Customer Services for the Independent

Alan Siger - Wholesale Market

Editor’s note‭: ‬Al Siger is on extended vacation‭. ‬As a result‭, ‬we bring you this classic article by Robert Strube‭, ‬Sr‭. (‬b‭. ‬1919‭ — ‬d‭. ‬2010‭), ‬who wrote for this magazine from 1985‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬2002‭.

Today‭, ‬the produce wholesaler must cater to a diverse number of customers‭. ‬Large chain stores‭, ‬small independent wholesalers‭, ‬foodservice distributors‭, ‬small independent‭ ‬“Mom and Pop”‭ ‬stores‭, ‬small independent chains‭, ‬and even our wholesaling competitors‭.‬

Servicing the small independent chains and the‭ ‬“Mom and Pop”‭ ‬local grocery stores is a challenge‭. ‬In order to be competitive with other stores in the neighborhood‭, ‬these smaller stores must be able to offer something more‭. ‬The three areas of difference are price‭, ‬quality and service‭. ‬These independent grocers and fruit stores must be able to give customers‭ ‬“that something extra”‭ ‬in one or more of these three areas‭. ‬How can they do this‭?‬

There are several ways independent grocers and fruit stores can accomplish what they want to do‭:

• In the area of service‭, ‬the small independent grocer can be more knowledgeable about the various fruits and vegetables they offer‭.‬‭ ‬This knowledge is available from the wholesaler that the grocer buys merchandise from‭. ‬The commodity associations and state commissions that suppliers are a part of often distribute helpful information to the wholesaler‭. ‬There might also be recipes or innovative ways of serving a product that are readily available‭.‬

• There also might be taste tests with sample product available to those who ask for them‭.‬‭ ‬Signage and advertising material is usually made available to those who request it‭.

• Many growers and commodity associations sponsor special promotions for their product‭.‬‭ ‬Cooperative advertising between the wholesaler and independent operator is one method that comes to mind‭. ‬The local teenager‭, ‬employed by the large chain stores to restock produce shelves‭, ‬cannot answer the customers’‭ ‬questions about specific products or take part in the special programs‭. ‬By working with the wholesaler who can leverage commodity-board promotions‭, ‬the smaller independent stores can give the customer the‭ ‬“SERVICE”‭ ‬they might be seeking‭.‬

When it comes to quality‭, ‬the local independent grocer can usually beat the large chain stores hands down‭. ‬Another word for quality in fresh fruits and vegetables is‭ ‬“FRESH‭.‬”‭ ‬The local independent can come down to the wholesale market or order from the market on a daily basis‭, ‬thereby assuring the freshness of the product‭.‬

Large chain stores bring in truckloads to a main distribution center‭, ‬and the product is released from that warehouse until the‭ ‬supply is replenished‭. ‬It could be a day or it could be several days‭. ‬Every day the product sits in the warehouse waiting for the local chain store to have it released is a day of freshness lost‭.

Even in the best of‭ ‬“cold-chain”‭ ‬conditions‭, ‬fresh fruits and vegetables lose some freshness every day‭. ‬The local independent may not have 100‭ ‬cases of oranges‭ ‬on display‭, ‬but the ones it has may be a lot fresher than the 100‭ ‬on display at the chain‭.‬

Another area of concern is price‭. ‬Yes‭, ‬it is true when large retailers or chain stores bring in special loads of product‭, ‬they will pay less for it and can offer it to the public for less by volume-selling to make the desired profit‭. ‬However‭, ‬an independent grocer can learn to work with wholesalers on the market to obtain special pricing because of promotional items or special deals worked out by a specific shipper‭.

Using this special pricing‭, ‬the independent can offer produce at competitive prices to the public‭. ‬If the prices are comparable‭ ‬and the local independents can offer the service and quality the consumer requires‭, ‬they can compete with the large chain stores‭.‬

As the supplier to these local independent grocers‭, ‬we have responsibilities to them in regards to the produce‭ ‬we have to offer‭. ‬Clearly‭, ‬we can only offer the aforementioned services if we work in cooperation with them to have what they need to serve the‭ ‬public‭.‬

When my father opened the business in 1913‭, ‬he had a checklist that he believed would be a key to our success‭:‬

•‭ ‬Carry the finest produce available for the money‭.‬

•‭ ‬Provide an unsurpassed level of service to your customer‭.‬

•‭ ‬Always work to meet your customers’‭ ‬needs and expectations‭.‬

•‭ Carry the widest possible selection of produce available at the time‭.‬

•‭ ‬Do all that is possible to never run out of product for the customer‭.‬

•‭ ‬Treat all customers and suppliers fairly‭.‬

At Strube Celery‭ ‬&‭ ‬Vegetable Co‭., ‬we continue to believe in these tenets many generations later‭.‬