For Brandon M. Buchanan, working for Coca-Cola has always been a point of pride. “I’m representing the No. 1 soft drink company in the world,” the 17-year employee enthuses. “That makes you puff out your chest. I’m happy to sell it every day!”
In 1996, after a military stint, the gregarious worker — and occasional football coach — started his first Coca-Cola job as a bulk merchandiser in Downey, California. Since then, he’s moved steadily up the ladder, most recently filling his current position as a large-store district sales manager in Phoenix, Arizona. He has also mentored others along the way.
Here, Buchanan talks about the importance of a contagious positive attitude and explains why Coca-Cola’s community outreach not only aligns with his values but has taught his three children important lessons too:
Q: How did you end up working for Coca-Cola?
Brandon Buchanan: After the military, I wanted to find a workplace where I could build from the bottom up. I actually applied to Pepsi at the same time as Coca-Cola. The two companies offered me jobs the same day. But I did my research and knew Coke would be the best for me because the job would allow me to talk to people and be out in the world. I started back in 1996, as a merchandiser in California.
I set a goal to get promoted every two years. I worked hard. Five years ago, I relocated to Arizona to be near my baby brother. And it was an easy transition because everything was so standardized. I was able to bring some strategies that we used in California to Arizona and they taught me some things too.
Q: What exactly do you do every day?
I provide leadership, tools and inspiration for five account managers, who go into stores in South Phoenix and some of West Phoenix and make sure the shelves are always filled and that the right displays are up. And I make sure my guys are following through on the “look of success” — that displays look as they should during certain periods of time. For instance, when Christmas comes, we might have a 2-liter display with a cooler that goes in a certain place alongside a cardboard stand-up of Santa Claus or of Taylor Swift for Diet Coke. We want to make sure we execute whatever the company has arranged.
I start work at 6:30 a.m. The early bird gets the worm. I send out the Out of Stock report, so our people know if the branch is running low on anything. Then I check in with my team and, at 8 a.m., we have a “Huddle Call” about truck schedules and stock. It’s my time to feed information to my account managers before they get their days started. I want to make sure they have a plan and this helps them.
Throughout the rest of the day, I’ll go to the stores to build rapport, say hello and thank them. I go and see if there’s anything I can do to support my people. I thank the merchandisers for their work and see if they need anything. Then, I also go to stores and do surveys, so I can rate them and give feedback to the account managers.
I’m out of the office a lot. My job is probably 90 percent field time. There are times that I have to be in the office to do paperwork, but the biggest thing is building those relationships with the stores. That’s how you get the extra displays or coolers. They know who you are; they know your name. The most important part of the company is the customer.
Q: What is your favorite element of the job?
Coca-Cola allows you to be yourself and use your mind. We build thematic displays, so I get to be creative. I won a contest four years straight for building the most creative display tied into the Shaqtacular event for less-advantaged and special-needs children. My kids got to meet Shaquille O’Neal and we got a signed picture, sneaker and handprint. We even got to visit his house.
Q: What qualities does the ideal Coca-Cola employee possess?
I’m ambitious and motivated every day. To be the perfect Coke employee, you have to believe in yourself first. You have to have a good attitude, pushing anything else that’s going on personally to the side during work hours.
I think of myself as a coach. I get to draw plays and teach steps. My father and mother instilled certain values: They said, ‘Just be the best that you can be and have a smile on your face. There are people less fortunate than you.’
Q: What are some of the challenges and benefits of your job?
Occasionally you get employees who it takes longer to get through to. Also, some people don’t take changes well. But, no matter what, I make sure I keep a positive attitude, so my team follows suit. It trickles down. When the company goes through a change, you have to adjust. You have to expect that with a company this big!
The biggest reward is seeing the other team members I’ve impacted. I had merchandisers who were interested in sales and I helped give them the tools to do that. You see them flourish and succeed. There are eight I can think of offhand who I was able to mentor. To this day, they still call me and say, ‘I’m running into this problem. What would you do in this situation?’
Coca-Cola has allowed me to meet so many people in the world. It’s like a family. You inspire others if you be yourself and stay focused.
Q: What do you do in your downtime?
I have three kids and I coach my middle boy’s football team. We also like to watch Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and, if there’s a restaurant that’s nearby, we go. I like to taste new foods.
My biggest thing with this company is that I just love its relationship with the community. I believe you have to reach back and bring people along with you as you move ahead. And so do they.
At Coca-Cola, we want to make sure our trademark is out there — we’re concerned. My kids and I went to help at the Special Olympics. My oldest plays sports, so he understands what it takes. After that, he said, ‘They get out there and compete.’ That experience made him a better athlete and person. His whole attitude changed toward his life and school and academics.
I honestly get up every morning and love my job. I can’t see myself working anywhere else. One of the things I tell my team is, ‘You have to have fun.’ There’s Coke running in my veins!