It’s that time of year again. Everyone is committing to New Year’s resolutions and creating lists of things in hope of self-improvement. Most of us make resolutions with the best of intentions, but according to Forbes Magazine, University of Scranton research puts the average success rate of New Year’s resolutions in the United States at about 8 percent. While that’s a pretty low success rate, for those that succeed, resolutions can be a life changer; in 1978, I quit a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit at a New Year’s Eve party, and I haven’t had one since. My guess is that not many people make New Year’s resolutions for their businesses, so if you’d rather call the following five items “a wholesaler’s short-term strategic plan,” then that’s okay too.
There’s a common theme in most of these five resolutions; personal contact is a crucial component of maintaining strong business relationships.
- Get out of the office and visit your best customers. Too often, we take long-time customers for granted. Look at your customer list and ask yourself: How long has it been since you saw some of those folks face to face? We get so busy in the day-to-day battles of running a business, we often forget about the importance of maintaining relationships with our best customers.
- Talk to your customers as much as possible, and at least once a week. Email and electronic communication are great time savers and help minimize errors in transactions, but they are not a substitute for personal contact. Pick up the telephone and bring them up to speed about what’s going on in the market; ask what’s new on their end; or just chat about the past weekend’s ball game. Your customer has many choices on whom to buy from; give yourself an advantage by letting the customer know how important they are to you.
- The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA) is here to stay so be prepared. It’s been five years since Congress passed the legislation requiring the rules and two years since the proposed rules were released. This past November, the final version was released and includes rules on holding produce that apply to the wholesaler. In early 2016, the rules applying to transporting produce will be released. If your company is one of those that chose to wait on acting until the final version was released, now is the time. Industry trade associations are great resources to learn further about compliance requirements, and there will be plenty of workshops available at trade shows and online.
- Create a succession plan for your workforce. Many wholesalers have grown over the years with a core of hardworking longtime employees including key traders, operations, and administrative staff that are the heart and soul of the business. Do you know who will backfill them when they are no longer with the business? It’s important to have a strong bench. Building a succession plan is not always easy, as the tough lifestyle of the produce wholesaler may not be attractive to the next generation. When considering a succession plan, it’s equally important that longtime staff members understand that the next generation is an ally, not a threat.
- Go out and get involved in your community. I understand days are long and family time is most important, but I guarantee there is time if you look hard enough. The work done within the nonprofit community is important, as many organizations struggle to find volunteers to help with their mission. Whether it’s with your church or synagogue, the local YMCA, or organizations like Big Brothers and Sisters, sharing your time with others is rewarding, and it might even be good for business. While I was on the board of the local community food bank, the regional president of a national foodservice distributor joined our board. Through our time spent volunteering together, we became friends and our business relationship with his company developed even further.
There’s a common theme in most of these five resolutions; personal contact is a crucial component of maintaining strong business relationships. All of the high-tech methods we use to communicate are great, but if the person on the other end knows you only as an email address, your relationship with that customer is fragile. Do what you need to do so customers know you care about their business.
On a personal note: I hope you enjoyed my columns over the past year, and that some thoughts I’ve shared to date have been helpful to you. Please accept my best wishes for a healthy, happy, peaceful, and prosperous New Year.
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.