Thursday, October 30, 2014

The PMA...Produce and its People

The PMA was great! I went to Anaheim with an agenda, not only because I wanted to learn a few things from our customers, but having specific topics to talk about helps me stay focused on asking people enough questions to eventually find out things that are important to them.  

The trade show was as energetic as expected, colorful, noisy and very active. Companies bring their best game to these events. Shiny machines, colorful produce items, flashy technology, and tasty samples of all sorts of food and beverages vied for my attention. I got home with potato peelers, stress balls, pens and paper, samples of nuts and candy, bottle openers, and...and...and….  

But the best takeaway ended up being the people. I had great conversations with many  people, and this was probably a result of changing my expectations for the show. These events are not cheap, especially for small companies. In the past I have attended them with the burden of making them pay for themselves in new business.  

Not this time. From the first morning at breakfast through the very last conversation I had with a temperature monitoring vendor I was focused on listening to every last word people felt like telling me. The stack of business cards I walked away with are not just a bunch of ‘potential’ customers. Rather, behind almost each one is a story.  

I think I am becoming my dad, finally. One of his favorite things to do is to ‘work a room.’  He absolutely loves to talk to people and it seems like he knows everybody. It’s because he is interested in who they are, where they come from, what they like to do, and where they are headed.  

It was exciting to come home and get to work. Meeting people, both new and old friends, was like a shove in the right direction. You know, like when we learn to ride a bike, and whoever is holding us up gives one quick push and off we go?  

This morning I stepped out onto our balcony and inhaled a huge long breath of crisp Salinas Valley air. The cooler it is the easier it is to smell the nearby crops, and today the air was full of celery. Soon most of the fields will be harvested, and that celery will be all over the country fresh and ready for the holiday. How many people, each with their own story, does it take to get that crop in the ground, grown, harvested, packed, shipped, delivered, and in the stores?  

It really is all about people.

Friday, October 17, 2014


Photo Credit:

"Those who say it can not be done, should not interrupt those doing it."
-- Chinese Proverb
I saw this on Twitter yesterday. It reminded me of one of my dad’s lines, ‘Fish or cut bait.’ Either way, the point is clea. Be either in or out, but if you are in, not only do it all the way, but do it well. And for sure, don’t hinder those who are moving forward.
For the past few weeks I have been preparing for the PMA’s Fresh Summit in Anaheim. And as I put together some last details for my trip, I couldn’t help but think how relevant this proverb was in the current transportation environment. While my focus for this show is on learning more about how produce companies plan to implement the different aspects of FSMA as they relate to carriers, I know I will be asked questions about the capacity crunch, hours of service, driver shortage, CARB, and other trucking odds and ends.  
These are all very real issues. Interestingly enough, despite the other food related industries’ attention to this growing problem, the produce industry has not seemed to be as concerned about getting their product to market. What I hear from our customers is that there have been pronouncements of impending problems for years. And that is true. The rise of fuel prices, carriers closing their doors, regulations making the business unprofitable, in addition to other factors have led to dire predictions. And then the season (summer or holiday) starts, and different factors are set in play, and the crunch just doesn’t happen. California water shortage, a disease outbreak, extreme temperatures either way, and once again, the capacity problem does not materialize to the degree anticipated and/or forecasted.
Maybe the market will stabilize, or become balanced enough to avert serious impact on the produce industry. But with increasing frequency, discussions are surfacing about how to manage the truck shortage. No longer is the point of these conversations about ‘if’ but rather ‘how’ to deal with it.  
As a non asset based truck broker, I am truly in the middle. In fact, a few years ago I almost decided to finally use my California law license and practice law instead of keeping the brokerage. After over ten plus years in the business, I was struggling to keep positive when both sides, produce and trucking companies, generally were unwilling to see the value of how each other’s business actually could strengthen their own. Of course, always, there are exceptions to the rules. I have freight customers that always have seen the big picture, making sure that the trucks hauling their loads are well paid and treated fairly. As for our trucking companies, my experience has been that for those who want to stay in the business, they are very careful to consistently and professionally handle shipments.
This past summer I completed my 16th year of owning this company. I am on the other side of my doubt about whether I should stick with it, mainly because a big part of my business is working with great people, in both industries.  
Now is the time, more than ever, to be the voice of change, and an active part of bringing both groups to a greater understanding of how their interests very much complement each other. I will use this blog, my participation in different groups in both industries, and in my day to day business dealings to hopefully make the union of the produce and transportation rewarding and productive.  
I know that the road ahead will not always be easy. But I believe it will be well worth it for so many reasons. I have always felt that these two wonderful industries have so much to offer each other, both in terms of business and accompanying relationships with amazing people. Hopefully the individuals who are comfortable with status quo will be equally comfortable with the rest of us making some great changes.  
Who know until we try right? Maybe I should end with a positive…
"You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take."
-- Wayne Gretzky