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Owner touts improvements, employees at SAJ plant


It’s not that Marc Bodner isn’t proud to be an owner of SAJ Distributors in Pine Bluff. It’s just that he’s equally as pleased to be regarded by his employees as a co-worker, a part of a team.

Instead of merely directing SAJ’s employees, Bodner wants to pick their brains. He makes it a point to work alongside them, helping with everything from warehouse management to filling customer orders to loading and unloading trucks. He values his employees and their observations and opinions, and he wants it to be understood that the concept of family is a key element in whatever success the company achieves.

“As a company, we like employees to take care of their families,” said the co-owner of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based L&R Distributors, which acquired SAJ in November 2012. “We’ve gotten bigger, but we haven’t lost that family component. I’m proud of our employees, and they should be proud of themselves.”

SAJ was a subsidiary of the regional, Pine Bluff-based USA Drug store chain that had been purchased shortly before by Walgreen Company. Bodner said Walgreen wasn’t interested in continuing operations at SAJ, a retail supplier that maintains its private-label Select Brand line of over-the-counter medication and health and beauty items.

“Walgreen was going to shut (SAJ) down,” Bodner said. “We were familiar with SAJ as USA had been an L&R customer but a competitor as well. There would have been hundreds of severance packages here if SAJ had been closed.”

Bodner said L&R — a national distributor of more than 35,000 products — felt SAJ would be a quality addition to its expanding network, so SAJ’s Midland Drive facilities and its product assets were acquired.

“I feel good that we saved between 250 and 275 jobs here,” Bodner said.

SAJ has since been in a restructuring mode, with some jobs discontinued. However, Bodner said, several developments will result in additional labor becoming necessary next year.

“We can’t put a number on it,” Bodner said, “but we’re trying to be as productive as possible.”

A national broker — Synergy Marketing — has been hired to engineer a plan to advance Select Brand to a national level. The Select Brand product line will grow by about 10 percent, which Bodner said will create “promotional efforts.” And technology has taken command in the SAJ warehouse.

A $200,000 electronic, “fool-proof,” four-layer conveyance system is being implemented in the warehouse’s 500-foot long, 100-foot deep stocking area. The system includes automated computerization that features a direct routing program for truck loading, camera-scanned bar codes that help ensure product and order-filling accuracy, and radio-frequency scanners that can be handheld or attached to an employee’s arm with a monitoring device connected to a finger for easier mobility.

Bodner is confident in the leadership abilities of SAJ General Manager Baylor Guy in steering the plant in its new direction.

“We’ve gone from zero warehouse automation to complete automation,” Bodner said. “Now, as soon as an item is scanned here, we’re updated immediately in Deerfield, N.Y. This will help us in moving our largest customer’s service feed to Pine Bluff, and we’ll also be moving even more services here in 2014.

“With all the big changes and plans here, it’s great to have Baylor on board,” he continued. “We’re fortunate to get talent like his. He’s lived in Pine Bluff for a time and he’s been taking an increasing role in our corporate planning.”

Bodner is also keen on Pine Bluff.

“It’s a great geographical location for L&R,” he said, noting L&R’s New York and California locations. “I’ve been here a dozen times, but I haven’t yet seen the Pine Bluff I had heard about from others elsewhere. I heard a lot of negatives, but I’ve encountered a lot of positives. Pine Bluff gets a bad rap as far as I’m concerned. I’m glad we’re here, and I hope I’ll be in Pine Bluff at least monthly.”