Watertown. We also have created something called Mountain fresh, which is all things that are for on the go people who love to be in the outdoors, who love to explore life. And all of those items we sell within the convenience and independent grocery a house that we go to. And not only do we sell them retail, but we’ve also created our own QSR Oh locations. So if you think about sometimes you’ll go into a large convenience store and you’ll see they have a McDonald’s or a Taco Time or something like that, well, we’ve created our own QSR brands with via Vita and somebody can go in and order a pizza, or, or take a taken big pizza to go. And so we’ve created brands that we know consumers are going to love. And that those convenience stores then can also act like some of the big boys out there without being part of 100 unit chain independently.
Diana Fryc 6:38
Mm hmm. Very interesting. See, kind of I like the approach to kind of supporting those small and maybe independent, midsize type of grocers out there that sometimes have a hard time with the distribution and kind of finding something that is uniquely their own.
Erika Cottrell 7:02
Right. And some of these independent stores are creating, they have their own communities. Yeah. So those communities come in and yes, they love to get all of their quick snacks and things on the go or pick up milk on the way home, but then they can also pick up a meal. And so that becomes just another great tool in their, their toolbox. And like you said, they are independents, and they are entrepreneurs. And, and so we’d love to support them and help them grow. Which is something very unique at Harbor. Yeah.
Diana Fryc 7:35
Nice. So you joined the team about my I’ll just gonna call it six months ago, roughly. In you’ve been at places like the hallway and was it dryers briars? Well, that was a while ago? Yeah. Other muckers and yes, some really big brands. Yeah. What drew you to this opportunity?
Erika Cottrell 7:59
It, it’s a really interesting combination of a lot of jobs I’ve had over my career, it has distribution, which I did early on. But then it has that small time feel within this really large organization that has the resources it needs to get things done. So you know, large company, but a big big heart. And that always draws me in.
Diana Fryc 8:27
Mm hmm. I love it. Now, you’ve held roles in finance, operations and marketing. So yeah, you’ve seen businesses at all sorts of from different angles. Can you this is going to be a big question. But this is kind of like how did you get to Harbor Wholesale? Like, can you sort of see the path here some decisions? Or? I’ll let you tell that story? Yeah.
Erika Cottrell 8:57
So I had an amazing mentor early on in my career, who was great at taking time and saying, What do you want to be when you grew up? Erika, where do you want to go? What do you want to do as a marketing head of marketing degree, but I was in sales at the time. And I said, I want to run my own company someday. And he said, well, then you need to learn all parts of a company. Even if marketing is you know, what your major passion is, you need to understand a p&l. You need to understand what it takes to run a track, stock, a shelf, all of those things so that as you are leading your team, you understand all the components that go into that and you make good business decisions overall, that you’re not making it in a silo or just for the better determine of whatever department you’re in. And so I really took that to heart. And anytime an opportunity came up, I said yes. Even when I didn’t know how I was going to do it or if if they really had picked the right person for the job, and I said yes. And I found those around me who supported me and helped me out.
Diana Fryc 10:10
That’s so interesting, I’m going to just say this, there’s another company that you worked for that I actually have a soft spot for front porch classics, but I knew them, I had worked with them prior to you joining the organization. And it was so interesting for me to see that with them, you were more on the finance side. And I love that approach from your mentor that says, seeing the business from not just academically, the different views, but like literally sitting in the seat, and saying, Okay, this is this is what reality looks like for somebody in finance versus r&d versus marketing, etc. So it seems like you’re bringing all of those elements to you right? In this moment?
Erika Cottrell 11:05
Well, I really feel like a marketer has to be a general manager as well. They need to understand all those different pieces, so that they don’t create a product that maybe your consumers love, but doesn’t make any sense for the business that it lives in, or does Spence to deliver or ship or there’s so many components that go into creating a product and exactly doing a business plan, all of those pieces are integral and in a market are creating new products and taking it out into them into the marketplace.
Diana Fryc 11:38
Mm hmm. Janet Lee and I talked about that as well. So interesting, you guys have the same philosophy. So let’s talk a little bit about the Holly, because when you and I originally met, our retail voodoo team was working with your team on the rebrand that eventually led to the Smuckers acquisition. And you had a major role in not just the the brand work, you know, working with Edmond and the rest of the team to kind of build. So Holly up to that point, but then you were very much involved with transitioning this amazing Northwest brand, to a big CPG. But we had the dynamics of this. So Holly leadership which permeates culturally through the organization, I maybe you can tell us a little bit about what you can remember being kind of the bigger challenges of the transition. Yeah, we’ll just start with that.
Erika Cottrell 12:46
Oh, goodness, well, you can imagine when a very large, publicly held company buys a very, you know, a much smaller entrepreneurial company. There’s a lot that goes into that. But you know, being part of that whole management team that looked at all the different companies coming through, I had the unique viewpoint to see that there was something specialist Smuckers they weren’t purchasing us to just fold us in and make us go away. We knew that they valued what we had were. And that meant a lot to them. I was lucky enough to be appointed General Manager soon. And after that acquisition, and so started forming friendships with people over their culture, as you can imagine, is one of the culture and change this to big C’s. Yeah, we’re big things to overcome. And you know, at first some of the holly people were like, oh, Erika, you’re drinking the Kool Aid, you’ve talked about Smuckers are so great. And I’m like, No guys really, like you need to get to know them. And on the other side, I could see all my trips to Smuckers how much they valued, what they had purchased, and they did not want to do anything to disrupt that they had seen it happened in the market over and over again, especially during that time, it was happening a lot of a lot more going on. And so they that’s why they appointed me General Manager, typically they would have folded it in to their business. So there I did a lot of work with the team on how do we hold what is special about the holly special? And what things about Smuckers can we embrace that are very similar? Yes, you the values that we had so that we weren’t talking differences, we could talk similarities, yes. And that started to break things down and I created sort of a mentorship programs, partnering people up with Smuckers people so they had somebody that They could internally reach out to and say, Hey, I’m having hitting this roadblock. Yeah. And you helped me. Yeah. And that that really started to help to where they had their own friendships. They weren’t relying on mine. Yeah. To make that bridge happen. And those walls started to come down. And we started to celebrate the the coming together the
Diana Fryc 15:25
differences? Yeah, I would say that, first of all, that the, there’s a, there’s some validity and credibility, do what you’re saying here. Because if Smuckers was interested in cost engineering, or just the ingredient profiles, or your supply chain, or your channels or whatever. So Holly would not still be this the holly that it is today. So there’s a lot of there’s a lot of honor there. But I think that that speaks to you as a leader being able to bridge that gap and maybe not coming in defensive or adversarially. You know, and I don’t know what was going on behind the scenes during the conversations is probably pretty friendly to begin with. But I think, I think for those multinationals, or brands like the Holly, that are wanting to look at sort of a textbook, how do you how do you keep a brand that has credibility and legs, hold during the transition and keep culture, you know, chain, bring the cultures together in a in fusion, rather than adopt one way or the other, I think the way you managed it and the way your team managed it is really textbook and should be an example for a lot of other leaders that are wanting to do similar type of activities.
Erika Cottrell 16:49
Well, the other piece that I feel like was really pivotal for us was we created it, what we call the venture team. And we started realizing there were people not just in Seattle that were passionate about the Holly, but there were people in Smuckers, who were so excited that we were on board. And you know, they wanted Smuckers to stretch themselves right into some of these new categories and things that they saw as the future of food. And so those people were evangelists for us out there in the world, and ambassadors in so this venture team, I looked for those people that were always there helping us with a positive attitude and, and went out and picked people across the organization. Sometimes they didn’t even work or help us with So Holly, they were just so passionate about it. And I said, Hey, would you be part of this venture team? And I brought them all out to Seattle and said, This is what you say you love so much. Let’s talk about it. How do we make it survive within this large company? And then they went back out and they started educating too. So it wasn’t just the Seattle folks. It was now this broader group that was really helping us from the inside out. To be successful?
Diana Fryc 18:17
Yes, well, exactly right. And I think a lot of times, even still, or maybe more so in this exact moment, because there’s so much VC coming in are especially related to food technology and some of this new innovation. Many people think it’s financial acumen or sales bravado alone, that defines a leaders ability to grow and develop a brand. But as you’re saying here, and our experience, as well as the Leadership and Culture building is almost paramount to that. Because without all of that work being done and people coming together, you end up working in silos and almost in five domes, for that matter. And he talks about this. Did you call it a venture? It’s venture group? Yeah. Event? Yeah. You? Yeah, your venture team? You know, my question is, I’m curious to your approach to building and bolstering teams, especially when you’re the new guy. Is this a tool that you use when you come into large organizations generally? Or maybe you talk about that for just a moment? Yeah,
Erika Cottrell 19:34
it definitely is something that has evolved. I’d say early in my career, my MO would have been to be the one one that worked the hardest, the longest, you know, try to beat everybody out, prove to them. And what I’ve learned over time is what gets the people even more so is just authenticity. Though I tried to just share with them from Day one, my goofy self, I love. I love my little bro goo. You know, Yoda guy and, you know, I tell goofy jokes, and I love to hike. And so I just share all of that about me. And in sharing about myself and that, in sharing my personal at work, people start realizing that’s okay. And they start realizing they can trust me. And once you start building that trust, you’ve got that foundation that then you can start to really make the change that you might need to make. But without that you can’t ask people to leap off a building or do something new that they’ve never done before, if they don’t trust you. So you’ve you have to start there.
Diana Fryc 20:49
Yeah, breaking down that professional barrier, so to speak, is what you’re saying? Yes, definitely, definitely. I think that even still, with the new generation, the younger generation Z, millennials, I see kind of as a mixed group, by and large, but we still bring these kind of old school, you know, suit and tie behaviors, even though we’re not wearing them, we still kind of keep those behaviors with us. And I think they’re starting to shed a little bit because, well, first of all, the speed at which we need to work together, we need to break down those barriers a little bit more quickly. And I think it’s so much easier to just be who you are than it is to carry a facade, right? It’s it’s a lot
Erika Cottrell 21:39
less tiring, that’s for sure. Yeah. Yeah.
Diana Fryc 21:44
Pardon me. I, I wonder if we could talk a little bit about because I know that you’ve been working with this through the last several roles that you’ve been in, but probably more so now. And even in a different way, when it comes to kind of environmental impact. And our industry and by our industry, I really mean CPG and all the components that come along with it. I’m wondering how your team is addressing things like packaging, managing and managing some of those, I’m going to call them environmental costs, not necessarily financial costs. Is there anything that you guys have as an initiative right now as you’re kind of moving forward? Because we are talking about independent brands. And so that likely means we don’t have centralized depot’s and we’ve got a lot of independent things going on. Anything you can share along that line.
Erika Cottrell 22:41
This is a crazy time right now. You know, we look at supply chain, and we just hope that we get our orders on any given day. And, you know, do you have enough employees to take the orders out? It’s I’ve never seen anything quite like this. It’s really crazy. But you know, we’re constantly having those conversations about what we can do. It is interesting, though, as we reach back out to suppliers, they don’t have the bandwidth right now, to often help us with those things. Really, we’re just trying to make a box, right? It don’t don’t ask us to go find a box that’s compostable. Don’t, don’t ask us to do some of those other things. So what it’s, I guess allowing us to do is we can still have all the conversations that we need to have about where we want to go and the goals we want to set for each of these brands. And outline all of those pieces, do the research and be ready for when those things open up again, hopefully
Diana Fryc 23:50
by the end of this year. But it’s a really interesting time right now. Yeah. And even more volatility, so to speak, with I mean, we never really have control over any everything anyway. Hmm. However, this time seems to be just every time something happens, we’re like, Okay, this is the worst it’s gonna get no, no, there’s, there’s, there’s more. There’s more. Oh, my goodness. So when you are looking back on your, when you’re looking back on your past here, I wonder, what where do you find yourself having some of the most pride, you know, were there? Is it the work that you did? Is that the relationships that you had? Can you speak to any of those things?
Erika Cottrell 24:38
Yes, it’s definitely the people. That’s what it always comes back to. For me, I think back on individuals, just like my first mentor that helped me and has been there with me for over 25 years and we still talk. It’s just that kind of impact is really precious. And so I have people at every single job I’ve been at that I still talk to, they still call me up to say, hey, Erika, can I have your ear for a few minutes? And I just I get so proud of some of the things that those people have accomplished or things that they remember. It’s not necessarily the things that we did. But it’s those moments of growth. It’s those moments that we spent together met those memories that just always have it’s a it’s that patchwork quilt that’s out there of people and connections that is so important to me.
Diana Fryc 25:44
Mm hmm. Well, can you tell us, maybe what’s next for you? Probably, probably, maybe what’s next for Harbor Wholesale? Can you give us a peek into what might be happening in the next six to 12 months?
Erika Cottrell 25:59
Well, a lot of brand work. So a lot of these brands that we have were developed, but we have not really filled them all in like they need to be filled in. So we’ve been going through and determining what’s next for the innovation pipeline? Yeah. You know, do we take them outside of our current distribution network? Or we go further? What does e-commerce look like for us? So
Diana Fryc 26:28
my goodness, yep, yes. So
Erika Cottrell 26:29
a lot of those things that maybe other brands would have already gotten done. We’re, we’re still it’s still early, we’re still the incubator kind of phase on some of these things. And that’s really fun to have all of these brands to play with and the teams to build. And, sure, so a lot of groundwork is being laid and a lot of details filled out. But it’s, it’s fun to be in this early and be able to build each of these brands out from from the get go.
Diana Fryc 27:06
I love those portfolio rationalization exercises too, because that’s when you start to go, Hey, look, there’s some daylight here. There’s some there’s some opportunity here to put in a new brand or extend one of these other lines to fill in an opportunity. I love working on those sorts of things. And I suspect you do too. Yes, definitely. in it.
Erika Cottrell 27:29
You know, it’s interesting to be part of a bigger company where we don’t have to have 20 million in sales. You’re one right. Again, we can act like an entrepreneurial startup where it can be slow it can we have a solid base and the rest of our business. Yeah, we have distribution out there. Yeah, we’ve got a Salesforce that’s excited for whatever we’ll bring them. They have so many ideas for us of other brands, I’m sure I am sure. And so it’s kind of hold them back while we get these really solid, but I think you’ll see more brands coming down the pike from Harbor Wholesale. Mm hmm.
Diana Fryc 28:10
Something Are you see stretching your territory a little bit more? Are you nationwide? No, your regional?
Erika Cottrell 28:18
Where regional? We’re in in the north? And anything’s possible?
Diana Fryc 28:23
Okay. All right. Everybody keep your eyes peeled, right.
Erika Cottrell 28:27
Right. Yes, they have been growing leaps and bounds these past few years. So who knows where we’ll go next.
Diana Fryc 28:35
Erika, how fun. I’m excited for you. I’m excited for this kind of growth. And I and especially because because of where like it’s coming from an unconventional part of the industry. Does that make sense? So I love that
Erika Cottrell 28:54
exciting as well for me just to I never would have thought I’d end up at a distributor. When they first called me. I was like, What? No, no. And then I got into and I was like, wow, there’s a lot of opportunity here. And the people are amazing. Oh really feel is just so wonderful. So
Diana Fryc 29:17
great. Love it. I’m really enjoying our conversation. We’re starting to wrap up here. So I do have some last few questions that I like to ask everybody if that’s okay. So maybe I always have it’s called us a happy hour factor happy hour. Something about either your industry or your business that people will be like, oh my goodness, I would have never guessed. Do you have something like that to share with us?
Erika Cottrell 29:46
Sure. So when I lived in Alaska for a year, I was selling ice cream and frozen pizza and it was all frozen things. Okay. We were disrupted. getting it all over Alaska and we saw sold more ice cream per capita in Alaska than anywhere else in the US. You’re kidding. So the coldest place in the US so more ice cream than anywhere else. We didn’t keep it. Keep the shelves filled.
Diana Fryc 30:19
That Is that still true? Do you know?
Erika Cottrell 30:21
I don’t know. But it wouldn’t surprise me.
Diana Fryc 30:24
Yeah, I wonder if it’s conceptually the same thing as like when you go to countries that are on the equator and everybody eats really hot food like, like, does the cold, bring your body temperature down and then your little internal heater kicks off? No reason you know, you’re in cold and darkness. You might as well have that moment of enjoyment and who doesn’t love ice cream? There you go. Yes. Okay. I love that. Thank you. Okay. Are there any other women leaders are rising stars out there that you would like to elevate or just admire for the work that they’re doing right now?
Erika Cottrell 31:02
You know, I’m sure you know, Sally Jewell, yes. Yes. Ex CEO of REI, former Secretary of the Interior. I got to meet her a couple times earlier in my career. And, gosh, such a smart woman. So friendly. And I read an article about her at one point. And she was talking about how she divides her life into thirds. Okay, a third work, a third family and a third to philanthropy. Oh, and I thought, oh my gosh, there’s a woman who, you know, is killing it in the boardroom? Yes. And has found balance. And she said she kept those sacred. And it was it was during I read it during a time where I had two little girls and life was not imbalanced at all. And I just kept thinking, Okay, if she can do it, I can do it. Yes. And so I’ve just watched her career forever and continue to be impressed
Diana Fryc 32:04
to what she does. Yeah, she’s been I’ve not seen her so publicly in the last few years and curious if you follow her what she might be up to right now.
Erika Cottrell 32:16
I think she’s at U DUB as really? Yeah. As an adjunct. Helping out in one of their departments. Hmm. I’m a husky. So that’s great
Diana Fryc 32:29
to me to love it. Whoo. Okay. Um, Okay, last question for you is, what brands or trends do you have your eye on and why
Erika Cottrell 32:41
this plant based trend is fascinating to me really, is just thinking about, there’s so many angles to it, you know, there’s the bioengineered meats, and then there’s just the pure plant based, there’s things that, you know, our nuts that are inherently plant based, but then are being reused into or used in different ways in new foods and the dairy free and, you know, the whole dairy free thing is just exploding. And there’s those who are avoiding it for health, but there’s others that just feel it’s better for the environment. So, gosh, it it kind of reminds me a little bit of organic when it really Yes, human to play gluten free, there’s the health element, but then there’s also people enjoy how it tastes or so. It’s gonna be interesting. There’s a lot of different terminology out there right now, there’s a lot of different ways people are talking about it. So I think it will just continue to evolve. And it wouldn’t surprise me if it even went through another evolution of what we call Yeah, that thing. Yeah.
Diana Fryc 34:00
So I, I am curious to it. I’m curious to see the how consumers are responding to it. I really feel like almost anything can be produced. Now. Every once in a while. I’m still like, oh, wow, that’s kind of a cool product. But really just watching consumers adapt and see what sticks. And what is just kind of a blip in time, to me is quite curious. Yeah,
Erika Cottrell 34:29
I think a lot of it will stick I think it probably is still going to evolve quite a bit more before it finishes but the things that people are creating now tastes so great.
Diana Fryc 34:43
Oh my goodness. So yeah, I remember, I You probably remember this too. I remember buying organic cake mixes like in 2006 and seven and kind of going. Yeah, I know. I know. It’s better for me, but yeah, nope. So, food science has come a long way. Thank you food scientists.
Erika Cottrell 35:04
Yes say that definitely.
Diana Fryc 35:06
Oh, my goodness. Well, we have been talking with Erika Cottrell, Vice President of Marketing at Harbor Wholesale. Erika, if people want to learn about you more, or maybe even Harbor Wholesale, where should they go?
Erika Cottrell 35:23
LinkedIn is a great place to find us, myself and Harbor Wholesale. And our brands are our living out there on the internet. So you can find them on Instagram, as well.
Diana Fryc 35:37
Okay. And okay, I have to sneak this one in. Which of the brands can you or which of the products that that you currently have? Is there one that you have that is just like, a secret favorite of yours? Oh, my goodness. Do you have a one? Oh,
Erika Cottrell 35:54
they’re gonna kill me. Um, hopefully the pizza and RV Avita pizza is really really good.
Diana Fryc 36:06
Oh, okay. Yeah, I’m gonna have to keep my eyeballs peeled for that then. Thank you.
Erika Cottrell 36:11
You’re welcome. Well,
Diana Fryc 36:12
thank you so much for your time. Today. I am so happy to have spent this time learning a little bit more about you and I look forward to seeing what you do next. And I want to thank our listeners. Thanks for your time today. If you liked this episode, please share it with a friend. Otherwise, have a great rest of your day and we’ll catch you next time on the Gooder Podcast.
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