Serving Rural Areas: Alaska Commercial Co.

Author:D'ORO, RACHEL
 
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Running a successful business means more time for basketball, by Jerry Bittner's way of thinking. He should know. In his fourth year as president and chief operating officer of Alaska Commercial Co., Bittner has the numbers to prove that the Anchorage-based company is thriving as the largest supplier of goods and groceries in Alaska's Interior and other outlying areas. And he's still got time to coach basketball five days a week at Dimond High School, which is near the company headquarters at 550 W. 64th Ave. in Anchorage

He says he can do both thanks to conscienscious workers and strict merchandising "disciplines." That means staying on top of customers' needs in 24 Alaska Commercial retail stores in larger communities throughout the state, as well as delivering on time to some 90 mom-and-pop stores in smaller villages through the company's wholesale division, Frontier Expeditors, which recently relocated to 355 E. 76th Ave. in Anchorage.

"Good employees make a big difference," Bittner said. "We all have the same objective, to take care of our customers."

The company, whose roots go back more than a century, must be serving its clients well since the 57-year-old Michigan native came on board in 1996, soon after completing a retail development project in Saudi Arabia.

Alaska Commercial's revenues for 1999 are expected to total more than $100 million, with profits in the $6 million range. It's a long way from 1995, when revenues were less than $80 million and profits were zilch. In fact, the company lost $1.7 million that year, according to Bittner.

Each year since, his arrival has brought higher revenues and larger profits to Alaska Commercial, owned since 1992 by The North West Co. out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Bittner credits basic merchandising for the growth of the Alaska business. It's a common-sense approach he says was woefully lacking in the first Alaska Commercial stores he visited in Dillingham, Naknek and Togiak after taking over the helm.

"They had no can openers, no black and white thread, no double 'A' batteries, which make up 70 percent of the battery business," Bittner says. "But there was a...

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