Keeping customers cool in DC

Sep 26, 2011

There are few terms that more aptly describe July in Washington, DC-area than “sweltering.” Anyone who lives and works in the nation’s capital knows that July represents high temperatures, high humidity and an average heat index that would leave anyone longing for a cold January day. Washingtonians employ many tactics to beat the heat, but none are quite as effective as ice cream, and, in July, demand is very high.

Guy Berliner founded Berliner Specialty Distributors (BSD) along with his brother in 1973 and pioneered the introduction of gourmet ice creams, specialty and natural frozen foods throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. The company is situated on four acres in Hyattsville, Maryland, just minutes from Washington DC, Baltimore and Northern Virginia. BSD occupies approximately 40,000 square feet of warehouse space, including 15,000 square feet devoted entirely to freezer space

In May 2011, Guy learned from one of his suppliers that a significant price increase was scheduled for July 3, right in the middle of his peak season. ”We had just gone through a price increase in April, and I knew my customers would not be happy with another increase so quickly, and at the busiest time of year for ice cream.” Guy contacted Doreen Hommet, the Senior Vice President at Bank of America who manages the relationship with BSD. Together they worked out short-term financing that allowed Berliner to buy a huge shipment of ice cream before the price increase and lease the additional frozen storage space needed to keep it cold until his customers were ready for it. With $1 million from the bank, BSD brought in an extra 22 tractor trailers full of lower priced ice cream and kept the inventory frosty while the prices climbed. Nobody can stop price increases forever, but Guy’s foresight and business smarts, supported by Bank of America’s financial resources, helped to avoid a price jump during the busiest months for ice cream consumption.

Other banks talk to Guy, but he politely tells them no thanks. “They’ll come in, and we’ll talk and I’ll give them some ice cream when they leave. But we believe in long-term relationships here."

In 1988, BSD picked up regional distribution rights for Good Humor ice cream with the help of financing from Bank of America. At that time, the company made a little over $2 million a year and employed about a dozen people at the height of its busy season. The business grew throughout the ‘90s, using loans to add thousands of square feet of frozen storage space at its Hyattsville warehouse. These days, if you live in the DC area and you enjoy brand-name ice cream, there’s a good chance that BSD helped to get it from the manufacturer to your table. In 2011, Berliner employs over 100 workers at the height of the summer and expects to generate $20 million in revenues.

Many things have changed since the Berliners opened for business in 1973, but after almost 40 years of delivering ice cream to retailers and vendors throughout the DC area and beyond, BSD has never changed banks.

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