Seventeen students in Niagara University's Holzschuh College of Business Administration were given a behind-the-scenes tour of the Tops Distribution Center, Grocery & Perishables, in Lancaster, N.Y., on Oct. 3, 2023. Phil Catanese, director of centers and college outreach and Dr. Fernando Naranjo, assistant professor of management, are connecting textbook concepts into actuality for students in two of Dr. Naranjo’s classes: Food Industry Supply Chain Management and International Management.  

The Tops Distribution Center has over 700 people employed in the large facility, with 650,000 square feet for groceries and over 200,000 square feet for perishables. The tour was led by Kelly Quigley, director of distribution, and Sandy Macpeek, general manager of the grocery warehouse. It included a presentation regarding the facts of the distribution center and a firsthand view of how the process works.

“I thought it was extremely interesting to learn how much effort and time it takes to coordinate something as simple as bananas or water, and how much planning it takes to budget the machinery years in advance,” said Samuel Schwabauer, a marketing senior. “It opened my eyes to a lot of things, and I would definitely view the supply chain of supermarkets very differently from this point forward!”

TyQuann Walker, a senior studying management, observed, “I never knew that so many pieces went into manufacturing goods to be delivered to stores. For example, they have a weight limit for supplies being sent to stores, and everyone works in conjunction with each other. The Tops tour taught me about working in a warehouse environment and the resources that go into it.”

Dr. Naranjo explained the valuable knowledge that students gain from site visits.

“The Tops Market warehouse tour allowed students to observe multiple operations of a grocery distribution center, including inbound and outbound deliveries of food and the use of handling equipment, such as forklifts, racks, and pallets, to enable a continuous flow of products,” he said. “The students appreciated seeing the use of technology, such as voice selection, in action to facilitate the picking and replenishment processes. Also, they experienced some temperature-controlled environments while walking around coolers for perishables, part of the cold supply chain operation. This tour benefited students, as they gained a clearer understanding of the concepts discussed in class by going directly to the gemba—in Japanese, the actual place where action happens.”

Matthew Torresan, a junior management major, agreed.  “It was helpful to be able to see the operations that happen before getting the products to their stores,” he said. “The Tops executives were very helpful and informative, and it was fascinating to see the volume of products that they are able to efficiently move on a daily basis.”  

Julia Wasley, a senior management student, remarked, “The Tops tour was very interesting, as it allowed me to see firsthand everything we learned about in class and other classes being used in an actual company. It helped me understand the application of concepts and knowledge into a real world setting.”

Special thanks to Jeff Culhane, senior vice president of merchandising at Tops Markets, who also serves on the Holzschuh College of Business Food Industry Center of Excellence advisory board and provided the opportunity for the student tour.