Operating a business is truly like life on a treadmill — no matter how good the previous month or year was, the meter resets to zero at the beginning of each accounting period.
Most industries have seasonal peaks and valleys. For example, the candy and confection folks have Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Easter; the beer industry has the 4th of July and Labor Day. Likewise, produce wholesalers look forward to holiday bumps, but it’s never a sure thing.
During a busy season, a produce wholesaler may deal with supply issues. Though still faced with the challenge of strategically managing raw materials, other industries face a different set of concerns. Barley and cocoa prices may rise because of light crops, but there will still be plenty of candy and beer to be sold when it’s promotion time. In our world, a cherry crop can be wiped out by a devastating hailstorm, which can result in the virtual elimination of a given product line.
In my 40-plus years of running a wholesale produce company, I’ve been through plenty of ups and downs. I’ve seen red-hot markets crash and burn in a matter of a day or two, and I’ve watched as an item you couldn’t give away one week became the one that everyone’s looking for the next. One gets used to the occasional wild ride and learns to never get too excited about the ups, or too upset about the downs. You can’t change a lousy market, but you can fight for a bigger share of the pie.
The last quarter of 2016 into the first part of 2017 was tough for many produce wholesalers. Over-supply, and the resulting price deflation of many key commodities, turned a good start to 2016 into a mediocre fiscal year. I spent some time with industry friends this past January, and one described 2016 as having a 13 to 2 lead in the eighth inning, and barely hanging on to win the game. Times like that are never fun, but you learn to push forward and prepare to take advantage when things turn around.
I’ve always tried to focus my energy on things I could change, and not waste time or resources on things I could not. Managing employees, keeping customers satisfied, dealing with banks, investors and government regulations was always enough to keep my mind off of the things I couldn’t control.
The things that kept me up at night weren’t everyday issues like markets or operational problems. Though day-to-day problems can be aggravating, and if left unattended, costly, they are not going to change your world forever.
Though I’ve been able to stay in touch with the industry I love through a few clients and my association with PRODUCE BUSINESS, I miss the day-to-day action.
On Cinco de Mayo I will celebrate my 66th birthday. I’m having a hard time believing I’ve been around that long. Though I feel great and I don’t look a day over 65, it’s a bit scary knowing I’m almost certainly in the last trimester of life.
Am I old? It wasn’t long ago when I thought anyone over age 30 was old. It’s funny how one’s perspective changes in time. I don’t feel old. Sure, the golf ball doesn’t go quite as far, and I’m no longer running marathons, but all in all — to quote the lyrics of Harlan Howard — “I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in.”
I tell my friends I don’t feel old, but I can see it coming. I think back to 30-some years ago, when I was spending time with friends who were in their 60s and 70s. They were like I am now — reasonably active, enjoyed a round on the golf course and were happy to save time for a few drinks at the nineteenth hole. Today, many of those friends have passed away, and those who are still with us have really slowed down.
My dear friend and produce industry mentor, Jack Kleban, passed away a couple of years ago at the age of 103. Jack had retired to Florida and used to come back to Pittsburgh to visit each summer. I always looked forward to spending time with him — especially playing a round of golf. Jack eventually gave up golf — not because he was unable to play the game, but because he no longer had his friends to join him, and didn’t want to hold the younger players back. I can still see his sadness when he talked about how few of his friends were still around.
As you read this, you’re probably asking yourself two questions: Why write about such a buzzkill of a topic? And what does any of this have to do with produce? I’ll answer the second question first. This has nothing to do with produce, but I’m blessed with a publisher and editors who occasionally allow me to color outside the lines.
On March 13, 2017, our family was blessed with the arrival of my second grandchild, a beautiful baby girl. Life events like this cause one to think about what’s truly important, and what the future holds. In my case, and for many others my age, the big question is, “How do I want to spend the next chapter of my life?”
Alan Siger is chairman of Siger Group LLC, offering consulting services in
business strategy, logistics, and operations to the produce industry. Prior to selling Consumers Produce in 2014, Siger spent more than four decades growing Consumers into a major regional distributor. Active in issues affecting the produce industry throughout his career, Siger is a former president of the United Fresh Produce Association.