OKLAHOMA CITY -- It's been a difficult five years for Robert E. Stauth as chief executive officer of Fleming Cos. here, although it started triumphantly with the acquisition of crosstown rival Scrivner.
chief executive officer.
July 1994: Fleming acquires Scrivner for $1.085 billion in an effort aimed primarily at gaining control of Scrivner's corporate-owned retail store base of 186 units. The two companies' combine for sales of $19 billion, making Fleming the top-volume U.S. wholesaler at the time.
September 1994: Fleming tests its new sell plan -- Fleming Flexible Marketing Plan -- in Lincoln, Neb., with retailers getting a lower cost of goods and paying only for the services they used rather than a flat annual fee. "I see our future not as a wholesaler," Stauth explains at the time, "but as a food-marketing company and a food distributor. We're totally moving away from the middleman-wholesaler mentality."
January 1995: Fleming begins rolling out the FFMP on the West Coast, with plans to move it eastward.
April 1995: Fleming unveils Visionet, a personal computer-based program that allows two-way interactive communications.
November 1995: Fleming forecloses on Abco Foods, Phoenix, which owes the distributor $71 million. In the process Fleming, which already owns 45% of Abco's equity, becomes the majority owner.
January 1996: After expanding the FFMP to 17 of its 35 divisions, Fleming says it will implement "a series of adjustments" in the plan that enable retailers to customize marketing services to their individual needs.
February 1996: Trial begins in the 1993 lawsuit filed by David's Supermarkets, a 23-store operator based in Grandview, Texas, accusing Fleming of overcharges during a two-year period.
March 1996: A Texas jury finds Fleming liable and orders it to pay $211.2 million to David's.
June 1996: The jury's judgment is set aside following disclosure of a prior financial relationship between the trial judge and affiliates of David's.
March 1997: Although a new trial is scheduled to begin in May, Fleming agrees to pay David's $19.9 million to settle the lawsuit in what Stauth calls "a pragmatic business decision to avoid a protracted and costly legal battle."
March 1997: Furr's Supermarkets, Albuquerque, N.M., the distributor's largest-volume customer -- with sales of $550 million a year -- sues Fleming, claiming it is not getting a competitive cost of goods and accusing the company of overcharges, breach of contract, misrepresentation and fraud.
April 1997: Fleming consolidates more than a dozen private-label lines down to five: Best Yet, Rainbow, Marquee (for nonfood), IGA and Piggly Wiggly.
July 1997: Randalls Food Markets, Houston, Fleming's second-largest customer -- accounting for about $450 million of Fleming's annual sales -- files a legal action against the distributor, claiming overcharges and seeking to terminate its supply agreement. Both sides agree to settle the dispute through arbitration.
October 1997: Fleming reaches an out-of-court settlement with Furr's, agreeing to pay the retailer approximately $800,000 a month for the life of the supply agreement.
January 1998: Fleming introduces Living Well, a line of healthy frozen entrees.
February 1998: Fleming introduces Visionet Network, a network version of Visionet that allows retailers and suppliers who do not have Fleming's operating systems linkage to use the Internet to access information.
March 1998: A lawsuit is filed by a group of 20 retailers in St. Joseph and Kansas City, Mo., accusing Fleming of breach of contract and misrepresentation.
April 1998: Fleming announces the hiring of Bain & Co., Boston, to help develop strategic plans.
June 30, 1998: Fleming agrees to sell Furr's its El Paso, Texas, distribution center, ending the monthly payments of $800,000 as soon as the transaction is completed.
July 9, 1998: An arbitration panel in Dallas allows Randalls to terminate its contract with Fleming immediately, although it rejects the retailer's claim of $50 million in damages. July 20, 1998: Stauth's tenure at Fleming comes to an end.