JACKSONVILLE — Machines are up and running inside Stage Stores distribution center.
It’s all part of the center’s role in getting items from the point of manufacture to the shelves of local Bealls stores.
The distribution center was built in 1985 as part of the Bealls family organization and merged with Palais Royal in Houston years later. The company was later renamed Stage Stores.
Stage Stores has added other brands throughout the years and now operates under Bealls, Goody’s, Palais Royal, Peebles, Stage and most recently Steele’s.
Gough Grubbs, senior vice president of distribution and logistics, said the company likely has more automation than most retail operations its size, along with three distribution centers — one in Jacksonville, another in Jeffersonville, Ohio, and a third in South Hill, Va. The $1.5 billion revenue company brings in nine million cartons across the three distribution centers.
The Jacksonville flow-through center is the largest at 437,000 square feet and supports about half of the 800-plus stores, including those in East Texas, Grubbs said.
“We’re opening stores it seems like all the time,” he said, adding that 60 will open this year, with plans to open about that number next year.
Grubbs said the company considers itself a full family department store to rural America because it does women’s and men’s clothing, cosmetics, children’s clothing and jewelry, among other items.
“That’s what makes our niche unique,” he said. “Our primary desire is to be in towns of less than 50,000 that (are) 30 minutes from the nearest mall so people can shop at a family or neighborhood store instead of having to drive to a metroplex to go to a mall to find a JCPenney’s or a Dillard’s or a Macy’s.”
The distribution center, which primarily features Jacksonville High School colors blue and gold, also is considered the third or fourth largest employer in the city with nearly 500 employees during peak season.
It recently expanded, partly because of the opening of Steele’s, a new operation that Grubbs described as off-price. He said the type of merchandise it buys doesn’t come as well prepared for efficient processing, so more people had to be hired at the distribution center.
Online sales also contributed to the expansion. Last year, Stage completed its first full year of selling online, Grubbs said, and he had to build rack space to hold merchandise before it’s shipped to customers.
“The family of business that’s hottest is home area, gifts, and things like that, that we’re finding there’s a real appetite for in these rural areas. That’s been growing at a higher rate than the other businesses.”
Grubbs said he believes the company also is a leader in terms of community affairs. For instance, it is a pace setter for the United Fund drive. Last year, 67 percent of center employees participated in that drive via payroll deduction. The company also is a big contributor for Relay for Life.
Another thing that makes the distribution center unique is a focus on leadership, Grubbs said.
“I think we need to invest in our people and their personal lives and as we help them develop leadership skills I think it helps them outside the company as well as the work they do inside the company,” he said.
Additionally, Grubbs cited a focus on safety and eco-friendly efforts.
There are 10 mechanics at the center— five during the day and five at night to do preventative maintenance.
Employees also are taught to blow horns as they make their way through the building, and the conveyor has whistles so workers know when it’s about to start. An emergency medical technician also is on staff.
As far as eco-friendly efforts, the center shreds empty cartons and puts them into bales.
Grubbs said they will then sell it, but more importantly, it keeps the product out of the landfill. The company also bales the plastic that protects merchandise in transit.
Grubbs said it’s a reminder of employees’ attitudes when they worked extra as the center worked to go from paper to computerized scanning.
“These people are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure we look good…” Grubbs said. “I think it’s such a testimony to the work ethic that comes with East Texas.”
Jacksonville Economic Development Corporation President Darrell Prcin also commended the center’s operations, saying it is likely one of the top tier distribution centers in the country.
“It’s growing very rapidly, (and) we’re very glad to have them here,” Prcin said.