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W&H Systems Wine & Spirits Distribution History

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Frank W. Hoenigmann and Kent F. Warner started W&H Systems in 1964, and were soon joined by 5 other partners: Henry M. Landes, Leon Kirschner, Alfred (Al) W. Iversen, Gifford (Giff) Kittredge, and Robert (Bob) E. Freeman. Their original office was the famous Rogers, Peet & Co. building at 16 East 42nd Street, New York City. Kent had met Frank at a conveyor company (Lanson Corporation), manufacturer of belt conveyors and automated pallet spreaders that were sold to soft drink distributors and breweries.

Originally the company was named Warner & Hoenigmann, and then changed to W&H Conveyor Systems. As they added more equipment, the company changed the name to what it is today, W&H Systems.

In the early 90’s, W&H turned toward the wholesale wine & spirits distribution industry, with one of the first automated label picking systems. Prior to this, orders were collected from each store and brought to the warehouse where a “caller” yelled out orders – four boxes of this, six boxes of that for a particular location. Workers picked through inventory and loaded boxes onto a line and someone further along would put it all onto a truck, which expended a lot of labor. The automated label picking system saved the callers voice while freeing up time and energy.

Through use of advanced technology, W&H systems can now sort orders onto the right truck, with the order for the last stop of the day loaded in first. Today, W&H Systems has more label-based systems installed around the country than anyone else in the industry.

Wine & spirits distribution operations became more complex requiring more than just lift trucks, floor storage, and manual palletizing. The industry is now in the middle of a transformation. As consumers demand has increased with more frequent and complex orders, distributors are moving from manual systems to automation, including: high-speed conveyor and sortation systems, voice-directed picking, warehouse control systems, automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), and more.

Today, the wine & spirits distribution business represents about 40 percent of revenues, which were $38M in 2013. W&H’s 80 employees include more than 40 electrical, mechanical, and software engineers. The company has an extensive track record of creative and innovative ideas that have provided bottom-line savings to wine & spirits clients, which include Southern Wine & Spirits, Wirtz Beverage (Cicero, IL), Horizon Beverage, and many others.