Exposed to the beverage distribution business by her father at a young age, Mindy Hoff says her road to becoming a leader in the industry wasn’t straightforward.
Her dad, Jim Ferguson, started Coors of the Ozarks in 1978, and the company rebranded in 2008 as Heart of America Beverage Co. LLC. Over 40 years after the company’s founding, Hoff was promoted to president Nov. 8 after formerly serving as vice president of financial analysis. She succeeded her brother, Harwood Ferguson, who is now a principal at the company after a roughly five-year stint as president. The siblings, along with the Gelner family, which includes Executive Vice President Brian Gelner, co-own Heart of America.
Hoff says her father, brother and other family members tried to talk her into becoming president for years. She says her brother now splits time between homes in Colorado and Springfield, but he is still very involved on the financial side for the company.
“He is phenomenal at our numbers, whereas I’m more of a people person,” she says, noting her brother is a licensed therapist and has his heart in that work. “I’m very competitive, where he is not as competitive as me.”
Hoff admits she had to overcome her uncertainty of being a leader, ultimately deciding around seven months ago she wanted to pursue the role.
“Whenever I take on something, I want to be the best. I’m more of a nervous personality, and I want to be great,” she says. “I got to the point I believed that I could bring something different.”
Jim Ferguson says his daughter’s promotion lends “a fresh perspective and energy to the company.”
Ferguson served as its president for nearly 40 years and is now chair of Heart of America, which distributes alcohol and other beverages in 27 southwest Missouri counties. He says in any company new ideas should be welcomed to avoid the danger of getting stale.
“I’ve done this a long time. It seems like yesterday, but things have changed so much over 40 years,” he says. “Mindy has a very good personality and is very outgoing, much more so than I am. I’ve been an introvert all my life.”
Heart of America operates a 148,000-square-foot warehouse and headquarters in Republic’s Garton Business Park, where it moved in 2018. It also has a 3,000-square-foot satellite warehouse in Joplin, which in 2019 replaced a larger distribution center there. CEO Lance Foresee said the company employs roughly 20 of its 191-person workforce in Joplin.
Hoff says the company’s annual revenues range from $75 million to $100 million, and it ships over 4 million cases of product per year. Molson Coors is Heart of America’s No. 1 supplier, but she says it distributes around 200 brands, including Boulevard Brewing Co., Dos Equis, Heineken, Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Red Bull. Local brands include Great Escape Beer Works and Mother’s Brewing Co. Heart of America handles over 1,900 accounts for deliveries to area bars and restaurants as well as grocery and convenience stores, she says.
Hoff’s work history at Heart of America started around 20 years ago, after she came back to Springfield following six years living in Los Angeles. She spent part of that time as a bartender on the Sunset Strip while pursuing an acting career. Fun fact: She’s in the live-action version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
“All my lines were cut so it’s kind of like watching it and playing ‘Where’s Waldo’ as you can see me throughout the movie,” she says with a laugh. “It was a great life experience.”
After leaving LA, Hoff says she wanted to begin working for her father, which resulted in her first getting trained at Monarch Beverage Co. in Indiana.
“I went to Indianapolis and started as a merchandiser and moved my way up to a sales position,” she says, adding that was followed by a role at Heart of America as an account manager.
Her first work period at the company was only a couple of years before she had an itch to start her own business. That professional pivot resulted in creating two ventures, Show Stoppers LLC and Show-Me Sidekicks LLC, which she owned from 2003-13 and offered afterschool athletic programs, including cheerleading, martial arts, gymnastics and dance.
“I’d been very involved in sports growing up and a competitive gymnast,” she says of her entrepreneurial motivation.
During that same period, Hoff got married in 2011 and wanted to focus on having children. There also was the desire to return to her family-run business. So, after selling Show Stoppers and shuttering Show-Me Sidekicks, she started back at Heart of America. She initially worked part time, allowing her to focus on her growing family.
She and husband Tom are the parents of three children: Blake, 8, Beau, 4, and Brittan, 2. Their two dogs, Jack Nicklaus and King Arthur, make frequent appearances in Hoff’s office, as her space features a dog bed, crate and assortment of toys.
Hoff says she now desires to grow her company’s workforce. The company is hiring to fill staffing shortages with the intent of surpassing its usual total of over 200 employees. Raising salaries and improving benefits for all positions also is in the works for next year, she says, declining to disclose Heart of America’s average pay range.
While the employee count is a little below average, Hoff says the number has been “pretty stable” amid the coronavirus pandemic. While keeping a full roster of warehouse workers and truck drivers has been a challenge, she and Foresee say several of the hires they’ve made this year in those categories are former employees.
Hoff says she brings to her executive role attributes such as enthusiasm, listening and community mindedness. She considers herself a cheerleader with family and friends – a trait she’s also incorporating in the workplace.
“I love to rally behind people and get them excited about what they’re doing and excited about what they’ve done,” she says.
Expanding Heart of America’s current southwest Missouri distribution area also is a goal.
“I would like to get bigger. We are always looking at places we can purchase and different avenues we can take,” she says, adding no specific deals are in the works.
The nearly 4-year-old warehouse is one area she notes might need to be expanded in the not-too-distant future.
“Things are already filling up here,” she says, noting there is room on-site to grow its local footprint.
While Hoff doesn’t have any target revenue goal in mind yet, she’s excited to build on the success her family has achieved during the company’s 43-year history: “I want to go out every day and kick ass. I want to have the best brands, to have the best reputation. But, at the same time, I want our customers to be happy because when they win, we win. And I want my people to be happy and be excited to come to work here.”
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