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.