FOREST PARK, GA — David Rose, president of broker Merrin-Cravens Co., which has been supplying the wholesale and food service industry with top-quality produce from around the world since 1923 from its spot on the Atlanta State Farmers Market, understands that his business is entirely built on relationships.
While most of the rest of the world has moved beyond personal contact and does business by e-mail or even text message, brokers like Merrin-Cravens are in constant daily contact with customers around the country by phone, person-to-person.
After 89 years in the business, Merrin-Craven’s clientele “knows us and they know what to expect from us,” Mr. Rose said. “We’ve built good relationships and work with one another on a day to day basis. But it doesn’t take much to make somebody mad and they don’t forget, so you have to handle it with kid gloves and make sure that what you’re promising happens. Our clients know us and know what to expect. But we have to be careful — we have to deal with reputable people. If you’re new to it you may not understand it but you will quickly pick that up.”
There are no newcomers at Merrin-Cravens. Most of the staff has been together for years.
“From year to year there hasn’t been much change,” Mr. Rose said. “Just a few more gray hairs. The business changes a lot but there’s a lot to be said for consistency. There’s quite a few people I’ve never met face to face, probably more so than I’ve met personally — most of the shippers we talk to are not in this state but we have built relationships over time that let them know they can rely on us.”
Lately, there has been much discussion in the industry about grower margins and the need for retail to relent a bit to ensure better returns for farmers. Mr. Rose is sympathetic toward the growers’ plight, but he also knows “that will eventually correct itself. It will. The shipper either on one side has to put a stop to what they’re doing or has to say, ‘We have to present a case and here it is, financially, this is what we need to have done.’ And then if the retailer thinks he can go out and find somebody new they’ll go out and do that. It’s just supply and demand, it’s capitalism. It is a big problem for shippers, putting your eggs all into one basket and relying on one major retailer. A large retailer has enough clout to either be the breath or the death of a shipper.”
The biggest unknown in the industry, of course, is weather. “We’ve got imports from all over the world,” Mr. Rose said. “In the big picture, weather patterns from one part of the world affect those in others, patterns from one hemisphere affect others. And we take the good with the bad. We don’t want to see overlaps — or shortages.”