A Guide to Wholesale Produce-Staff Training

Alan Siger - Wholesale Market

Despite professional experience or education‭, ‬every industry has a learning curve‭. ‬Employee on-boarding in produce should specifically entail a‭ ‬“rules of the road‭.‬”‭ ‬A full understanding of trading terminology and procedures is vital to one’s success as a buyer or seller‭. ‬Mistakes due to misunderstanding trade terms can be costly‭, ‬and could very well damage a relationship with a trading partner‭. ‬

Beyond the basics of an IT system overview or a facility tour‭, ‬orientation for new hires should offer more value‭. ‬To help a new‭-‬hire get the lay of the land‭, ‬consider partnering him or her with an experienced and exemplary employee as a mentor‭.‬

In addition to basic on-boarding and establishing an opportunity for a mentorship‭, ‬find out if new employees have a basic understanding of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act‭ (‬PACA‭). ‬Just because someone has work experience does not mean they have‭ ‬an idea about how the produce industry operates‭. ‬

The USDA offers an excellent comprehensive training course available online where one can learn basic trading terms or brush up‭ ‬on their knowledge of PACA‭. ‬You might want to consider having all of your traders review the site to ensure they are updated on‭ ‬any recent changes‭. ‬

Shortly after I started with my company in 1973‭, ‬I recall a buyer asking me on a conference call about New Jersey‭ ‬“grass”‭ ‬and when it would be available‭. ‬Having been raised in the 1950s and 60s‭, ‬my first thought was not asparagus‭; ‬fortunately‭, ‬my mentor was also on the line and he caught on before I embarrassed myself‭. ‬In this case‭, ‬my mentor helped me to understand informal‭ ‬industry jargon‭. ‬It’s important we remember that what is second nature to those of us with ample experience may not be so obvious to someone that’s new‭.‬

Employee on-boarding in produce should specifically entail a “rules of the road.” A full understanding of trading terminology and procedures is vital to one’s success as a buyer or seller.

Now that I’ve given you information on how to educate new hires on formal terminology and customs‭, ‬I think it’s appropriate for me to give you a few tips that you’ll never find in a USDA publication‭. ‬With my tongue firmly planted in cheek‭, ‬I offer you the following guide to understanding what produce people mean when they tell you something‭.‬

The Meaning of‭ ‬‘Fresh‭.‬’‭ ‬A seller tells you that an item is‭ ‬“fresh‭.‬”‭ ‬In this situation‭, ‬fresh is defined as‭, ‬“product that may have been here a while‭, ‬but the seller is willing to ship it and hopes your quality control receiver won’t reject it‭.‬”

When‭ ‬‘Soon’‭ ‬isn’t Soon Enough‭.‬‭ ‬An over-the-road trucker‭ (‬or truck broker‭) ‬tells you the load will arrive‭ ‬“soon‭,‬”‭ ‬“shortly‭,‬”‭ ‬or‭ ‬“in a couple of hours‭.‬”‭ ‬In this case‭, ‬the truck broker or dispatcher has no idea where the truck is‭, ‬and they hope it gets in soon so you will quit calling them‭. ‬

How Late is Late‭?‬‭ ‬A shipment is two hours late‭, ‬and you call your wholesaler to find out where your order is‭. ‬The wholesaler tells you‭, ‬“The truck just pulled out and is on its way‭.‬”‭ ‬This means the wholesaler’s operation is running behind‭, ‬your order has not yet been picked‭, ‬and they will get to your order when they are able to‭. ‬In this case‭, ‬it’s probably a good idea to call your customers and let them know your trucks will be late too‭.‬

You’re Really Not as Special as They Say‭!‬‭ ‬A shipper tells you‭, ‬“The market is up‭ $‬3‭, ‬but we are only raising your price‭ $‬2‭.‬”‭ ‬This is the old‭, ‬“You’re special”‭ ‬routine‭. ‬If it makes you feel better‭, ‬then great‭; ‬but you’re probably still priced‭ $‬1‭ ‬over the market‭. ‬Seriously‭, ‬don’t fall asleep on pricing on a commodity‭. ‬Always have more than one supplier on high-volume items‭.‬

Making it Up‭. ‬You’ve been hurt by a market decline or a similar situation out of your control‭, ‬and you ask your supplier for a price adjustment on‭ ‬the order‭. ‬The supplier tells you‭, ‬“I can’t do anything on this order‭, ‬but I’ll make it up to you on the next one‭.‬”‭ ‬Translation‭: ‬“No adjustment for you on this invoice‭, ‬give me another order‭, ‬so I can leave you hanging on that one too‭.‬”‭ ‬I was in this business for more than 40‭ ‬years‭, ‬and there is no such thing as making it up to you on the next order‭.‬

Actions Speak Louder Than Words‭. ‬Lastly‭, ‬when someone says‭, ‬“Trust me‭,‬”‭ ‬that means‭, ‬“Look out‭.‬”‭ ‬A person who you trust will not ask you to trust them‭; ‬they already know that you do‭. ‬Trust between two people is built over time‭; ‬it is not by request‭, ‬but by actions towards others‭. ‬I am very appreciative of the many solid relationships I built over the‭ ‬past 43‭ ‬years‭. ‬Many of my strongest relationships led to lifetime friendships‭, ‬and the key to these successful partnerships is‭ ‬mutual trust‭.‬

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.‬