Originally printed in the September 2019 issue of Produce Business.
Old-school market proves produce has no limits, even from a small stand.
A sleek, modern farmers market building in suburban Philadelphia hosts a quintessential produce retailer. Ardmore Produce occupies only a 600-square-foot half-circle kiosk on the front end of the market’s center isle. Furthermore, the store merchandises produce only on the space’s perimeter, resulting in about 78 linear feet of produce selling space. However, as Max Her, manager and son of the owner, puts it, “We move a lot of produce.”
The store moves enough produce in that small space to warrant purchases of $10,000 to $15,000 per week in produce items, says Her. “We have a really good following and good presence in the community,” he says. “Customers shop us frequently, often three to five times a week, and we can sell a lot.”
The business is, and has always been, family owned. “My family bought the store from an aunt close to 10 years ago,” he says. “We’ve been in produce retailing in various stores in the Philly suburbs for decades.”
Selling The Best
The store’s focus is to sell the best quality of produce available. “We buy every day on weekdays and maybe once on the weekend if we fall short,” says Her. “We are very competitive in our pricing, but our quality stands above other stores, which gives us an edge.”
Her’s father, John Her, acts as buyer for the store and sources 100 percent of product from the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market (PWPM). “My father wakes up at 1 a.m. every morning to ensure he gets first pickings,” says Her. “It isn’t an easy job for sure, since he surveys and shops all the wholesalers there.”
Her explains their dedication to sourcing at PWPM. “You have to be the first one to go in and really scout each store,” he says. “There are dozens of stores but the quality of each produce item is different at each store. We survey them all and make a mental note of which store sells the best of each item each day, then circle back to purchase. It can take a good 10 to 12 hours sometimes.”
Everything Her buys is re-inspected and reworked at the store. “We wash, clean and cut everything so what we put out is in pristine condition,” says Her. “For example all our butter lettuce and celery are cleaned, cut on the bottom and rubber banded.”
Produce is the sole focus of the store, boasting an incredible variety of items. “We have more than a couple hundred items on our shelves depending on the season,” says Her. “And, more than 300 in the computer. We always try to incorporate something new for a few weeks every year. Last year was microgreens. You have to try new items to encourage customers.”
The store merchandises most everything in the same place all year long. “This way our customers know exactly where to find what they need,” he says. “Some things will vary with seasonality, but mostly everything is in the same spot it’s been in for the past 10 years.”
The locale has a down-to-earth, authentic market ambiance and merchandises in wood baskets, crates and shipping cartons for a “fresh from the farm” appeal. Eye-catching, expertly color-blocked categories are highlighted with clear hand-written signs.
Store employees (all family) redo the shelves and items daily to remove old items and replace them with something new and fresh. “There is some seasonal reset within the categories,” says Her. “Vegetables can be broken into two main seasons, and fruits change quarterly.”
The store has a small section of dried fruits and nuts, cut-fruit, and salsas and guacamole — all prepared at the store. The store also includes a made-to-order juice bar offering a wide variety of fruit and vegetable blends. “The juice bar allows us to offer a great, healthful product to our customers and also use some of the product we may not want to put out on display,” says Her. “It’s very popular.”
120 Coulter Ave, Suite 15
Ardmore, PA 19003
Hours: Weekdays 8 a.m.–7 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m.–4 p.m.