Founded in 1916, Greenco Beverage looks ahead to the next generation and continued growth in Greenville County — including its new Poinsett Corridor distribution center
His business card identifies him as a “Slinger of Suds.”
That’s important, according to Russell Farr, president of Greenco Beverage Company, because it more appropriately represents his company’s portfolio.
His craft beer manager is known as “The Hawker of Hops.”
Established 100 years ago, family-owned Greenco is one of the area’s largest beverage distributors. It is building a state-of-the-art 120,000-square-foot distribution center on Poinsett Highway in Greenville to replace the company’s outdated facility on Commerce Road.
The new facility will help propel Greenco forward into a second century of business, one Farr vows will be of continued growth and expansion and not just hanging on.
Economic experts also hope the project will spark more development in the area, where mills once ran around the clock cranking out fabric that clothed America, but time has taken its toll.
It is the gateway between downtown Greenville, Furman University and all points in the northwest portion of Greenville County.
Part of a nationwide system
Companies such as Farr’s act as the linchpin of a three-tier system of brewers and importers, distributors and retailers through which federal state and local governments enforce alcohol laws.
By working with numerous brewers, distributors provide a market vehicle for the largest multinational beer brands to start-up craft brewers.
Because of this system, the industry says, you can order a California craft beer off a menu in Illinois, enjoy a Vermont brew in a Tennessee restaurant and see a tap handle from Pennsylvania in a Texas bar.
The three-tier system provides the infrastructure, capital and personnel that small brewers need to reach a wide network of retailers. Consumers benefit from having more choices on store shelves, restaurants and bar taps.
Farr is an energetic, hardworking executive who admits patience isn’t a virtue. He joined the company 10 years ago after working in soft-drink distribution and cable television businesses in Atlanta.
With his father’s health failing, he returned to Greenville in 2005 to join Greenco. His family has owned the company since 1965.
Today, Greenco distributes 120 beer and 40 soft drink brands. Company revenues, which were $16 million in 2006, are on track to reach $60 million this year, Farr said.
Most of the revenue comes from beer sales. Greenco has 110 employees, up from 40 in 2006. Many have been with the company more than 10 years.
From Chero to Nehi to Greenco
The company’s history dates to 1916, when it was founded in Greenville as Chero Bottling and Distribution by W.W. Woodruff.
The original line of products included Chero Cola, whose name was later changed to Royal Crown Cola.
After 10 years of bottling and distributing sodas, the company was sold to Robert A. Jolley in 1926, when Chero Bottling became Nehi Corp.
Jolley, well known in Greenville as a bottler and radio-TV executive, had begun selling Nehi drinks in 1923.
In 1946, Jolley divested himself of the bottling operation to focus on malt beverage distribution.
He changed the company’s name to Greenco Beverage, with “Greenco” standing for Greenville County.
After many years of selling Schlitz Brewing Co. products, Jolley decided to transfer ownership to his son-in-law’s longtime friend, Judd Farr, in 1965.
Farr secured a loan for the purchase from local banker Nap Vandiver.
After Judd retired in 2004, his wife, Betty, stepped in as president. Her husband later passed away.
Under her leadership, the company diversified and added numerous microbrewery brands as well as Miller and Yuengling.
“The bold first step”
For the new distribution center, $8.3 million from the New Markets Tax Credit program has been allocated to Greenco.
When the allocation was announced in April, Greenco’s vision and willingness to invest in the Poinsett Corridor were cited as key considerations by a Greenville New Markets Opportunity II official.
A market study showed that the corridor could support more industrial activity, rental housing and a technology and entrepreneurship district, Tammy Propst, operating officer of the GNMO II Fund and taxadvantagegroup, said at the time.
“But someone must take the first bold step,” Propst said. “Greenco has the vision, the willingness and the perfect business model, and now with GNMO II’s investment, they have the means to bring catalyzing change to the surrounding community.”
The federal NMTC program is aimed at stimulating investment and economic growth in low-income communities.
It allows taxpayers to receive a tax credit against federal income taxes for making equity investments in community development entities such as GNMO II, which is managed by taxadvantagegroup and Greenville Local Development Corp.
A family commitment to Greenville
Farr said his company remains committed to Greenville County, despite overtures to move elsewhere.
Farr’s mother is a Greenville native, community leader, company CEO and board chair who believes it is critical to support local philanthropic causes.
That philosophy was championed by her late husband. He received the YMCA’s Red Triangle award, the highest honor the organization bestows.
With seven children, including five daughters, Betty Farr has backed such groups as A Child’s Haven, the Cancer Society of Greenville County, the Carolina Ballet Theatre, Children’s Hospital of the Greenville Health System, South Carolina Children’s Theatre and many more.
She has received many awards, including South Carolina’s prestigious Order of the Palmetto. Each week, she teaches Sunday school at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Greenville.
Given in her honor is the Grandma Betty’s Farm area at The Children’s Museum of the Upstate in Greenville.
“Greenville is our home and Greenville is growing so, and the more you can give back to your community the better person I feel like you can be,” she said.
Farr wants her family “to be proud — be proud that our family kept this business going as their father had started it.”
She added, “We want to continue to make Greenville proud.”
Greenco is governed by an eight-member board that consists of family members who enlist the help of a three-member advisory committee.
Among the family members, Judd Jr. has worked for the company more than 30 years, and Gay DuPree and Nancy Strausbaugh have worked for Greenco for several years.
All were smiles recently at a recent board meeting as Russell Farr told them of the company’s profitability and strong outlook.
Farr said Greenco has benefitted from Sunday alcohol sales in the Upstate, but he takes no political position on the issue. He supports the industry’s efforts related to underage drinking.
The National Beer Wholesalers Association promotes federal legislation to provide funding for state initiatives to address underage drinking and authorize new grant programs and research.
In South Carolina, beer wholesalers sponsor an array of programs to promote responsible consumption.
The programs include free taxi rides home for restaurant and bar customers and educational materials to help parents talk to children about illegal underage drinking.
The next generation
For his part, Farr, 58, expects to help guide Greenco to new heights — and profitability — amid a rapidly changing environment.
Wine and spirits have eaten into beer’s market share. Greenco also distributes new-age nonalcoholic beverages that have popped up in Spinx and other convenience stores, taking space in coolers already crowded with sodas and other drinks.
In addition, the types and flavors of beer continue to grow. There are more craft beers, imports and domestic brands.
On a recent sultry weekday, a supply of Highland India Pale Ale, or IPA, sat among beer brands stacked high in kegs or unique packages in Greenco’s warehouse, where the temperature was 40 degrees.
With law and accounting degrees, Farr is a strategist who focuses on the viability of the business and growing it. He turns the day-to-day operations over to a general manager who has been with the company 27 years.
Farr also is a cancer survivor who refuses to allow doubt and uncertainty to dominate his thought process.
While Greenco has grown organically and through acquisitions, Farr regrets he sold territories for some brands that later proved to be popular. Still, he is confident going forward.
With “just our organic growth alone, we’re well positioned to be a much larger company in 10 years, and well positioned as far as the viability of our business for the next generation,” he said.