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Southwest Distributors moves into new facility

BRITTNEY LOHMILLER/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Southwest Distributors employees Brad Fuller, from left, Albert Johnson, Anthony Tenner and Mark Robinson load empty carts onto a Budweiser truck after removing the delivery of beer and non-alcoholic beverages at the new McNeil Road warehouse.
BRITTNEY LOHMILLER/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Southwest Distributors employees Brad Fuller, from left, Albert Johnson, Anthony Tenner and Mark Robinson load empty carts onto a Budweiser truck after removing the delivery of beer and non-alcoholic beverages at the new McNeil Road warehouse.

For nearly five decades, Southwest Distributors operated its beer distributorship near the heart of downtown Natchez.

But after three expansions, a 60-percent market share increase and dozens more products to sell, downtown couldn’t hold the family-owned business.

The company moved into a $2.5 million facility it constructed on McNeil Road last month.

The new facility has been a long time coming, President Michael Belote said.

“That building (downtown) was built in 1966,” he said. “The business has evolved tremendously since then, and with the size of the trucks we have, we just needed to get out on the highway.

The move out of downtown was bittersweet for Stephanie Hutchins, Belote’s sister and vice president of public affairs for Southwest Distributors.

The entrance of the new facility below, features the Anheuser-Busch logo.
The entrance of the new facility below, features the Anheuser-Busch logo.

“We had been in that location for nearly 50 years,” she said. “It was our first home, and it was emotional leaving it.”

But Hutchins said Southwest’s downtown neighbors are likely happy the 18-wheeler delivery trucks aren’t clogging up traffic anymore.

“The people downtown are probably glad we’re gone,” Hutchins said, laughing.

Southwest Team Leader Jack Aubic, who has been with the company 30 years, said the downtown location changed a lot during the company’s time there.

“We expanded it three times, and there was nowhere else to go,” he said.

The new 19,000-square-foot facility is slightly smaller than the downtown facility, but the main advantage of the new location is that the trucks have more space to move around and the property lends itself to future expansion, Hutchins said.

“We’ve laid the groundwork for the next 50 years,” she said. “We’ve got room to go two or three times the size of the warehouse area if we need it.”

Southwest Distributors was founded in 1971 when Belote and Hutchins’ father, Maurice Belote, retired as divisional sales manager for Anheuser-Busch and purchased Kramer Beverage Company, with locations in Natchez and McComb.

The business was renamed Southwest Distributors and has grown over the years from carrying a handful of brands and packaging options to more than 70 brands and 160 packaging options, General Manager Alan Hutchins said.

That is not counting the non-alcoholic products the company carries, which includes New Orleans roast coffee, Calypso beverages and energy drinks.

The business has also grown from driver-sold to pre-sold, and delivery trucks have expanded from side-loaders to 18-wheelers.

Southwest Distributors now holds a 73-percent market share and covers southwest Mississippi from Adams County to Marion County. The company built a warehouse in Summit, where Belote heads up operations.

Michael Belote attributes the growth and success of the company to the hard work of its employees.

“I think it’s basically hard work that got us to where we are today,” he said. “We’re just persistent, and now my son is getting involved, so we’ve got the third generation coming up.

“Anytime you have family in there, you’re going to do whatever it takes to make the business successful,” he said.