One of the privileges of being associated with the produce industry for 47 years is to have had the opportunity to meet and work with the founders of great companies. I was interviewed by Sam Walton when Walmart had only six supercenters and its food program was in its infancy.
And because of the position I had with a major retailer, I was able to interact with remarkable individuals who had a profound impact on not only their individual companies, but the industry at large.
Paul DiMare, Jack Pandol, Frieda Caplan, Albert Wada, and Steve Martori are among those who established companies that have endured and grown in an ever-changing marketplace. And as I reflect on these individuals, I think there are some lessons to be learned for any business that hopes to withstand the test of time.
In no particular order, here are five thoughts on longevity, success, and more.
Their name is on the box – Pride in your product offering: you might argue that shipper labels are not “brands,” but the name on the box stands for something. It stood for something 50 years ago, and it stands for something now. And it’s not just the quality of the product itself, it’s what the company stands for. Paul DiMare is, and has always been, focused on the customer. His word means something; he stands behind his commitments even if they weren’t always in the best financial interests of his company at a given time. The name is never compromised.
The devil is in the details – If you ever had the opportunity to go for a walk with Jack Pandol, you knew he had the largest collection of loose coins in the world. How did he get them? By picking them up off the sidewalk! Now I’m certain Jack had plenty of financial resources, but he always kept an eye out for loose change. It was details, details, details—and this focus on details manifested itself in his product offering.
Don’t listen to naysayers – Believe in yourself! When Frieda Caplan started her business, a woman in the produce industry was almost unheard of. And whoever heard of kiwifruit! Yet Frieda carved out a business for herself that continues to thrive to this day. I wonder how many times she was told a woman would never make it in the produce industry…
Go the extra mile – I remember the first time I saw Albert Wada’s storage sheds—never have I seen a potato storage facility so immaculate. Every resource available for excellence was on display. And I can guarantee you it wasn’t a show for a big customer. It was the way Albert insisted his business be run. And to this day, I have never seen a finer pack of Idaho potatoes than from Wada Farms.