Success Stories

Hawaii Foodservice Alliance

Keeping Employees Happy Key to Company’s Growth

In 10 years Chad Richard Buck has taken the food service operation he once ran out of his basement, from a laptop with a single employee, to one of the largest and most successful in the state. His company, Hawaii Foodservice Alliance, is the preferred provider of bakery goods for Hawaii's largest grocers and wholesale clubs. Because HFA operates on every island, the company has made it possible for small local bakers and other food producers to see their products distributed statewide. These local producers have been able to grow their businesses by depending on HFA to handle their products with care and reliability, to ensure their items stay fresh and reach their destinations on time.

The growth has been phenomenal—from $100,000 in sales in 2002 to $1 million a year later and $24 million in 2007. In the same period, Buck expanded his product offerings, built up his customer base and added 103 employees.

“I know what I’m doing here,” he says of food distribution, “but I didn’t have a clue about the human resources side. I needed an expert.”

Buck had the opportunity to move into the bakery business with his small distribution operation in 2002. It not only meant finding more warehouse space, but moving from a two-man operation to a company with employees to drive trucks, load and unload, and handle all the steps required to get perishables from one island to another.

“Up until 2002, I really didn’t want to expand and hire employees,” recalls Buck. “I wanted to do it on my own because I was aware of the complications and headaches sometimes involved with being an employer.”

But when the chance to expand arose, employees were essential and Buck knew expansion would never succeed if his employees weren’t happy.

Human resources administration, health plans, workers’ compensation, and 401(k) plans were “not my gift,” says Buck. “And I didn’t have the luxury of figuring it out on my own. So I really leaned heavily on ALTRES, because they are the experts.”

When Buck came to Hawaii from Chicago on a one-way ticket in 1982, he had no idea he’d create a business that in both 2003 and 2004 would be pegged as the fastest growing in the state. As a teenager reading Forbes and Fortune magazines he had dreamed of one day building his own company, yet years of working for others left him no closer to his goal.

“I’ve leaned on ALTRES as a partner to let us grow and do our thing.”

In 1997 he went out on his own with borrowed money and enough trepidation to keep him awake at night. Sheer determination and a grueling schedule of coffee, candy bars and naps between marathon workdays brought growing success. That success now makes it possible for specialty items made on Maui to be sold statewide, and for fresh Portuguese sweet bread baked on Oahu to populate the shelves of grocers and wholesale clubs on all neighbor islands.

His success, he says, is all about his people.

“You need to pay attention to your employees better than your competition. Our employees are the engine of the company. If that’s not secured and solid, it doesn’t matter if you grow because it will all fall apart. And I knew I couldn’t handle that on my own. The only way I can do it is to rely on ALTRES.”

Buck says the ALTRES team is quick in responding to questions from employees, and is ready to fly to another island on a moment’s notice. Recently, when an employee had concerns about his spouse’s health, ALTRES had the answers he needed. Immediately. That kind of service means Buck can focus on what he does best—solving the daily concerns of getting fresh bakery items onto grocery shelves for Hawaii consumers.

HFA forklift“We’ve given the local bakers the capacity to reach the whole state,” he says. Buck’s business is also imbued with his personal success philosophy: linking people with what they do best. That’s why he stepped back from the paperwork and hired ALTRES.

“A person is not going to be good at doing something they don’t like. They’re not going to thrive. So I knew if I kept my employees happy, I had a pretty good idea of where I was going to go. Every minute I spend wasting my time with the details of HR paperwork is a minute spent away from serving my customers and enjoying the thrill of growing a business. With ALTRES covering our HR, we can spend our time doing what we do best.”