Archive for Wednesday, January 12, 2000

Firm offers really sweet deals

January 12, 2000

Almost within spitting distance of Tonganoxie is a business projected to sell about $10 million worth of goodies this year.

The funny thing is, almost nobody knows it is there.

Confection Marketing Services, a candy and confectionery brokerage business, housed at the end of a road about four miles east of Tonganoxie, has a storeroom filled with a sweet tooth's delight.

Chocolates, bubble gum, the popular sour candies of today, all kinds of chips and crackers, you name it, if it's sweet, sour, salty or fattening, chances are it is stocked, or has been stocked, at one time or another, at the office next to the rural home of Scott and Julie Myers.

The Myers began running the business six years ago after Scott's father, Ron Myers, who had started the company, died unexpectedly from a heart attack. Three years ago, they moved the company from Shawnee Mission to Tonganoxie. They are glad they took it over.

It's stressful work, Scott Myers admitted, "But it's fun."

Bob Barker, Lenexa, their business partner, a lifelong friend and a former competitor of Scott Myers' father's business, put it a little more succinctly. What he likes most, he said, is "The excitement of taking a big order."

The Myers and Barker say their career arouses curiosity. Nobody seems to understand what they do for a living, they say.

"You say that you sell candy and people look at you cross-eyed because they think you can't make any money doing that," Barker said.

Barker explained that the company represents 30 manufacturers of products that include candies, crackers, cookies, snack foods, beverages and tobacco.

"We are the manufacturers' representatives," Barker said.

"We solicit businesses that might want to order the products. We take their orders and we place those orders with the manufacturers," Barker said.

"The manufacturer ships the products and bills the customers. The customer pays the manufacturer, and within 45 to 60 days after the customer pays their bill, we receive a commission check."

This saves the manufacturers a lot of money, Barker said.

"For instance, if Nabisco had a direct sales force of their own, their cost of doing sales would be about 13 percent," Barker said. "We'll work on 5 percent."

In their territory that includes the western half of Missouri and all of Kansas and Oklahoma, it's the big buyers that make the work worthwhile, Myers said.

Quick Trip is one of their biggest customers. Some of their other customers include Duckwall/Alco, Gibson's, Hobby Lobby, Dillons, Osco, Applemarts and Quik Shops.

The company sells products directly to individual businesses or in the case of a large chain of businesses, to the businesses' main offices.

Feeding the territory is no small task, Barker said. "There are about 3,500 convenience stores in the area we cover," he said.

When Barker, Myers, or their one salesman at their Oklahoma office head out on the road, their vehicles are loaded with food items that manufacturers send out for sampling.

New products are constantly arriving.

"Not only do we have the constant pressure to gain distribution and maintain it, we also have to consider the constant influx of new items to introduce to the market," Barker said.

One of the most popular new items is called Melt Down. It's a thick test tube filled with a sour gooey substance. A gummy worm bobs up and down inside, all edible of course.

Barker has tried it himself.

"A buyer told me if I would eat one of those, she would carry the product in her store," Barker said. "I did it, but my eyes almost popped out of my head."

Meanwhile, business continues to grow at the farmstead on a dead-end road. In a world of suit-and-tie businessmen, the Myers say, it's fun to watch their clients' faces when they drive up to the office and notice the large pond, the tree windbreak in the background and the wildlife.

Getting people used to the name of the town is quite another matter, Barker said.

"They say 'Tonga-what?' and we just say, 'Never mind, he was a great Indian chief.'"

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