To drive positive change in the foodservice industry, we at Parts Town remain on the lookout for our next major innovation. It’s part of our culture, which strives to inspire team members to bring their ideas forward, while also listening to customers and manufacturers. We then prioritize and relentlessly pursue the most compelling innovations. Often, but not always, these innovations are technology-related. Technology can be customer-facing, including unique web features. Alternatively, technological developments can be internal to drive safety, quality, customer experience or productivity gains.

Steve SnowerSteve Snower, CEO, Parts Town, Addison, Ill.

One type of innovation that’s top of mind in today’s foodservice industry is automation, namely robotics. It’s a subject that hits close to home for us because our automated distribution system is powered by more than 35 robots. When we discuss this system with customers and partners alike, inevitably someone will ask how our team feels about the technology. The unspoken question is more along the lines of “how do your team members feel about being replaced by robots?” Well, our automated distribution system is certainly much more productive than the historical way of picking — in fact, it’s almost four times more productive.

Yet, we actually created more than 100 new jobs in the first year following the introduction of this automation. Why?

Innovation drives growth and growth creates jobs and opportunity. Prior to implementing the system, we struggled to onboard enough team members fast enough to keep up with customer demand. This innovation allows us to continue to scale to meet demand, further stimulate our growth and give our team the chance to develop new skills. Instead of walking 10 to 11 miles per day in our distribution center to pick product, we now have team members working with leading-edge robotic technology. It’s fast paced, new and fun.

As technology improves and we continue to become more productive, our team members get to learn new things and work in more innovative ways. It’s actually very fulfilling and exciting for our individual team members.

Here’s the deal. The more we innovate, the better we get. The better we get, the better we deliver what our manufacturer partners and customers want, which creates growth — and growth stimulates opportunity. We’ve done this several times before through the launch of our website, our app and several other unique technology features. Each of these innovations accelerated our growth and created new jobs.

In 15 years, we have gone from a team of 5 to a team of more than 1,700. How? Innovation and pushing the limits of what is possible stimulates growth and growth creates opportunity — both new jobs and cool enhancements to existing roles. So, when someone asks me if I worry about how team members will react to our innovations, I tell them, “No, I worry about what will happen to our team members if we ever stop innovating and growing.”