“Team Modern” is in some ways an ironic name. On Thursday, all of Pulaski County’s notables came out to celebrate the company’s sophisticated new headquarters in the Valley Oak Technology Complex, a facility as sleek and high-tech as any Silicon Valley digs you’d ever Google.
Yet Team Modern is founded in very traditional rural Kentucky values, with deep roots in the community and a legacy of family that continues to this day.
“This is a true American success story,” said Chris Girdler, President and CEO of SPEDA (Somerset Pulaski Economic Development Authority). “... It is amazing what this family has accomplished over the last several decades.”
On Thursday, the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce held an open house event and ceremonial ribbon cutting for Team Modern, the locally-owned wholesale distributor. At the end of last year, the company moved into the former Safe Auto building — a move that had been in the works since 2019, when the company announced it would be relocating and expanding with a newly-constructed 115,000-square-foot distribution center, a multimillion project that would add jobs and make Team Modern even more effective.
The realization of that lofty goal brought out the likes of Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley, State Sen. Rick Girdler, and State House Reps. Ken Upchurch and Shane Baker, all of whom made presentations of various plaques and awards to the members of the Ray family (President Jerry, Treasurer and owner Mickey, and CFO Michael, Mickey’s son) carrying on the business built by late patriarch Bill Ray.
“These boys are great people, with a great daddy,” said Rick Girdler. “... I’m glad that Garrard County didn’t keep you boys, I really am. I’m glad you came to Somerset. I’m glad you built what you did.”
The Team Modern story is told on a brightly-colored wall seen upon entering the building, a fixture that served as a backdrop for all of Thursday’s speakers. In the late ‘50s, Garrard County Stockyards employee Bill Ray acquired a jukebox — a play for a nickel — and placed it at a Lancaster truck stop. That opportunity grew into a jukebox business, and by 1961, Modern Music, Inc., was born, with pinball machines joining the amusement-based offerings. Ray co-owned the company with brother-in-law Paul Chadwell and Russell Teater. In 1965, Bill’s mentor Hogan Teater helped Modern Music buy Central Vending in Somerset, moving the Ray family to Somerset, where the name of the company would soon become Modern Vending Company, or Modern Music & Vending.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, with the help of Ulanda Price, Modern Vending Company fed factory workers across the region with “speed line” cafeterias and food, drink, and snack machines. In the early ‘80s, Food Fair in Somerset became the company’s first wholesale grocery company, an area which the future Team Modern would soon throw itself into with gusto. In 1985, Mickey and Jerry Ray bought ownership interest in Modern Vending, and by the end of the decade, the company was solely owned by the Ray family. Opportunities in wholesale distribution grew, and in 1991, the Ray family changed the corporate name of the company to Modern Distributors, Inc. In 1992, the company purchased Midway Wholesale in Cave City, which helped them learn more about grocery and convenience store distribution.
Upchurch perhaps best described what the company does when telling a story about his son on the way to Thursday’s event. Upchurch said he explained to the boy that the potato chips he likes to buy from any given store in the area are there thanks to the efforts of Team Modern.
In 2006, Modern Distributors moved from its distribution facility on Clifty Road to the former Ready-Mix warehouses on Columbia Street. Jerry Ray declared that it would be the company’s last warehouse move — but when the Valley Oak opportunity arose, Team Modern was able to build something even bigger and better. In the 2000s, it became clear that a dedicated commitment to foodservice was an important part of the company’s future. A warehouse expansion at the Columbia Street facility allowed for greater freezer and cooler capacity, and a test kitchen was added to allow for foodservice demonstration — a feature that was improved upon as demonstrated by the delicious spread in the new location on Thursday.
Chamber Executive Director Bobby Clue called the new Team Modern headquarters “one of the most technologically advanced facilities in all of Pulaski County.”
In 2018, Bill Ray passed away, but his memorable quotes about work ethic and the company’s core values echo throughout even the new facility; Jerry Ray said that Bill “worshipped going to work.” In the late 2010s, new divisions diversified the Modern-brand portfolio and established themselves as independent businesses: Modern Signs & Graphics, a digital design and sign production company, and Modern Equipment Sales & Service, sealing with sales and service of foodservice and vending equipment. Recently started is Modern Business Services, adding to the companies under the umbrella of Team Modern.
“We continue to grow in sales,” said Mickey Ray, noted that the previous week was the best ever for the company. “Lots of great people and lots of great staff that we’ve got around here. ... Who knows what we’ll get into next?”
Michael Ray brought up the whole number of Team Modern employees in attendance for a photo-op, praising their efforts for making the company’s success what it is.
“This is not about us, this is about 200 really, really good people,” said Michael.
Many of the officials who spoke knew the Ray family not just from business but their actions in the community, being their neighbors, playing sports with them. Keck said that as a kid, “I got to grow up watching (the Ray) family, lived in the same neighborhood. The Ray family always had a special place in my heart and my eye because they did things the right way. You could always tell that they led in the right way.”
Kelley recalled speaking to the family several years ago when they were first considering their expansion options, and applauded the progress made in a short time to the new facility at Valley Oak.
“This truly is exemplary of what a prosperous, homegrown, multi-generational business looks like, and it’s what we want to see perpetuated in others around this area,” said Kelley. “You all are the examples.”
Following the presentations, Mickey Ray expressed gratitude — something he identified as one of his company’s core values — at the turn-out and support from the community on Thursday.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “We had put this off for a few months because we wanted to be ready. The facility is just really, really, really nice, way above our raisin’. We wanted everybody to see how blessed we’ve been and wanted everybody to see what we’ve got out here in Pulaski County.”