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IN THE TRENCHES: Separating the winners from the losers

by Ron Pelger | February 17, 2010
"If it doesn't matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?" -- Vince Lombardi

It's no secret that I'm a New York Yankees fan. My family, friends and industry associates have accepted my passionate madness every baseball season as a devout supporter of the team.

Obviously, 2009 was a winning year, but it wasn't easy as I struggled through many close games. I was totally exhausted from tossing my wife's couch pillows at the TV screen. In the end, the Yankees came out the winners. Thank goodness it was finally over. Besides, I ran out of pillows.

In all sectors of life there are winners and losers. The Yankees were winners and the other 29 clubs were losers. It's about those who take home the top prize and the money that matters. I never saw or heard of a celebration parade for a losing team. Nobody ever pays any attention to who was second. Just as in sports, the produce industry has winners and losers. But in this tough produce arena, it's a radically different ballgame played on a very challenging and rigorous field. There are companies that make money and others that lose money. The companies that play the game using new techniques and strategies will be better competitors in the marketplace. Tapping into those sources will make them winners.

Then there are those who don't want to work too hard to get to the top. They prefer everything to be easy for them. No rolling up any sleeves for these guys. Sitting on Easy Street is what these players would rather do. That's why they will never become winners. After all, it takes very little work to lose. Here are some easy ways to lose in the produce business today:

* Don't change, just keep doing things the same way.

* Keep emphasizing price, forget about quality.

* Copy your competition, never be creative.

* Concentrate only on your company, overlook customers.

* Don't be flexible, stand your ground.

* Spend all you can, buy, buy and buy -- money is no object.

* Rely on your name, bypass quality and service.

* Be all things to everybody, always say "Yes."

People who have a positive vision and take responsibility for their work usually achieve success. Those who rely on connections, schemes and excuses usually end up as failures. Being determined is very necessary in order to beat your competition to the punch. If you really want to land the sale, you have to feel positive about being a winner.

The winner says, "Let's take action on it." The loser says, "Let's think about it some more."

The winner says, "Let's make it better." The loser says, "It works now, why change it?"

The winner says, "Let's move forward on it." The loser says, "Let's wait a few more years."

Losing is never fun. Does this sound familiar? "I can't understand it. Why did they buy from our competitor? We gave them a nice long Power Point presentation, showed some great photos of our product, joked around a bit and took them to lunch."

Well, it just doesn't work that way these days. Those old humdrum approaches are considered incomplete and unproductive today. Besides, they eat up too much valuable time for the customer. You can't play by old rules anymore. Companies that prefer to carry on with the same selling routine will simply wind up on the losing end.

Here are some easy ways to win in the produce industry today:

* Communicate with customers and listen to what they want.

* Offer only the best quality produce. Sell up, not down.

* Deal honestly and reliably, it's the best policy.

* Be consistent and stick with a standard.

* Price for value but don't sell cheap and inferior product.

* Be a creative innovator. New items always get attention.

* Train employees and empower them with knowledge.

* Get out in the trenches. See the action and get your hands dirty.

It's easy to recognize winners. They seem to overcome obstacles with their superlative attitude. When you have employees at your company who are concerned about winning, it can be infectious and result in a very powerful team. Great winning attitudes will come out on top all of the time.

Keep your company ahead of the curve. The produce trade is not as simple as it used to be. Customers have redefined themselves and they want solutions to help them win the game. Your ability to communicate with them will decide if your company made a winning sales call or not.

(Ron Pelger is the owner of RONPROCON, a consulting firm for the produce industry, and a member of the FreshXperts consortium of produce professionals. He can be reached by phone at 775/853-7056, by e-mail at or check his web site at