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McClure's Pickles Co-Op Distribution Model Saves Purveyors, Customers Cash

By Ben Fractenberg | February 2, 2012 3:25pm
Christopher Thorn, 33, makes a delivery for McClure's Pickles in Manhattan on Jan. 31., 2012.
Christopher Thorn, 33, makes a delivery for McClure's Pickles in Manhattan on Jan. 31., 2012.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

MANHATTAN — Bob McClure kept noticing the same products made by other local purveyors on the shelves when delivering his artisanal pickles to businesses around the city.

It got him thinking about the amount of money small business owners spend on distribution, and how that leads to mark-ups for consumers.

So, the co-founder of Brooklyn-based McClure's Pickles came up with a new idea: banding together with other homegrown purveyors on joint deliveries to spread their costs.

"We're all [featured] in the same store," McClure, 33, remembered thinking. "Why don't we talk about this distribution model of shared cost, [and] not have to use a traditional distributor?"

He then got in touch with Daniel Sklaar, the owner of Brooklyn-based Fine & Raw Chocolate.

"I mentioned to him, I'm picking up my stuff and I'm heading up to Columbus Circle," McClure recounted. "What if we all did this together and shared the expense of a van?"

Sklaar was immediately taken with the idea.

"Bob's often approached me with his bats--t crazy ideas, and usually I'll go along for kicks," Sklaar said. "They usually turn out to be partially to fully genius. This idea is fully genius."

McClure created an informal distribution cooperative last July, charging small business owners a minimal fee to deliver their goods while he is dropping off his own pickles to the same vendors.

Instead of small business owners selling their products to a distributor, or middleman, who then sells to the retailer, McClure's Pickles charges a small percentage based on the amount of packages delivered directly to the shops.

He said that traditional distributors charge a 15- to 30-percent mark-up. McClure, in contrast, said he charges 4 percent of the billable sale for delivering between 11 and 20 cases.

McClure's now distributes for roughly eight local companies, including Brooklyn Salsa, Early Bird Granola and School House Kitchen.

"We have growing interest from people, because we're not doing what a traditional distributer would do," McClure said.

The pickle-maker's innovative system has even caught the attention of city officials as something worth replicating.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn mentioned McClure's model in a speech she gave to the Association for a Better New York back in October.

"We’re going follow [Bob McClure's] exceptional example, and grow his idea to international proportions," Quinn said. 

"We’re going to coordinate New York City businesses that make similar products or serve similar markets. And we’re going to help make it cheaper to send their products across the country or around the world."

The proposal is still in the planning stages, according to a Quinn spokeswoman.

McClure's started in 2006, with McClure and his brother, Joe, making pickles out of a kitchen in the Swingin' Sixties Senior Center in Williamsburg, as well as in a church kitchen just outside of Detroit, Mich., using their great grandmother's recipe. Their pickles are now featured in trendy bars like Bua in the East Village and larger retailers like Whole Foods.

McClure said he would be happy to break even on the distribution and see other small businesses follow his lead.

"I'm excited to see how it grows, to see if it will be successful model," he said. "Perhaps there's a reason it's never been done before."