Frontier Distributing was founded in 1986 by Mark Smith and Geoff Savage as Purina Service Center to distribute the new Pet Specialty only Pro Plan brand of dog and cat food.
Although a new business entity the foundation went far back.
In 1936 Mark’s grandfather J. Wesley Smith opened Beaver Feed Company at Rochester Road and Big Beaver Road in what is now the City of Troy during the height of the Great Depression. Mark’s dad Lawrence took over Beaver Feed Co. in 1956 when J. Wesley and a partner purchased Rochester Elevator. Lawrence joined his father J. Wesley at Rochester Elevator in 1964 when the all new Interstate 75 came through and the road expansion left Beaver Feed with insufficient road frontage to operate at that location. Lawrence and J. Wesley became Ralston Purina Dealers in 1964. Lawrence had 6,000 laying hens at home as well and sold fresh eggs at the Elevator. J. Wesley was killed in a delivery truck accident in 1968 and Lawrence assumed full control. Through the years Lawrence became the largest non-grocery purchaser of Ralston Purina Pet Foods in the State of Michigan. Lawrence would distribute pet foods as well as Diamond Crystal Salt, Morton Salt and International Salt products to other retailers in Southeast Michigan. This distribution model lead to the offer to become a formal distributor of Ralston products as a Service Center in 1986. Mark began his working career at Rochester Elevator when he was 14 years old in 1973.
Geoff’s father Phil Savage was a decorated World War II B-24 Bomber Pilot. When he returned from the war he went to work for AGRICO. This eventually lead to the formation of Turf Supplies, Inc. a wholesaler and distributor of lawn and garden products and landscape supplies ranging from fertilizers, and insecticides to tools and equipment. Rochester Elevator was a longtime customer of Turf Supplies and Geoff even worked for Lawrence at the Elevator in the 1970’s.
So, in 1986 when Mark needed someone with outside sales experience he sought out Geoff, who was the sales manager at Turf Supplies, which had just been sold to Weyerhaeuser Corporation. And so began the journey of Frontier Distributing.
In 1987 Frontier jumped headlong into Lawn and Garden products along with feed but over the next decade or so the lawn and garden business changed dramatically due to acquisitions and market changes and slowly became less prominent of a factor in the business. By the mid 90’s lawn and garden was gone and Frontier was fully a distributor of pet foods and pet products.
Geoff left the business in the early part of the 2000’s to pursue other interests.
The business continued to grow until 2006 when, after 20 years, Nestle Purina ended its relationship with Frontier and the business lost 55% of total revenues. Half of the employees were laid off and the remaining staff retooled, reenergized, reinvented and reemerged to become known as the distributor of natural and holistic pet foods in the area that Frontier served. By Grace Frontier emerged as a stronger and more diversified company.
In 2014 amid the flurry of acquisitions and takeovers Mark published his commitment to remaining independent and family owned. In 2016 Mark’s son Jacob rejoined his sister Courtney and her husband Josh at Frontier and the long transition to the 4th generation in the business of serving pets and their owners began. Like Mark these children and their siblings who are not at Frontier all started working at Frontier when they had finished 8th grade.
Mark is not leaving or retiring anytime soon. Mark’s dad Lawrence at the young age of 80 still works at Rochester Elevator six days a week and the Elevator is the oldest continuously operating business in Rochester having started in 1880. The Smith family has operated the elevator for 60 of its 136 years, the longest of any owner in its history. Mark is committed to working many years into the future even if he takes a less prominent role in favor of the next generation, but don’t look for that to happen too soon. It is hard to slow down when work is in your blood and you love going to work almost every day.
Frontier has many dedicated staff that have a long and rich history with the company and that have contributed to the success and stamina of the company. Barb Slovan, Sales and Marketing Director joined Frontier in 1989 and has been unmatched in product knowledge and market insight. Barb first entered the industry with one of the original Iams distribtors, Watkins and Son, in 1985. Barb is unparalleled in her dedication, knowledge and insight. Sue Savage has been managing Accounts Payable since Frontier began in 1986. Jon Cleland joined Frontier in 1991 in outside sales. Tom Pacheco (driver) and Mike Haskins (warehouse) both joined Frontier in 1991. Vicki Nelson started at Frontier in 1991 and after taking time off for her family returned to Frontier in 2013. Debbie Garrick and Richard Kimmel (brother and sister and Mark’s cousins) are the Office Manager and Warehouse/Transportation Manager respectively. Both joined in the 1990s. Jeff Dauzy, buyer, joined Frontier in 1996 and made the transition from Insurance Safety Auditor to Pet Food Buyer seamlessly. Unfortunately not all can be named here but Frontier has outstanding drivers who are our first line of contact with customers and many of them have been with the company since the 1990s.
I consider myself truly Blessed and Fortunate to have the dedicated and tenured staff that I have. These people and the wonderful supportive customers are the real reason that Frontier perceivers and continues today.
The year of our Lord 2016