With conveyor belts looping the floor, and sometimes forming a spiral between three racks of inventory, guided by state-of-the-art sorting systems, Breakthru Beverage Delaware’s latest distribution center is on the […]
[caption id="attachment_223009" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] With miles of conveyor belts, Breakthru Beverage Delaware is able to sort and load 2,500 cases of liquor per hour. Liquor cases are stored on racks as well as on the warehouse floor. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
With conveyor belts looping the floor, and sometimes forming a spiral between three racks of inventory, guided by state-of-the-art sorting systems, Breakthru Beverage Delaware’s latest distribution center is on the cutting edge of technology.The top alcohol wholesaler has been receiving thousands of cases of wine, beer and spirits since it opened for business on Feb. 28, with scores of people to store, sort and load truck shipments that arrive on a daily basis in the two-story facility. Breakthru Beverage Delaware has moved about 280 employees, in warehouse distribution, sales and office support staff as of this week, to the Middletown operations.“I couldn’t be more excited to be here with you today. This building is a brand new start for our company, and it really is going to be the opportunity for us to kind of grow into the future for decades to come,” Breakthru Beverage Group Executive Vice President Tim Daning, who will
[caption id="attachment_223010" align="alignright" width="300"] Breakthru Beverage Group Executive Vice President of Delaware Tim Daning speaks to partners and liquor representatives at the ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
oversee the Delaware operations, said at a ribbon cutting event on Tuesday.For the past two years, Breakthru Beverages Delaware and MRP Industrial have been developing a new headquarters that would consolidate the company’s operations in the First State that includes 285,000 square feet, with 30,000 square feet of cold room storage for craft beers and kegs. When trucks from alcohol manufacturers like Bailey’s Irish Cream and Tito’s Vodka drive in the bays, scores of bottles each packed in branded boxes are unloaded and stacked neatly, ready for forklifts to load them up and zip them to towering racks that line the warehouse. High-end spirits are tucked in a metal cage that looms over associates' heads.Breakthru Beverage Delaware ships about 1.8 million cases of beer, wine and spirits per year, and the latest technology has the distribution center operating much like an Amazon warehouse. When an order comes in, associates send the cases of alcohol up miles of conveyor belts that form neat rows in the aisles and occasionally cross between racks. Some products quickly moved up to the next floor with conveyors that spiral like corkscrews.When the product arrives on the second floor, they are sorted by associates on “pick lines” and each station is manned by a computer system that displays the weight and contents of a case, as well as how many cases are still left in the order. The computer system can automatically pause the line if the weight for the order is off-balance.From there, the cases of alcohol merge into a new conveyor belt to sort them. If the liquor store order calls for one case and three cases somehow get through, the boxes will just recirculate on the loop until an associate catches the mistake.Associates on the pick lines are also supported by Jennifer VoicePlus, mobile application system that incorporates barcode scanning and voice directions. Through a headset, Jennifer — a woman’s voice like Apple’s Siri — directs associates where to go and what cases to pick.
[caption id="attachment_223011" align="alignleft" width="300"] Products are stacked and stored on tiered racks at the 285,000 square-foot warehouse, while associates pick it and send it down miles of conveyor belts for selection. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
At the old New Castle building, Breakthru Beverage Delaware had two conveyor lines to load trucks to ship out bottles to clients all over the state. In Middletown, there are six conveyor belts with five people working on each pick line. The warehouse could get up to 50 people working on the system at once. Not everything will come down the pick line, as with roughly 4,000 units, some are dealt with by hand.At its old facility, Breakthru Beverage Delaware could sort and load roughly 1,000 cases per hour. Now at Middletown, the distributor averages about 2,500 per hour, but it can go as high as 3,000 cases.The average truck that leaves the Middletown warehouse is carrying 850 cases of alcohol, though some large trucks can carry 1,700 cases to clients all over the First State, including to its largest clients Total Wine & More and Kreston Wine & Spirits.“I remember two years ago, we were driving through here and it was just an open field. And when the pandemic hit, we had to accelerate things and make a choice among our prospects. Here, we have doubled our capacity and certainly there is room for growth,” Breakthru Beverage Group Vice President of Operations Art Witz said during opening comments. “The pandemic brought us additional [sales] growth, and we’re ready to weather whatever else is thrown at us with the latest technology.”Another game-changer is two palletizers that sit on the warehouse floor. In the past, employees would have to stack cases on a pallet and wrap it with plastic in the truck bed — a process that used to be messy and didn’t maximize the space. With the palletizers, associates can stack boxes like putting pieces in a puzzle, and the machine can wrap at least five layers of plastic around it. So far, Middletown is the only location in the Breakthru Beverage Group network that has these machines.
[caption id="attachment_223012" align="alignright" width="300"] associates can stack boxes like putting pieces in a puzzle, and the machine can wrap at least five layers of plastic around it. So far, Middletown is the only location in the Breakthru Beverage Group network that has these machines. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
Aside from the warehouse, Breakthru Beverage Delaware also has 25,000 square feet of office space. That includes conference rooms for clients, permanent offices for finance and administration staff, but also available rooms, many named after Delaware counties and landmarks, that staff can reserve ahead of time. A built-in gym is on the second floor for staff members, and the Alchemy Room is outfitted with bar decor for potential cocktail demonstrations.Even with few products stacked on the floor, there is at least 100,000 square feet of warehouse space that can be added to the building. Racks still have plenty of shelving space if needed. In the past, Breakthru Beverage Delaware’s operations were so cramped at its two facilities off Chruchman’s Road that it used floor space at its Maryland operations and leased more at its competitor, Standard Distributing Company.Breakthru Beverage Group’s President and CEO Tom Bené thanked the leadership at Middletown for shepherding the new distribution center through the planning and permitting process, preparing the company to reach greater heights. Pointing to the work that Bob Trostel, who previously owned United Distributors Delaware, toiled at before merging with Breakthru in 2016, Bené said that the company’s presence in the First State was off and running.“Our ambition is to continue to grow, and to be the best in every market we operate in. Here in Delaware, we had a great foundation that Bob and others laid for us for many years. But the reality is now with this new building, the sky's the limit,” he said.