Warehousing and Transportation - Today and Yesterday
Purchasing from suppliers throughout the world, Spartan Stores warehouses over 40,000 products in Grand Rapids and Plymouth, Michigan. Supplying nearly 400 stores with these quality products at the lowest cost can only be achieved through a proficient distribution system. Spartan's state-of-the-art facilities combine manual labor with mechanical technology for optimum efficiency. Spartan's streamlined warehouse operations and sophisticated systems expedite product flow and reduce costs in procurement, inventory control and labor.
In the Beginning - Spartan's first efforts at warehousing resulted in one solitary car holding the company's first purchase, a boxcar of sugar in 1918. The original 27 members of The Grand Rapids Wholesale Grocery Company trudged through mud at the Grand Rapids railroad station in order to split up their cargo and take it back to their stores. Starting small, the company had an office for its two employees at 43 Ionia SW. As the company grew, it moved from the Ionia Street location to 166 Williams Street SW in 1932, where it operated until 1937.
Buchanan Avenue (1937- 1957) - In 1937, the company began a 20-year stay at 1501 Buchanan Avenue SW. After a quarter-million-dollar addition in 1953 (the last of four expansions) the warehouse covered 150,000 square feet. For awhile, employees worked on roller skates. It was the only warehouse reported to use skates as standard operating equipment. Employees worked more efficiently and claimed to be less tired at the end of their shifts.
44th Street (1958 - 1974) - Spartan Stores (name changed in 1957) opened a new 310,000-square-foot warehouse on 44th Street in 1958, said to be the most efficient in the country. Its 765,000 cubic feet of cooler and freezer space was the equivalent of 76,000 home refrigerators. The location was ideal - close to the newly paved M-37 and the new 131 expressway. It was also the largest under-roof railroad station in Grand Rapids accommodating as many as 24 freight cars at once. The warehouse had the newest technologies such as the electric towline. Embedded in the floor, it circled the entire warehouse pulling up to 76 four-wheel carts of product at one time.
Plymouth (1968 - 2010) - In 1963, A.G. Tick-Tock of Detroit became a Spartan subsidiary. In 1968, the operation moved to Plymouth. The 300,000-square-foot warehouse supplied grocery and perishables product, as well as services, to retailers in Eastern Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. In the late '80s, perishables moved to Grand Rapids. This facility proved to be very important during Spartan's growth into new areas.
76th Street (1975 - Present) - Construction of new warehouse/office facilities began in 1974 on 34 acres at 76th St. and Clyde Park in Byron Center. Employees moved into the new complex in 1975. All Grand Rapidsí operations were at one site. The grocery warehouse covered 9 1/2 acres and housed the latest technological advance - a 30-foot tall SI Ordermatic System known as Big Blue. It selected product by electronic computer impulses until it was discontinued in 1987. An $8 million, 52,000-square-foot expansion of the perishables warehouse was completed in late 1990.
Today, Spartan Stores Transportation has two Michigan locations, one based in Grand Rapids, the other in Plymouth. Its combined fleet of 245 full-time drivers travels over 12.5 million miles per year. They utilize 116 tractors, 193 dry van trailers and 176 refrigerated trailers. In a typical week, they average 2,397 delivery stops, delivering between 28 and 33 million pounds of product. Spartan's routing department builds 1,234 truckloads of product per week with an average load size of 25,000 - 28,000 pounds. Spartan Stores Transportation utilizes the latest computer technology including the TRUCKS Routing System, CADEC on-board computers and the Maintenance Control and Management System.
Much has changed over the years in the transportation system at Spartan Stores including the fleet design, safety and performance of the vehicles used in transporting product.
Associated Grocers' trucks of the '40s, not much more than delivery vans, serviced the company's customers.
For years, Spartan used Star Transfer Line to carry its groceries, while it had its own drivers (about 20 in '65) to haul perishables. The truck used was an early 1950's model with a 30-foot trailer.
Spartan started its own transportation department in 1967, the same year that many Star drivers lost their jobs during a labor dispute. Spartan hired many of these drivers. Four people in routing, two in dispatch and 75 drivers hit the road. The Spartan tractor/trailer (40-footer) was one of the first owned outright by Spartan Stores.
The trailer of the '80s and '90s was the 50-footer, more than twice the size of the Associated Grocer's truck of the '40s. It was nationally recognized for its safety-conscious design. Spartan Stores, Inc. has been praised for having one of the most cost-effective fleets anywhere. In 1989, a complex computer program called TRUCKS was used to organize each and every trailer load of product. It could route 100 loads in less than 5 minutes. Spartan's transportation fleet also became involved in backhauling activities.