Rob Armstrong grew up around the family business, A.B. Munroe Dairy in East Providence, but during that time had no interest in taking it over. When his father retired 20 years ago, Armstrong had to be convinced to leave the delivery truck and sit behind a desk in the president’s office.
But it’s worked out well for him and the company. Founded in 1881 when milk was delivered by horse, Munroe Dairy’s cow-painted delivery trucks are now part of the resurgent online food-delivery world.
This spring Munroe’s success was recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration, which named the company New England family-owned business of the year.
PBN: What did the SBA see in Munroe Dairy that led to the award?
ARMSTRONG: I think it was the fact that we are still around after 130-plus years. We have a 1952 phone book in the office and there are entries for 63 dairies in Rhode Island in it. Now only three are left: us, Christiansen’s Dairy [in North Providence] and S.B. Winsor’s [in Johnston.] They were pretty impressed by the fact that we were around so long and asked, “How come you guys are still in business when all these others are gone?” And that’s a good question. I think part of it is we remained home delivery - we decided not to go wholesale. Home delivery takes a lot of energy to make it work. We are hitting the target – I am not saying we are hitting the bull’s-eye – but we have been trying to make it work for a long time.
PBN: Are home-delivery dairies more popular in Rhode Island than the rest of the country?
ARMSTRONG: There are probably a couple of hundred in the country doing what we do. In the last 10 years or so there have been a few areas where there has been a surge of home deliveries: Chicago, Salt Lake City. There is definitely a market for home delivery, but it is labor intensive. I don’t think most people realize how much work goes into the business.