Corwin Beverages

Topgrading has provided a process and discipline that results in hiring quality employees who provide an immediate impact. These new team members have generated increased revenue and profits for Corwin when the economy was dictating otherwise.
- Vic Oenning, Senior Vice President, Sales and Operations

Company: Corwin Beverages

No. of Employees: 100 

Industry: Beverage Delivery Industry


  • Improvement from 33% to 92% A Players hired in nonentry jobs, using Topgrading.
  • Value of persistence.
  • Importance of CEO support.
  • Topgrading in a down economy.
  • Value of calculating costs of mis-hires.
  • Value of Topgrading entry jobs (truck loader).

Today’s companies need an edge to not only beat their competition, but to also deal with the challenges of the current economy.  Corwin’s edge is customer service and innovation, which requires consistent execution by superior team players. Topgrading has given our team the quality people to keep us winning despite today’s economic challenges. Our peers in the region have seen layoffs and eroding sales with this tough economy. But our A Players have kept us focused and on plan over the past two years. Our team of top performers is poised and positive about the future. We’re playing offense and we’re winning.
— Vic Oenning, Senior Vice President, Sales and Operations

Company History: From humble beginnings with one truck and three employees in 1941, to over 100 trucks and more than 100 employees today, Corwin has established a business tradition of award-winning sales and service in the state of Washington. Over the past 70+ years, original offerings have grown to a product line of more than 300 beverages to fit any lifestyle.
Corwin is a family-owned, local company, which is firmly-rooted in the region and has a long tradition of community partnerships.

Topgrading Methods: In 2009, Topgrading was introduced to the Corwin management team by their Gazelles business coach. The company’s HR Manager, Heidi Schultz was identified as the key team member to attended a 2-day Topgrading Workshop.  With no one promotable to a key job, Topgrading methods were put to the test with outside candidates, and, as Schultz put it, a “super A Player was hired.”

The most Topgrading is done with hourly truck loaders and merchandisers, who are front line sales employees.  There are often 1,000+ resumes received for each job posting, and most complete a brief application form.  About 30 candidates are asked to complete the Topgrading Career History Form (the Topgrading Snapshot is being tested), resulting in 6 phone screens, a tandem Topgrading Interview, and at least 2 reference checks.

Topgrading Results:

All Hires Combined
Pre-Topgrading: 21% High Performers
Since Topgrading in 2010: 59% High Performers

Non-Entry Level Hires
Pre-Topgrading: 33% High Performers
Since starting Topgrading in 2010: 92%

So we have gone from 21% to 59% overall; 33% to 92% for non-entry level positions.

We are a humble group so we don’t worry too much about titles or trying to win things, but we are proud to say we have 3 employees who have been honored with PepsiCo’s President’s Ring of Honor which is given to less than 1% of Pepsi’s sales force annually, as well as their operational equivalent, the Circle of Champions, for which we have one employee who was recently honored. We think we might be the only private Pepsi franchise in the nation to have 4 employees who have received this level of recognition!

A little more close to home, two of our management team members have been named “Accomplished and under 40” by the local Vancouver Business Journal. This honor recognizes young professionals who achieve excellence in their work as well as in the community.”
—Heidi Schultz

Business Results of Topgrading:

Topgrading was the people solution we needed with so many new business challenges coming our way. It’s taking our team to a new level of professionalism, which is helping to further build our market share.

In today’s hectic business environment you need a process like Topgrading to keep your team focused on quality hiring, which maximizes your people resources for the future.
—Vic Oenning, Senior Vice President Sales and Operations

Topgrading has made our human resources department a key element in the company’s strategic planning. After less than two years as a Topgrading company, the spotlight is clearly focused on the change our new hires are driving. By focusing on the quality and performance of our people, it’s like everything else just takes care of itself.

After we got just a handful of A Players in the door, the difference was palpable. We could all feel the difference. That was all it took to get our hiring managers on-board and committed to Topgrading. Everyone wants A Players on their teams now and they are willing to take the time needed to find them.

For our business, the last couple of years have been like the fourth quarter of a basketball game where the score is always tied and the referees are calling everything against you.  Our HR Team has been using Topgrading to find those people who are the players that want to be in the game with 60 seconds to go. Those people who want to be the player at the foul line when you are down by 1. Those are your high performers. And they are the ones who will make the foul shot or hit the lay up to win the game. They are the players who will make the difference when things are tight and you have no room for error.
—Heidi Schultz, Vice President Human Resources

Return to Case Studies List

Advice to someone launching Topgrading in a company like Corwin:

1. Don’t give up. When you get started, the process might feel overwhelming or daunting. But just take the time to follow the steps and give yourself enough time to learn how it works. Soon it will come naturally. And after you hire your first couple of high performers, the reward will worth it and will help motivate you to stay engaged in the process. Appear confident in the process even if you are still a little unsure of how to do everything. In one of my first Topgrading interviews I mentioned the process was called Topgrading. The applicant said she had looked it up online and researched it a little bit after receiving the career history form. Inside, I panicked! I was thinking, “Oh no! I wonder if she can tell if we are doing it right?!” But on the outside I just plowed through it like I was an expert!

2.  Be sure the leadership of the company supports Topgrading  and empowers the Topgrading expert on the team. Our Topgrading expert is me -- Heidi Schultz, VP of HR, but I can’t do the job without total support from above.  You need this person to take the lead and hold others involved in the hiring process accountable for following through with the steps.

Overall the Topgrading process is quite easy – it is maintaining the discipline to make sure you are not skipping any steps that is difficult. Everyone from the President, General Manager, hiring managers and HR team needs to be on board and committed in attitude and enthusiasm. If they are not, the Topgrading expert needs to feel confident in providing the checks and balances to make sure you really are only moving forward with A Players. Be patient and accept that this process might take a little longer than your previous hiring practices. But it will be so worth it in the end. Give your team a heads up on lead time for new hires so there are no surprises.

3. In a down economy, Topgrade! When we are dealing with an economy such as the one we are facing now, it’s much harder to impact sales numbers or overhead costs. But take a look at your annual payroll numbers. For any company, those are big numbers. Isn’t it worth it to take the time to put something like Topgrading into place if you know you will be able to positively impact those numbers? This has been my focus. As VP of HR this is how I can contribute to improving our company’s position as we face new challenges. I can get better, more efficient, higher performing people in the door, and I can lead our management team through the process of moving B and C Players on.

4. Take the time to look back and evaluate mis-hires. Did you skip a step? Was there a sign in the process that you overlooked or let go by? Usually you will see this in hindsight and it will teach you about how to improve your Topgrading moving forward.

5.  Topgrade even the entry level jobs. Our entry-level jobs – truck loaders and merchandisers -- are very, very physically demanding and it has always been a challenge to find people who can meet the physical challenges of the job. They are so unique in their demands that unless someone has already had the same job with our competitor, most of the time there is just no way to know if they are going to make it. Topgrading has helped a lot to reduce turnover in these positions, but it’s such a roll of the dice b/c of how people’s bodies do or don’t hold up, that I wanted to pull out the numbers of all the other hires separately.

Once you try Topgrading…you won’t want to go back! The principles will apply to so many aspects of your business, not just hiring, and even to your life. I even Topgraded my nanny!

Return to Case Studies List

Scroll to Top