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Publish Date: 3/25/2005

Distribution facility knows retail storage cold

LONGMONT — Craig Rosenthal runs what is unquestionably the largest freezer in Longmont as part of a grocery-distribution facility that makes Wal-Mart look like a corner convenience store.

Rosenthal is vice president for distribution at McLane Western, at the northeast corner of Colo. Highway 119 and County Line Road, on the east side of Longmont.

From inside a 360,000-square-foot warehouse, 525 workers unpack, repack and deliver millions of pounds of candy, cigarettes, juice and snacks to convenience stores, fast-food restaurants and big-box retailers across five states, including Colorado.

“We’ve got walls and we’ve got racking,” Rosenthal said during a tour of the facility. Stores “let us do the labor and carry the inventory.”

And carry they do, along with lift, move, unpack, repack, sort, shelve, unshelve, load and unload.

Cavernous doesn’t even begin to describe the L-shaped warehouse, which is filled with scuttling, honking forklifts and tugs towing carts and pallets. The building is so big that many of the lights are on motion detectors so little electricity is wasted lighting temporarily unused areas.

Inside the giant white building, night workers unload tractor-trailers arriving from food manufacturers from all over the country.

Workers fill the racks and shelves and “cold room” with all manner of items until about 6 a.m. Then a new batch of workers arrives and begins emptying the shelves as they prepare truckloads for distribution.

McLane Western’s parent company, which started as a wholesale delivery service in Texas with a horse and wagon, was eventually purchased by Wal-Mart, and then recently sold to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment company.

For convenience stores and drugstores, workers stationed along a 300-foot conveyor belt fill up plastic tote boxes with specified goods, from candy to chewing tobacco and chips. The company delivers, through its 59 tractors and 119 trailers, to five states: Colorado, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming.

“This one here is going to the Wal-Mart in Frisco,” Rosenthal said.

Each worker is responsible for pulling specific candies or other items from the shelves in front of them and filling the totes, which then move along to the next worker.

The work is done largely in silence, although the aroma of chocolate permeates the air and beeping pallet tugs pass through often. Because the procedures and logistics used by the company are considered trade secrets, photography is banned inside.

At the request of the Daily Times-Call, Rosenthal and division President Stuart Clark gave a guided tour of the facility, in part to answer the question “What goes on in there?”

In another section of the warehouse, workers open cartons of cigarettes, affix state tax stamps and reseal the boxes. Access to that area of the building is limited because cigarettes are the most expensive items the company handles.

All of the goods inside are purchased by McLane, then resold to stores.

While most of the warehouse is kept at room temperature, one large section is kept about minus 25 degrees. That’s where the frozen foods are kept frozen.

Inside the freezer room, workers in insulated pants pull ice cream and other frozen goods from pallets to fill orders.

“Believe it or not, there are some people who love it,” Rosenthal said of the cold room. “They don’t want to work anywhere else.”

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