TJ Zlotnitsky is the President and CEO of iControl, which works with retailers to improve direct store delivery transparency and collaboration with their vendors.
My brother Sean and I were both born in Israel and came to the United States when I was 12 years old in 1986. I then grew up in Maryland, where I also went to college. My brother and I started iControl after our family’s wholesale distribution business was sold in 2008. We learned a ton in that business about workflow inefficiencies and points of conflicts between food and beverage retailers and their distributors, and we felt that we could bring technology to the market that substantially simplified and improved process and outcomes for both trading partners. We set out to create a company that offered ways to reduce conflict and tension and pave the way for greater collaboration between retailers and vendors. Nine years later, we are helping tens of thousands of retailers and thousands of vendors do exactly that.
My father started a wholesale distribution company that serviced the food and beverage industry in 1986. I spent my youth and most of my adult life in this company, CNC, where I rose from apprentice to CEO. Under our leadership, the company eventually distributed to customers in 33 states.
In my opinion, the greatest challenge the food and beverage industry is facing today is catering to consumers—especially those from the X and Y generations, who increasingly expect optimal convenience, choice, and flexibility, yet have been conditioned to believe that great value doesn’t always mean having to pay a premium price.
For traditional brick and mortar retailers, meeting these kinds of expectations at a bargain price is exceedingly difficult. Success requires an equal measure of innovation, moxie, and thrift. Achieving those three things require the ability to operate with maximum efficiently, while measuring key metrics constantly and effectively.
Technology is the only way to meet and overcome these challenges. To me, successful food and beverage retailing today requires a level of precision that is akin to laser surgery. The margin for error is so small that just doing it the old way is a guaranteed way to fail.
I am actually very bullish on the food and beverage industry figuring out how to leverage physical presence within communities to “out-Amazon” macro-competitors, whether it’s Amazon itself or some other behemoth. Food and beverage could prove the exception to the macro-digitalization of commerce, in that physical proximity to the end consumer can and should be a sustainable competitive advantage for local operators. But—and this is a big but—that competitive advantage will only be sustainable to operators who are aggressively focused on playing to their strengths: proximity, accessibility, freshness, and value. And as I said earlier, that requires operators who don’t waste time and money on inefficient business practices and are constantly measuring and recalibrating.
Quantifiable data plays a critical role in my decision making, but I think it’s important to not ignore other variables. Let me offer an analogy all of us can probably relate to:
Have you ever followed your car navigator instructions to the point that you ignored what was right in front of your nose? Turn right, when the airport is clearly on your left? I’ve done it. We all do it.
There is a lesson in that for all of us: Data and technology are fantastic, and they are essential, and anyone not embracing both would be nuts. But at the end of the day, I try to use data to inform my decisions, not to entirely substitute for my judgement.
iControl is a unique company, in that we focus our solutions on solving the workflow challenges of the direct-to-store supply chain, such as alcohol distribution to a typical restaurant, or bread or dairy delivery to a typical grocery store. The direct store delivery (DSD) supply chain is massive in size and incredibly disaggregated, with numerous systems of record and a high degree of complexity around data synchronization and automation of B2B financial transactions. iControl provides our customers with both a toolset to streamline workflows with their DSD trading partners, as well as robust analytics to assess performance in as near to real time as possible in order to identify both net positive and net negative contributors to outcomes, and rapidly adjust behavior.
I am a huge, huge fan of very spicy bloody Mary. I mean, very spicy. I usually add hot sauce and a whole bunch of jalapeños. If I can still feel my mouth after finishing my drink, I consider it a failure!