Tracking the Beverage Industry: Vermont Information Processing

Source: Vermont Business Magazine

It is 1972 in Burlington, and a man named Howard Aiken has just created a new service for collecting and processing billing data. Based on that, the company he starts, Vermont Information Processing, soon has six employees. In 2001, Aiken sells the company — now 45 workers strong — to the employees. Since then, VIP has grown into a stealth behemoth, so secretive that its CEO won’t sit for an interview and its top-level employee-owners squirm when asked to quantify the company’s revenue.

Today, Aiken’s little company, now located in Colchester, is celebrating its 50th year in business. It has grown to 600 employee-owners and is widely credited with revolutionizing the national beer, wine and soda industry. Its recent yearly revenues, according to ZoomInfo Technologies, a leading go-to-market intelligence platform for sales and marketing teams, reached $99 million.

Operations Director Louise Morgan, who has been with VIP for 25 years, concedes the company has gained a reputation for secrecy. “We are kind of stealthy in that regard, only because we’re not big on marketing ourselves, or putting ourselves out there,” Morgan said. “We’re so busy focusing on our customers and providing what they asked us to do and delivering on those promises that we make.”

VIP’s customers range from giants like Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors to local craft breweries. The company doesn’t limit itself to beer; it processes information for companies such as Pepsi as well.

VIP has grown, in part, through acquisitions, including MicroVane in 2003, BDN Collections in 2015, TradePulse in 2017, Vistaar’s US Beverage Alcohol in 2020, and Data Consultants Inc, BizStride and eoStar in 2022. It now has small offices in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Missouri, but its main campus remains in Colchester.

Before the rise of computers, everything was done on paper. Remember the sales books with the white page, the yellow page and the pink page? That was what data looked like when Aiken had his bright idea.

“Howard Aiken founded us as a billing service,” said Heather Burnett, who has been at VIP for 18 years. “He found a few customers in the southern part of the state. He worked with a hardware company, a produce company and a beer distributor. At the end of the day, they took their invoices, put them on a Greyhound bus and sent them off to Burlington. He rented space on a computer at night because it was the cheapest time to do it, and he would key in all the sales reports based on all those invoices, wrap the sales reports around those invoices and send them back down south on the bus the next morning.”

Aiken recognized that the one business that always paid on time was the beer distributor.

“He said, ‘This the business that I want to be in,’” Burnett recalled.

That customer, by the way, was DeWitt Beverages in Brattleboro. Farrell Distributing in Rutland, another VIP client, acquired DeWitt several years ago, so you could say VIP has serviced at least one company for 50 years. And Leader Distributing, a Pepsi bottler/distributor, is in Dewitt’s old warehouse in Brattleboro and went live with VIP a year ago. So, the beverage world spins round and round and VIP thrives.

“One thing that I take from that story is that the very first customer that he worked with is still a customer today,” Burnett said. “That is so important to us, because it really is about the relationships that we build with our customers — that long-term friendship, if you will — that we’ve developed over all the years. We have several customers like that, customers who have been our clients longer than a lot of marriages last.”

Dating back to Prohibition, the beverage alcohol industry has comprised three tiers: the producers, or the makers of the product; the distributors; and the retailers (grocery stores, bars, convenience stores, etc.). VIP offers data analysis for each tier.

“VIP is a software company that provides solutions for the beverage industry,” Morgan said. “We’re heavy in beverage alcohol, but we also work for a lot of nonalcohol-industry customers like soda bottlers and such. So, we have our customers — our suppliers or makers of products — like Anheuser-Busch or Absolut Vodka, and then the local distributors distribute that product to the retailers in local markets. We provide solutions for suppliers, distributors and retailers to help them streamline their businesses, sell more product and operate more efficiently. For many, we provide back-end services for improving their businesses so they can sell more product and be more efficient.”

Read the full article here.

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