It was that inevitable time of life when a young man has to get a job. High school has come and gone and dad is making demands. The world is beginning to rest heavy on his shoulders but not so much so that he can’t still dream real big.
Driving somewhat aimlessly through the streets of Hoquiam one hazy afternoon, Rex was at this point. He needed a job to satisfy his father’s demands. His dad would be happy with anything, but he wanted a job that would be interesting. With these thoughts rolling around his head he happened to pass the Harbor Pacific Bottling Building on the 3100 block of Simpson. “That could be cool,” he thought as he motored past. A few streets down he stopped himself, circled around, and decided to take a chance.
Rex, a somewhat shy and soft-spoken guy, felt a bit awkward walking through those doors, but felt he had to do it. The gal at the front desk kindly informed him there were no job openings and he turned to leave. He could tell his dad he tried.
What happened next though was a twist of fate he never saw coming; a chance meeting that set in stone the course of the rest of his life. It was something that even years later he reflects on as being luck–pure luck–that he had been there at just the right moment. “What if I’d just drove on?” he’d ask.
As he turned to leave, there was Bill Martin, the man that would change everything.
Bill, a commanding presence with an energetic sparkle in his eye, was the owner of Harbor Pacific Bottling. He had built the company from the ground up with his buddy Herb Gedny and $200 bucks. He was bold, he was busy, and at that moment he needed some help. He made no long term promises but he hired Rex on the spot for some part-time labor. Rex was now working utility.
Utility, in the bottling business, is a little bit of everything. Rex was doing some bottling, helping with a little merchandising, doing a few repairs. He did some loading. You know, a little of this and a little of that. Basically, he was doing what he was told. And, he was doing it well. Well enough that Bill noticed and put him on full-time and then on route delivery, an envied position.
Things were going well for Rex. The job was good. The people he worked with were great. But, just a year into working for Harbor Pacific, Rex was itching for a change. Route delivery was not really his cup of tea. What he really liked was working in the shop. He enjoyed fixing the coolers and the vending units a lot more than delivering the product.
One night after a long day of delivery Rex pulled into the warehouse to unload and sign out. As luck would have it Bill happened to be there as Rex pulled in. Bill called out a friendly, “How’s it going?” He wasn’t quite expecting the response he got.
Rex now recalls telling Bill, “I like it but it’s just not my thing. If there’s ever an opening back in the shop I’d like a shot at that.” And just like that he was back to the shop in short order.
At Home in the Shop
As far as repairs go, Rex was self-trained. The shop manager taught him a few things and he eventually went to some seminars over the years but he never went to refrigeration school. He was surprised a year into his shop tenure when he was promoted to manager.
Bill laughs now as he recounts the day he offered Rex the job. “The previous manager and I had a disagreement about how things should run in the shop. We were arguing, he quit, and as I left the shop I turned to Rex and said, ‘I hope you’re ready to run the shop.’” Rex had been with the company for two years and was just in his early 20’s. Lucky for him he was in the right place at the right time.
Rex Steuermann has been living the dream for 46 years now. He is the service department manager for Harbor Pacific Bottling. Over the years, he has seen and overseen a lot of change. He started out mainly repairing refrigeration and vending units. His services expanded to selling refrigeration and vending units and other equipment like ice machines. Since Rex started, their new machines have incorporated advanced technology. They no longer do the bottling on site and they’ve moved the warehouse from Hoquiam to Elma. They’ve also expanded their service to all of Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties with another warehouse and service site in Long Beach. For a while he was selling and servicing espresso machines. The company has recently added vending and micro markets with Fiesta Food Services. And before he retires this summer Rex is hoping to help kick off a new baby: maintenance and service contracts for ice machines.
Yes, you read right: Rex is retiring.
Tim, one of Bill’s sons and Harbor Pacific’s president and general manager, brags on Rex, “We’ve gone from him being a one man show to having three techs and three other utility workers. When Rex took over the sales, he did such a great job with sales!”
Shawn Martin, Bill’s other son and the operations manager, remembers when Rex received the Pepsico award. Rex received The Chairman’s Ring of Honor Best of the Best Award from CEO Indra Nooyi in 2014. He and his wife were flown to New York City where they were wined and dined and celebrated for having one of the best sales teams globally. Rex humbly responds that it was so fun and a great honor but that he didn’t do it alone and he was just doing his job.
Shawn also likes to rib Rex about the night they were loading trucks and nine pallets of soda slid and fell off. They both laugh with tears in their eyes remembering the ocean of Orange Crush they quickly abandoned and had to clean up the next morning. “Good times! We’re like family.” sighs Shawn. “We’ve had a lot of long time employees but no one comes close to 46 years” adds Bill.
Leaving a Legacy
When pressed about post-retirement plans Rex is vague. When asked what he’ll miss about the job he knows immediately, “The people. I’ve had incredible people to work with.”
“I tell you these restaurants have a lot to deal with.” Rex continues, “It’s a tough road. They get their niche and they got something, but boy, it seems like everything is against them sometimes. I get to help them out. I really enjoyed coming out and helping them out.”
Bill points out that Rex was always putting the interest of the customer first. “I think that’s why we have the accounts we have,” he says, “it’s that trust that Rex has built.”
Part of Rex’s last six months at work will be training his successor. Tim says he wants Rex to pass along how he deals with customers – his perspective on working with them as a partner. “It’s harder to learn. Company relationships are important to build. Service and the attitude that we’re here to help makes a difference. We offer that and the service to back it up. That’s our formula and our customers recognize that value.”
“Remember the guy down at that old restaurant on Simpson in Hoquiam?” asks Tim. “He trusted your know-how so much that when he had problems with his furnace he’d call you for help.” The men laugh as they continue to swap stories about a career full of service.
Over the course of the hour the laughing begins to slow and the air in the room begins to get heavy with memories. “I’ve been very fortunate,” Rex says quietly, “not everyone gets to work at something they enjoy. They’ve been very good to me.”
“It’s going to be hard to let him go.” says Shawn as they all nod in agreement. Rex is a lucky man.