Looking back on close to four decades as an employee with the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in El Campo, Ervin Fucik says his career there has been great in many ways.
“I have loved working with the people here,” he said. “Everyone is great and we have great products. The company kept things interesting ... maybe that’s why I stayed so long.”
With Friday, Feb. 21 being his last day on the job, the company held a farewell party for him the day prior.
Born and raised in El Campo, Fucik graduated from El Campo High School in 1974. He made an attempt at college, but said it wasn’t for him. Instead, he worked several jobs before being hired by Coca-Cola on Aug. 31, 1981.
“Thanks to James Socha ... he’s the man who hired me,” he said.
With the guidance of his immediate supervisors, Bennie Tupa and A.J. Hlavaty, Fucik says he would not have made it.
“I knew nothing about sales. If it wasn’t for those guys, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
Fucik was a salesman most of his tenure at Coca Cola.
“When I came here, I was hired on as a route salesman ... I had a truck, a 10-bay truck loaded with Coca-Cola products,” Fucik said. “I would drive to Rosenberg-Richmond five days a week and sell off my truck. At 7 a.m. we typically would do administration stuff. Then be on the road by 8 a.m.”
His clients were mostly car dealerships, the hospital and “mom and pop stores,” he said. “Mine were vending, and smaller type stores.”
At that time, he used a pad with carbon copy paper orders to write all of his invoices out and if he needed to make a call to one of his bosses or a client, it was done by pay phone.
Today, modern technology has changed all that and he uses a tablet and his cell phone.
“We have instant data when visiting with a customer,” he said. “It’s all at our fingertips now.”
He remained in this position for nearly 14 years.
“I loved it,” he recalls. “Meeting all kinds of people ... Rosenberg and Richmond is not like it was then. It had that small town feel.”
Over time, Fucik said he “built relationships with his customers.”
“I knew my customers and they knew me,” he said.
The product line was less than it is today, too.
“When I started, we had a few items,” he said.
This included Coke, Mr. Pibb, Sprite and Tab.
“We did not have Diet Coke or bottled water,” Fucik said. “No one would even consider buying it (water) back then ... today we sell lots of bottled water. We have adapted to people’s tastes and we offer healthier options with our teas and vitamin waters.”
Also, today the product line, he says, is much more.
“We now carry several hundred SKUs (stock keeping units),” he said. “And we just came out with a cherry vanilla Coke. I am really excited about that.”
Fucik’s favorite Coke product is the Zero Sugar Coke.
His job then went from selling off the truck to taking orders straight from the customer when he was assigned a territory and became an account manager, a position he held for another 15 years.
“I did face-to-face visits with convenience stores,” he said. “Everything was pre-sold.”
He said he moved up to larger stores, making sure their orders were fulfilled.
“I loved selling ... that was the best part of the job ... no longer having to deliver.”
Then he stepped into the position of market development manager, a job that required locating and signing up new businesses to sell Coca-Cola products.
“I was always looking for new business ... we have something for everyone. When a restaurant would open up I would go secure the account,” he said. “I would see if they needed or qualified for fountain equipment. I would coordinate the installation of the fountain ... if they needed water, the drain ...I coordinated all that with the installer.”
As one of the market development managers at the plant, which services about a dozen counties in the surrounding area, Fucik says he has about a third of that area that includes such towns as Shiner, Flatonia and Schulenburg ... “the old country,” he said.
“I love that area,” Fucik said. “There are some really good people there.”
One drawback with the job, however, was working out of town and time away from home.
“I really thank my wife for supporting me, getting me up in the morning .. I was on the road a lot and didn’t do a lot with the kids when they were sick,” he said.
Now that he’s retired, Fucik says his wife Peggy will also retire in a couple months. They plan to Nacogdoches where they will be closer to their daughter Erin. They also have a son, Christopher, who lives in Austin.
“We fell in love with Nacogdoches and will be busy for awhile, looking for a home,” he said.
Once settled, they hope to do some traveling.
“We will take some road trips, because there’s a lot of Texas we’d like to see.”