Function fires five to retune for 2009

Fast-growing enhanced water brand Function Drinks has fired five members of its sales staff in the new year to tune its organization for 2009 and take advantage of a fertile period for hiring beverage business professionals, said Chairman and CEO Dayton Miller.

Miller said the firings, which amount to less than 10 percent of the company’s 60-person workforce, were not linked to financial distress. He said the company grew by just over 200 percent in 2008, and he projected a growth rate of 100 to 200 percent in 2009. Instead, he called them a routine matter, similar to firing rounds executed in early- and mid-2008.

“We looked at who were underperformers and unfortunately had to fire them,” Miller said.

He said that he plans to replenish his staff, and that the current environment of economic uncertainty for the beverage industry has provided him with a crop of highly-qualified candidates.

“A lot of other brands have let a lot of folks go,” Miller said. “We’re receiving more resumes than ever. As far as hiring folks, this is about as good as it gets.”

However, Miller said his replenished sales staff will have a different focus. The fired personnel worked in “non-key” markets including the Midwest and the southeast, and he doesn’t plan to immediately assign more people to those areas. Instead, he will focus the sales team’s efforts on urban areas, where he expects to extract greater benefit.

Steve Cole, the supermarket division manager for Auburn, Mass.-based Atlas Distributing, who distributes Function, said he sees the logic in Miller’s decision. In areas like the Midwest, large chains dominate. In urban areas, he said, marketers and distributors have to cater to small chains and independents.

“The big cities are where you’re going to have to pound the pavement,” Cole said.

Miller put it another way.

“It just takes a lot more massaging,” he said.