Not many wholesalers remain family owned for multiple generations. But despite the odds, Ira Higdon Grocery Company has managed to reach over a century of operation.
Founded in 1909 by Ira Higdon, the turn-of-the-century operation served neighborhood grocers from a Cairo, Georgia warehouse with five employees, one mule, and a wagon. Ira Higdon Jr., who joined the company in 1935, carried on the family business until 1972, when current President and CEO Larry Higdon took over.
Fast forward to today and the business has several awards under their belt thanks to Larry's leadership. Ira Higdon Grocery Company won IGA’s 2023 Licensed Distribution Center of the Year Award at the IGA Awards of Excellence Ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada last month and Larry won the J. Frank Grimes Award from IGA in 2016, which is the highest honor IGA bestows upon an individual.
Larry is the third generation of his family to operate this family-owned wholesale business serving Georgia and Florida. After graduating from Emory College and serving as a fighter pilot through two tours of Vietnam, he joined the family business, spending more than 40 years growing it into a successful IGA Licensed Distribution Company (LDC).
“We’ve hung in there for a good while. And it goes to show one thing: you keep trying, you’ll win something sometime,” Higdon said during his award speech. “We thank everyone…the only reason we’re still around is because my dad had the foresight to join IGA and it’s worked for us and it’s still working.”
Ira Higdon Grocery Company joined IGA in 1961. Larry said the partnership gives them a national brand name and the Hometown Proud theme. “And because there's been such an influx of people from up north to Georgia and parts of Florida since the 1960s, many of whom know the IGA name, it gives our retail customers a national identity.”
Larry Higdon receives the IGA Licensed Distribution Center of the Year Award.
The company prides itself on being a smaller operation, allowing themselves to be more customer-focused and have more flexibility.
That flexibility is important, as their customers include a variety of store models: convenience, full service IGA, cost plus, and traditional supermarkets. Ira Higdon Grocery Company is still based in Cairo, Georgia with a 180,000 square foot warehouse, serving an estimated 85 customers in two states.
“We do our darndest to serve people every day. When we have a problem, we handle it immediately. Our customers like it because we're smaller and they can call up and talk to me,” Larry Higdon said.
Pre-pandemic, Larry Higdon said the company was operating at service levels of 97%-plus. As supply chain challenges have subsided, the company is returning to that output.
“We were able to get our product line restored to a good percentage of our sales. Three years ago, we had like a 3% out on service.”
A Renewed Commitment to IGA
In the past year, Ira Higdon has renewed their commitment to the Alliance by bringing in 60 new stores and introducing 50 new IGA private label SKUs. Their efforts have paid off with a 66% increase in IGA private label dollar sales and an anticipated gain of another 26% in 2023.
Those strong sales prompted Larry's decision to allow their nearly 70 non-IGA branded stores to use the IGA private label products in their stores. As a result, Ira Higdon Grocery Company was able to eliminate duplicate SKUs in their warehouse.
“This opened up hundreds of new slots in the warehouse and increased buying efficiency by the warehouse. It supported the IGA brand greatly,” said IGA Area Director Doug Stone.
"We’re proud to recognize Ira Higdon Grocery Company as the Licensed Distribution Center of the Year,” said IGA CEO John Ross. “Their unwavering commitment to excellence in service, dedication to their customers, and strong work ethic are a true testament to the Independent Grocers Alliance community. We are proud to have Ira Higdon Grocery Company as part of our family and grateful for their continued partnership in serving communities across the country."