J.E. Hicks Distribution opens showroom

Published 12:08 am Sunday, May 22, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Michelle Jones, J.E. Hicks distributing bookkeeper, right, and Morgan Mizell, sales clerk, complete sales with customers Friday afternoon at J.E. Hicks Distributing in Natchez.

NATCHEZ — For 66 years, J.E. Hicks Distributing has focused on its relationship with customers and evolving with the changing marketplace.

The full-line foodservice company found a way to further that goal, as they celebrated the opening of a new customer service showroom May 9.

The company, which services businesses with food and supplies within a 65-mile radius of Natchez, always sold wholesale food to the public, but the new customer service counter offers greater accessibility to the walk-ins.

J.E. Hicks Distributing has been in the family 66 years. The owners are John Hicks Jr. and John Hicks III.

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Owner and vice president, John Hicks III, said in the past, the general public was not aware they could purchase food in bulk for their own families.

“It’s always been a big misconception you have to be a business to buy from us, but we are wholesale to the public,” Hicks said.

Beginning in 2010, an advertising campaign reminding the public of this was so successful, the Hicks family decided to open the customer service showroom.

“It’s climate controlled, so it’s not like going in a warehouse anymore,” Hicks said. “There is a long counter with three different work stations, and we have three cashiers to service you. In general, it’s more pleasant. You can get your stuff and get out of there faster. And we bring your purchases to the car and load them up.”

Hicks said a large screen displays featured products and events. The new customer service area has specific décor as well.

“About a year ago we found an old photo album from the 1950s with pictures of the old business, back when they processed food,” Hicks said. “We had them enlarged and they are all around the top border of the showroom.”

Hicks said the company has remained successful by keeping up with the demands of the modern marketplace, which has come a long way since his grandfather, John Hicks Sr., sold meat from the trunk of his car after World War II.

“If you don’t change, you will get left behind,” Hicks said. “We changed with the times, added new lines, and now this customer service area, and that’s why we’re still around.”

J.E. Hicks employee Justin DeWitt organizes item inside of the warehouse Friday afternoon.

Hicks said to continue to best serve customers, the business accepts forms of payment including cash, credit cards, EBT snap cards and checks.

“You can feed your family a lot cheaper if you’re buying it bulk,” Hicks said.

Hicks Distributing has hired two more employees since opening the customer service area. Hicks said the company’s expansion will not stop with the customer service counter.

“We’re actually looking at expanding again,” Hicks said. “We are looking at 5,000 square feet of more freezer space, in addition to our other two freezers.”

Hicks said particularly in the current economy, people want to stretch their dollars, so they buy in bulk to achieve better value.

“When you’re buying in bulk you’re paying less per pound when you’re buying smaller amount,” Hicks said. “Retail is a lot higher if you’re buying four chicken breasts versus 24 chicken breasts. Look at things you’re using a lot of on a regular basis, and then consider purchasing that in larger quantities.”

Hicks said the company and his family buy local whenever possible, and they encourage their 22 employees to do the same.

“It’s important to keep our town stable and our city and county growing so it’s an attractive place for future generations,” Hicks said.

While Hicks Distributing enjoys a successful business, Hicks said his greatest satisfaction still comes from completing an order for a happy customer.

“We treat customers like people, not as numbers,” Hicks said. “And that’s why people come back to us.”