Grace Best, Imperial Bag & Paper Co., LLC

Tell us a little about yourself and your role at Imperial.

My name is Grace Best, I am Director of Marketing for Imperial as well as taking a major role in the sustainability movement across Foodservice and JanSan, so I have also become a Green Associate for the company. I have been with Imperial for almost 3 years now, and it has been nothing but exciting.

There have been a number of major changes at Imperial over the past months what are some of the company’s major highlights for 2016?

The greatest highlight so far this year is the Borax Paper Acquisition – which as a company was our 7th acquisition. This took place in late February this year and so far for both companies it has been a success. All it did was add value to both companies; whether it be enhancing our product and service offerings, growing our salesforce or expanding our geographic footprint, it was an acquisition that just made sense. Also this year, speaking about our footprint, we now offer next day delivery from Washington DC to Boston for all of our customers on the East Coast and we hope this will help us to continue to grow in the Boston Area.

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How has the role of distribution evolved since you joined Imperial?

When people think of a company like Imperial, I don’t think anyone would think it is glamorous or fun. We are a warehouse, with a company run fleet of trucks that offers our services to deliver product to our clients. Most warehouses aren’t pretty, they don’t have great cleaning standards and they definitely don’t have a warm welcoming feel to them, BUT at Imperial we do! Our new state-of –the-art facility is pretty, it’s actually beautiful, and not to mention it is HUGE. Right there we are making a motion in glamorizing this business, giving our clients what they deserve by stocking their product in an environment that they would be over satisfied with. Also, it is a LEED Certified facility, which ensures that we maintain all LEED Requirements regarding energy, cleanliness, etc. on a daily basis. So there is a start at transitioning how people think of Distribution at least when they view Imperial, but my goal is to get others to view it how we do, which is that distribution is actually cool. In my opinion we are the center, we are the glue that holds everything together and trust me it is not easy, but it is fun, it is challenging and it most definitely is rewarding. The greatest reward is seeing our clients smile and watching them grow their business. To us, they didn’t just do it on their own, they chose a partner to rely on, a partner to provide them the best price, the best service and on top of that be personable and bring innovation. In my opinion, that is a lot to be accountable for, but all of our employees take pride in each of their responsibilities and that is the difference.

In the old days distribution was very much a relationship business – it seems as if technology has changed the skill set necessary for a sales rep to be able to better serve his or her customer base.

It is 100% still a relationship business and I think it always will be. Our biggest market is New York City, which is the utmost fast paced city in the country and our sales reps, as well as myself still have to maintain a personal relationship with our clients. At Imperial we have made major leaps in technology – to develop an ordering platform that we host in-house to make ordering, reporting, invoicing completely streamlined and easy. We did this to help our clients and help our salesforce, not to make a personal relationship disappear. The reality is that Millennials are making their way into our industry, whether they have funding to launch a cool new restaurant technique in the city, or they are managing the day-to-day operations of current establishments, the millennials are coming and expectations will change. Me, being a Millennial, I am able to help our company and from what I know, we are development hungry, our work must have meaning, we have an entrepreneurial spirit, we want to find the most efficient way of doing something and we value transparency. With the help of our technology we are providing efficiencies, quick ways of operating and running their business so that they will be happy too. We want the feedback on our technology, we ask for it so this way it gives them some sort of meaning and input by giving back to us. And lastly, we are adding more transparency – we allow our clients to see what we see while being in communication with their sales rep on a daily basis. We have only just begun this process and it will always be changing, but we will always provide the best service if we stay ahead of it.

You mentioned the importance of pride amongst your employees in their everyday work – how do you define pride?

The pride we all feel is civic pride. Of course we feel satisfaction in all the parts that we play with our clients, but we take pride in our client’s successes or when they achieve their goal. For me, living and being in the New York City area day to day I love walking down a street and seeing 10 of our customers on one block. Just the other day I was in Chelsea and just walking up the block I saw Dig Inn, Dos Toros, Maison Kayser, Le Pain Quotidien, Just Salad, Juice Generation & more! Being in Marketing and a Green Associate I am in a regular communication with their owners and purchasing/marketing teams to make sure they meet sustainability standards, to transition their packaging to the next “cool” look and innovative look. The city is going Green – most foodservice clients are going Green, and I take pride in being able to assist them in this transition. Our drivers feel pride knowing they deliver the correct items in the early AM to make sure these NYC Food Establishments can feed the thousands of mouths that come in for lunch during the week, our CSR’s take pride knowing they have maintained a relationship with a customer for over 10 years and they have grown from a 3 store establishment to a 40 store establishment in the blink of an eye, our purchasing team takes pride knowing they negotiate with our vendors to ensure we are giving the best price in the market, the list goes on and on.

It’s rather ironic that in many cases your company is the unsung hero behind the majority of the glamorous restaurant and foodservice establishments in Metro New York – how do we get out of that shadow and into the limelight?

To be honest – we love to be the unsung hero. Our job as a distributor is to make sure that those establishments grow into the glamorous restaurants or “the next best” that everyone talks about. Watching these establishments grow and prosper is when we know we have done our job successfully. The goal is to change the perception of distribution and it’s not just our clients, it’s the nation as a whole. So with my view & understanding of Millennials, with the Social Media at my fingertips and knowing the latest trends in Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging & websites – Imperial and the world of distribution is in fact cool and that is what I want to market.

You are also Front & Center with Imperial to tackle the Sustainability Challenges and becoming a Green Distributor – what is your thought process behind this commitment and what were your goals?

It is interesting – I actually first got involved in this from the Janitorial side of the business. The certifications, the standards and the reporting in the Janitorial world are much further advanced than the foodservice industry, so I took on the role as a way to promote something new that wasn’t out there yet. I learned as much as I could from the Janitorial side, underwent the certifications and now Imperial is able to bring a lot of these new Sustainability initiatives to our Foodservice clients that they have never seen before. The challenge of sustainability is that it is constantly growing and changing – there are different levels of recyclability, renewable resources, compostability, etc. that a lot of people don’t know what is the best version, or what is a “good”, a “better” or a “best” eco-friendly option across all of the different lines of disposable packaging/paper products made by manufacturers. That is where we come in, we can advise and consult on these questions for our clients, we can run green spend reports, we can even provide carbon disclosure reports to our clients!

What role does Imperial’s sustainability efforts & certifications have in your marketing strategy?

Being that we feel ahead of the Sustainability and Green movement, especially across New York City – it is one of the biggest marketing tools I have. Also, I run the green spend reports, I input the information and I know the certifications – it just so happens I am the Director of Marketing, so for me it is an automatic assumption right now that they go hand in hand and I can’t promote one topic successfully without the other. Of course we want to grow these departments within the company because the demand on the marketing and the sustainability side continues to rise, but right now, we have a process that works. So to end, being “green” is cool, and being a distributor is “cool” – not many people get to go around all of New York City and say to themselves we helped build, service and grow this city.