Piggly Wiggly Alabama Distributing Co. has been a part of Jay Welborn’s entire life. Welborn, co-owner of B&W Foods in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, has partnered with PWADC for 23 years. His father, Jimmy, the founder of B&W, had previously worked for the distributor beginning in 1980.
His late father worked his way up from a retail counselor to director of store development. During that time, he met Ronnie Baker, a longtime friend and customer of Piggly Wiggly. In fact, Welborn said his father convinced Baker to switch from his previous distributor to PWADC.
“One thing my dad used to preach – which I do today – is the value of the Piggly Wiggly brand,” Welborn said. “We all make our name and live off our reputations, but there’s just some brands and things that stand a little taller than we ever can.”
The two went into business together to open B&W Foods, with their first Piggly Wiggly opening in 1998 in Northport, Alabama. Baker continues to share ownership with Welborn, whose father passed away in 2010. By that time, the business had grown to include four stores.
Welborn was ready to take the reins after having grown up in the industry. He had previously worked in stores, visited them with his father and earn a degree in small company management and entrepreneurship from the University of Alabama.
B&W’s first store opened when he was starting college. Welborn said he and his father were discussing their own store and it got the latter’s “retail side flowing again.”
“It was definitely something that I wanted to do, and I think it spurred him into looking at what the options were as we weren’t in a position to buy a store,” he said. “Fortunately, he came across Mr. Baker, and he and my dad saw things the same and they partnered up. It’s all kind of history from there.”
In 2020, B&W opened its fifth store. “Yep, right in the middle of COVID-19,” Welborn said with a chuckle.
As anybody opening a new business would know, there really is no ideal time to do it. That couldn’t have been more apparent than during a global pandemic. But Welborn said the store was available and intriguing.
“We were trying to figure everything out, how we could make it work,” he recalled. “It was too good of an opportunity to pass it up because we were concerned about whether or not our warehouse could handle trying to take on that volume in the middle of everything in that period. But we got it to work and opened on the last day of 2020.”
Structurally, the building was in good shape, though it did need some major renovations. Welborn had to gut it to put in new cases and energy-efficient refrigeration. He also replaced all the doors and wood flooring, as well as installing LED lighting.
It was a difficult process. Not only the physical strain of trying to navigate major renovations while parts of the country were sheltering in place, but it was also the first major project Welborn undertook without his father.
“It was difficult,” he said. “Even when he wasn’t in the best of health, when we opened our first store, he was very much involved. That was the first one I got to really participate from the very first step and was responsible for making sure the plans that we laid out and the equipment we ordered and everything was as it should be. It was difficult.”
Speaking to accomplishing that goal without his father, Welborn said he would’ve been proud of the fact his son was comfortable enough with the operation to undertake a new store.
“It’s a little bittersweet, probably more sad than proud. In the overall picture, I was involved. But I always had a pretty good safety net. It was only that my dad wasn’t there to see it because I think it was something he would have been really, really proud of.”
Welborn has no plans for a sixth store but is “certainly keeping [his] eyes open.” He is more concerned about making sure his company takes care of its current stores, keeping them staffed and supplied.