Sitting Down With Ben Williams of Beacon Sales Group

We recently sat down with Ben Williams of the Beacon Sales Group to discuss his thriving business, the history, and why they are joining the Arctic brand for their cooling needs.

Ben, briefly tell us about the Beacon Sales Group story, how the organization came to be, and your journey along the way.

“I started in this industry in January 1984 when I went to work for a stainless steel hood manufacturing company that was called, “Grease Masters” in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. My brother-in-law was working for them and enjoyed it so I took the job. At the time, I had two brothers in law enforcement and I graduated from the Charlotte Police Academy but fate changed my path. I was doing really well and decided that I was going to stay in this industry. I went to work for another hood manufacturing company in the Charlotte area and was there for almost five years. I then met my beautiful wife when she was a senior in college and she wanted to start teaching school. One day she randomly said, “You know what? I’ve always wanted to move to Florida. Would you be interested?” Of course I was! I followed her. I went to work for a stainless steel fabrication company that did a few small hoods, but mainly focused on sinks, tables, and custom cabinetry and I was there for five years and learned a great deal. Then a management opportunity came my way and we moved back to Charlotte, NC where I was the General Manager at a company called Universal Stainless for two and a half years. I eventually wanted to start my own business and I opened a manufacturing company in 1997 called Select Stainless. After 15 years, I sold the company and decided to start a rep group in 2014, which is what we know now as Beacon Sales Group. I already knew the customers in the space and had great relationships in the industry.  I thought if I can learn about sinks, tables, and hoods, I can learn other products in the industry, right? That is how it all happened and we started growing the business and here I am today. We’re over nine years old and we’ve grown the group in terms of factories and experience, and it’s gone very well.”

What is the Beacon Sales Group strategy for 2024 as Foodservice seems to be resilient, despite economic uncertainties?

“I’m kind of old school, but I also know there’s a new way of doing business. For the old school side, I still like to get in front of the customers and go visit them personally. I really enjoy being able to communicate with them face to face. Some of the younger generation doesn’t want that face-to-face interaction? They want emails; they want to text, it’s a totally different world. I’ve had to learn to navigate through both. I would say our growth is going to continue on the same path that we’ve adjusted to, especially through the pandemic. It seems to be less face-to-face than what it used to be. I’m sure I’m not the only one in the industry telling you this. It’s more zoom calls, it’s more Google meets, it’s more emails/phone calls and that’s pretty much where the world is going. I’m learning more and more about the on-site demos and on-site meetings. I’d say we’re really growing on that side of it with the end users, whereas before we relied a lot more on the dealers. Really since the pandemic, we’ve focused on working more with the end users. There are more meetings face-to-face with the end users, additional meetings to discuss all the products we have available. A customer may call me and say, “Hey, I want to talk to you about this oven.” When I go there to talk about the oven, I talk to them about walk-ins too. I talk to them about refrigerators. I talk to them about ice cream machines, frozen beverage machines, basically all of the products that we have available. It just opens the door for us. I would say we are more focused in that direction in 2024.”

Photos of an Arctic Walk-in from a Supply Show in Myrtle Beach, SC

How does your team view your territory in comparison to other sections of the country?

“As far as the Carolinas go, I think they’ve been very strong. I know there are some areas that have slowed, but I think a lot of people moved into the Carolinas through the pandemic, just like Florida and Texas. We have really continued to grow through all the economic uncertainty. You know, the territory is still strong and it still continues to grow. As you know, we’re growing with it and we’re working with dealers, consultants, and more end users. Since we’ve been a rep group for nine years now, our name is out there more than when I first started. I pretty much had to pioneer my lines and our rep group. A lot of people know us in the territory, and they feel comfortable with us as we are established. They know that Beacon is going to support them, whether it’s an end user, dealer, or consultant. Whatever needs they have, we’re there for them.”

Why choose to work with Arctic and why now? 

“It is actually perfect timing. I had another walk-in line previously and they were limited on how we could go to market. They were focused strictly more on the bid side of things. We were missing out on the standard restaurants, what I call the mom and pops, the everyday, folks. So we needed a focus for a line on the consultant side as well, which is where we are strong. One for the spec side and also for the everyday restaurant that opens up, and other projects. That is a main reason why we really wanted to partner with Arctic. Arctic has both sides of that world and it is strength for us. There are not many walk-in cooler companies out there which can grow both sides of the business. Most are focused on only the consultant side or the small restaurants. Whereas we know that with Arctic, we can grow on all fronts.”

What is the Beacon team seeing as far as emerging trends for Foodservice in 2024?

“The pandemic sky-rocketed take-out orders. I was just in a restaurant yesterday in Raleigh and this gentleman was testing one of my speed ovens. We were talking and I said, “How’s your business? How’re things going?” He’s like, “It’s going well, it’s growing, but our take out and to-go orders are just phenomenal!” It’s most of their business now and that’s the case for a lot of other businesses out there. People are still not eating out as much as they were pre-pandemic, but they’re ordering. I can see that’s a big focus many restaurants had to adjust to, and realizing that it’s a mainstay now.”

Deli/Meat Cases from Hydra Kool Brand
“End user was very pleased with this project’s end result.”

What would you like to see improved in Walk-ins from a design / functionality perspective?

“It’s a tough one, because if you were to ask me previous to Arctic, I would say better flooring, but Arctic has already improved in this area. Matter of fact, I just looked at a project recently where I went to a baseball park and they’re looking to replace the walk-ins there. The first thing they asked me was, “Can we get a heavy duty floor?” Of course you can. However, with previous companies, they could not provide that type of flooring. I really don’t know what Arctic can do more of because they already have the quick ship program, which is fantastic. Foamed-in-place panels and the durable flooring and a wide variety of colors that can match with just about anything. Arctic is very impressive with how they have evolved, expanded all of their business, and how they go to market. That’s another reason why we really wanted to represent Arctic.”

The Arctic product is constantly evolving with continued research & design and our commitment to becoming an industry “Thought Leader.” How can Arctic make the most of this and what would you like to see in Cooler / Freezer design and functionality?

“The one thing that I would like to see from Arctic, and I don’t know if anyone’s approached them about it yet or not, but it is Blast Chillers. That’s something incorporated into the walk-ins, whether they’re a rolling type or an individual, there’s a market there for it. That’s really the only thing I can see that they don’t offer yet that could open up another world of big projects and with consultant projects. There’s definitely a need in the future for it, and that’s something that I would love to see Arctic expand into as we know the Customer First service would be there too.”

Great segway, what about the Arctic “Customer First” approach and product alignment with the Beacon Sales Group?

“From what I’ve heard and seen, it’s really good, and we are huge on focusing on the customer first. That’s the way I’ve always been! I’ve had a ton of people rave about Janet De Leon, Project Leader, how good she is, and all of the Arctic team for that matter. Arctic is dedicated and puts their money where their mouth is and I appreciate that because it makes my life as a rep much better. I was brought up in the industry with the mentality that you’ve got to take care of the customer. You need to answer your phone, you need to answer your emails. I’m not one of these reps that’s going to go quiet. That’s just not me and anybody you talk to in my territory will tell you that. I answer my phone, I answer emails, and I respond very quickly. So, it’s great to see that our teams are so alike in that aspect. That’s huge for our customers.”

Please tell us about the Beacon Sales Group 5-year plan. Where would you like the organization to be at that time?

“I would like to add another person or maybe two this year and possibly a third in 2025 to grow more in the Carolinas. We actually have someone that helps us in the Maryland, Virginia, DC territory with some of our factories.  I would welcome growing more into Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida in the future. If we can find the right people and if we get all the pieces in place. Much depends on demand and the opportunities; however, the way we’ve grown in the past two years, we could be expediting the whole process. For the last two years in a row, we have had record years. 2022 was a record and 2023 was a record year for us. We’ve grown exceptionally the last two years and with continued growth, we may have to add more than two people. Which would be the ideal problem for us.”

If you could, please leave us with 30 words or less describing Beacon Sales Group and what you’re all about.  

“Beacon Sales Group is all about our customer, first and foremost. Being responsive, courteous, professional, and on-time. We’re aimed at supporting our factories as well and we want to represent them with integrity just as we represent ourselves. We are all a team. Our focus is on the team and our factories are a part of that and our partners. Being the youngest of eight kids, I come from a large family. I want to treat my factories just like they are a part of our family. The Beacon Sales Group, family. It’s worked well for us so far, so why have it any other way?”

Our Chief Marketing Officer came out of his first meeting with you and said, “I feel like we have worked in foodservice together for years, yet we just connected today, what a sincere, passionate group!”

Thank you Ben and continued success to you and the Beacon team in 2024!

From Left to Right: Ben Williams, Angela Williams, Scott Hahn