If you’re a fan of Coca-Cola, a local family has played a role in getting it to you for the last century.

The Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Columbus, led by the Schumaker family, is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Founded in Columbus in 1916, the company that distributes Coca-Cola products has been handed down to different generations of Schumaker family members.

Albert “Hutch” Schumaker, 68, is the third-generation owner. His grandfather, A.E. “Junie” Schumaker, started a carbonated drink business featuring flavored soda in 1912 before he obtained a Coca-Cola franchise four years later.

Story continues below gallery

Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

Schumaker described the business reaching 100 years in operation under the same family as a “phenomenal achievement,” especially since it has been able to remain independent and continue its local presence in the community.

The late Schumaker was also involved in ice cream production before it was sold to Thompson Dairy Co. in 1936, according to an advertisement displayed inside the Coca-Cola Bottling Co.’s facility, at 1334 Washington St. The building was constructed in 1942 and is still in use today.

The business was sold in 1956 by Schumaker’s grandfather to his dad, Albert, who then passed it onto Hutch Schumaker and his sister Nan Russell.

Nan’s husband, Bill Russell, who has been a part of the business for 45 years, wants to ensure the company stays within the family in the future since it has prospered through the generations.

“Having known the history and being part of the family structure has created a successful environment,” Bill Russell said. “We’ve been pleased to be a part of Columbus’ history.”

Growing up in the business

Hutch Schumaker spent plenty of his childhood at the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., where he performed tasks such as sorting bottles and sweeping floors to earn some extra money. He also loaded trucks at the facility while in high school and in college.“In a small family business like this, your job is whatever needs to be done,” he said.

After he graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in philosophy, Schumaker said he had contemplated law school, but decided it wasn’t a good fit for him. He eventually decided to get involved in the family business, where he has worked since 1970.

“When you grow up in a business sometimes, you think it’s the last thing you maybe want to do and then kind of grow up a little more and think, ‘This isn’t such a bad gig,’” he said.

At one time, the building that serves as the home of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. used to be a manufacturing facility for Coca-Cola products, but ceased production about 20 years ago.

The business now employs 35 people and serves as a distribution site for various products under the Coca-Cola umbrella, including Coca-Cola, Powerade, Monster, Sprite, tea and other beverages.

Schumaker said the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. is still considered an independent bottler, noting there are fewer than 50 of them left in the United States. At one time, Indiana used to be home to 30 of them. But Kokomo and Columbus are the only ones left, he said.

While it remains unclear whether Schumaker’s 17-year-old son, Albert, will be involved with the business in the future, Schumaker said he expects the role that family members play will likely change. That could mean individuals will take an oversight management role rather than a day-to-day management-level position, he said.

Schumaker said he enjoys being active within the community and follows a tradition that his father and grandfather instilled in him. He noted that it has been a privilege for his family to be a part of communities such as Columbus, Greensburg and Edinburgh and participate in different activities while being able to give back as well.

“Community involvement is a blessing,” Schumaker said.

relationship with the product

Schumaker attributes some success of the family-run business to the strong relationship it has with Coca-Cola, which is headquartered in Atlanta. He also pointed to employees who work at the company who have contributed to the success and longevity of the company over the years as well.The company tries to provide a family-type of atmosphere for its employees, adding that he believes giving back to the community ultimately pays dividends.

Schumaker said part of the challenges the company has faced is dealing with the large number of products that Coca-Cola distributes.

But dealing with logistics and the management of its warehouse helps the company stay on top of that.

Coca-Cola’s marketing campaigns for various products are legendary, the latest involving a “Share a Coke with…” theme and adding first names to encourage buyers to find their own. The company has also invited customers to “Share a Coke with Santa” and the Class of 2016.

Schumaker said the local distribution business has continued to evolve over the years because of consumer demands and the assortment of different product flavors. However, those changes are something that Schumaker recognizes the business needs to keep an eye on.

“It’s kind of like the computer business — the speed at which it changes is ever-increasing,” Schumaker said. “I could have never imagined the different product categories that we’re involved in today.”

He added: “Tastes change and demands change and you’ve got to change with it.”

Timeline

The Coca-Cola Bottling Co. history in Columbus:

1912: A.E. “Junie” Schumaker starts carbonated drink business featuring flavored soda.

1916:  Schumaker obtains a Coca-Cola franchise and distributes Coca-Cola to Bartholomew, Decatur and Johnson counties. Business also included production of ice cream that was sold to Thompson Dairy Co. in 1936. The Coca-Cola Bottling Co. business grew and eventually moved to 816 Jackson St. in Columbus.

1942: Coca-Cola Bottling Co. facility constructed at 1334 Washington St., Columbus.

1956: Business sold to son Albert H. Schumaker after A.E. “Junie” Schumaker retires that year. The business is eventually passed onto Albert’s son, Albert “Hutch” Schumaker, and his sister Nan Russell.

Today: The Coca-Cola Bottling Co., which currently employs 35 people, is overseen by a board of directors consisting of family members. Albert “Hutch” Schumaker is the third-generation family member to take an active role in the company.

Sources: Coca-Cola Bottling Co. history, Albert “Hutch” Schumaker

Author photo
Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com