Mid-South Distributing, a wholesale beverage distribution company, was bought earlier this month by Knoxville-based Cherokee Distributing Company. Mid-South acquired Cookeville’s SEC Enterprises in 2013 and maintains a warehouse here.
The move will mean little change to the Cookeville operation and its three-dozen employees, although the biggest shift comes via partners Ottis Phillips, who bought SEC Enterprises in 1995 and stayed on board in Putnam County, and Rick Gerwe, president of Mid-South Distributing. They are retiring – or at least semi slowing down.
Phillips said neither he nor Gerwe have definite plans now that their distributing days are done, but will likely pursue other interests over the next several months.
“It was just the right timing for us,” he said. “We’re both in our mid- to late-60s, and to keep growing the business, we felt like somebody who was younger, maybe smarter, and more aggressive, would be more successful going forward. I’ve known Cherokee for 25 years, and they’re a great organization.”
In the deal, Cherokee more than doubles its service territory – from 22 to 53 Tennessee counties, and geographically, more than 50 percent of the state. The company maintains a headquarters in Knoxville and a distribution center in Kingsport. With the merger, it will also add Cookeville, Tullahoma and Pulaski as distribution hubs.
The deal was official effective Jan. 15. Terms were not disclosed.
“The opportunity to acquire Mid-South was the right fit because of our shared commitment to outstanding customer service,” George Sampson, president of Cherokee Distributing Company, said in a release.
Cherokee brands include Miller, Coors, Angry Orchard, Blue Moon, Dogfish Head, Fat Bottom, Lagunitas, Tennessee Brew Works and Red Bull, Beck’s, Calypso and more. There’s certainly crossover in terms of product selection, but Phillips said it’s possible the UC could see some new brands. Cherokee is in the process of updating its website to reflect specific product selections.
“We’re excited for the employees,” Phillips said. “We’ve had several meetings, and our people seemed really excited. A few people have different positions, but (there’s been) no cut in pay, and no cutback in the number of jobs. We’re very appreciative of Cherokee and what they’ve done. It’s a great opportunity for the company to continue to grow and expand and for our employees to work for a great organization. I think it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Phillips said consolidation continues to drive the industry. It’s a trend he expects will continue.
“Margins are being squeezed, expenses are going up,” he said. “We didn’t have a ‘for sale’ sign up; Cherokee pretty much approached us out of the blue. And for a small operation, did we want to just hang on for the next 15-20 years, or did we want to expand?
“It’s been a great run, and in any small business you’ve got to give credit to the people who work for you,” he added. “I can’t say enough about those people who have made us successful. It’s been fun.”