Peterson keynotes second annual FPFC Phoenix luncheon
February 21, 2005
by Tom Fielding
PHOENIX " A gathering of nearly 200 people attended the Fresh Produce & Floral Council?s second annual Arizona luncheon Wednesday, Feb. 16 at the Phoenix Crown Plaza Hotel, here. Kevin Easler of Sprouts Farmers Market, served as the emcee for the event, while Wal-Mart?s Bruce Peterson was the day?s keynote speaker.
Mr. Peterson gave what he called "a Wal-Mart update and a look ahead." He said that the company had "no shortage of press coverage and no shortage of challenges? in the past year. Joking that Wal-Mart seemed to be blamed for everything including the "moon being out of phase," he added, "If you keep throwing enough stuff against the wall, some will stick."
In response to some of the negative publicity, Mr. Peterson said that the company, which he acknowledged usually lets its performance speak for itself, took the unusual step of taking out ads talking about what Wal-Mart accomplishes in the community.
?As Wal-Mart facts get out, people are surprised." He said that last year Wal-Mart donated more than $150 million to charities, and its stores and customers donated another $70 million.
Although a turbulent year, Mr. Peterson said, "With all that activity, we had no shortage of growth. We don?t let outside detractors affect our relationship with customers."
He said that analysts? forecasts show Wal-Mart as the No. 2 company in the world when it comes to retail revenue (second only to Exxon-Mobil). In 2004, Wal-Mart had a 12.1 percent increase in retail revenues, or as Mr. Peterson put it, "a pretty good Wal-Mart year."
The Wal-Mart executive also touched upon subjects including RFID compliance (by Jan. 1, its top 100 suppliers were 100 percent RFID compliant, and this year "we will bring another 200 companies on?) to Wal-Mart?s Stores of the Community (although the company is a worldwide entity, Mr. Peterson said that "we must be as local as we can?).
EASTERN PERSPECTIVE: Frank Weichec's retirement brings flood of memories
February 21, 2005
by Tad Thompson
PHILADELPHIA Frank Weichec Jr. wasn't around to speak for himself for a story on his retirement. He was with his beautiful wife, Alice, cruising his 41-foot motor yacht off South Florida.
Instead, his son, Chip Weichec, hunkered down in Norm & Lou?s Restaurant, the social center of the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market, here, to discuss his father?s career.
While Frank attended Philadelphia?s Drexel University " first as an engineering student, who switched to business administration " he began dating Patricia Hunter. Ms. Hunter?s father, Robert Hunter, had started the produce company Hunter Bros. Inc. with his brother, Earl. Drexel had a work-study program comprised of six months of work followed by six months of study. Frank was invited to work at Hunter Bros. for the work-study program. At Drexel, he also was part of the Reserve Officers Training Corps program.
Frank eventually married Patricia, went into the army as a lieutenant and was promoted to captain, serving for a year in Vietnam. This included duty at the infamous Checkpoint Charlie.
When Frank returned from Vietnam, he went back to the Philadelphia produce market. His son said that his dad, through his reserve officer status, "kept a lot of guys on the market from going to Vietnam."
Among those was Jimmy Storey, owner of Quaker City Produce, here. "He saved a lot of rears here from going to Vietnam, including mine! Mr. Story confirmed.
?I spent a year on active duty in the army, and seven on inactive, due to Frank Weichec?s support. I was a military policeman for seven years," Mr. Storey recalled. "I was just out of high school and drafted. When I got my orders to dye my underwear green, I called Frank." Instead of going to Vietnam, with Frank?s influence, "I went to MP school and became a military policeman. Then I was a VIP driver and drove generals."
You must have been an imposing driver, huh Jimmy? "No, then I was very skinny. I stopped smoking and gained a person."
Mr. Weichec?s military exploits over, he bought Hunter Bros. from his father-in-law in 1968.
The Hunters? first child, Chip " who is actually named Frank Weichec III " was born in 1961. A second son, Mike, came along in 1963, and Steve was born in 1968. Steve made Hunter Bros. a second career, beginning eight years ago. Chip Weichec bought the business from his father in 1990.
?I remember my dad would say, "The worst thing that ever happened to the produce business was refrigeration," Chip Weichec said. "To a degree, that?s true," because after refrigeration became part of the industry, "people felt they didn?t have to sell something. They could keep it. Before there was refrigeration, you had to sell it or you would smell it by the end of the day. People would hustle and product got sold. The irony was that we were the first company to install refrigeration here? at what is now called the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market.
The market was built in 1959 without refrigeration. "Farmers would ship things here in heavy wooden crates. That was before my time," Chip Weichec added. "Product moved through terminal markets, and chains did not necessarily have warehouses and distribution centers like they do now. They used markets as a source of supply, and did a little direct buying. The reverse is true now."
Chip Weichec continued, "My dad was always progressive and encouraged the use of technology. He converted our whole store to refrigeration and was among the first people to buy electric pallet jacks."
Among the responsibilities assigned to Chip by his father was was installation of computerized sales tickets in the early 1990s. After that was installed, "no one hated it more than he did. If you hit button "B? instead of button "E? you didn?t get the answer you were looking for. But in the long run he was always very progressive and forward thinking."
Mr. Storey confirmed, "Frank was the pioneer in putting together the refrigeration additions to the Philadelphia market in the mid-1990s. He was the market president for five or six years before me. I was his vice president, and he worked very diligently and very hard with the Philadelphia Development Industrial Corporation? to improve the market with refrigeration.
Frank Weichec grew up across the road from the small airport, Wings Field, in Plymouth Meeting, PA. He went on to become a pilot and owned two planes. He sold his second plane last year to focus on his yacht, which is kept outside his Punta Gorda, FL, home.
While Plymouth Meeting is now considered a big Philadelphia suburb, at the time it was rural, and young Frank worked on farms in the area. His father, Frank Weichec Sr., was not a farmer but rather a physical therapist and a trainer for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Philadelphia Phillies from 1949 to 1961. Traveling with the Phillies was part of Frank Sr."s lifestyle, and knowing Philadelphia sports stars was a way of life for Franks I, II and III. (Chip Weichec, perhaps a little tired of family name confusion, named his son Max.)
Chip Weichec said that his father was a believer in industry associations and served on the terminal market division of the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association. He subsequently was invited to join United?s main board.
In the early 1990s, he worked with Joe Procacci of Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., the late Pete Class of W.D. Class & Sons in Jessup, MD, Mr. Storey of Quaker City
and others to create the National Association of Perishable Agricultural Receivers.
Mr. Storey said of Frank Weichec, "He is one of the best guys I ever knew. He is very nice and very honest."
Chip Weichec said that Hunter Bros. has always been "primarily a vegetable house. We would pull vegetables from no farther west than McAllen, Texas, originally. Plus, we bought out of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and all the way to Ontario and Ohio. We bought potatoes from Maine and PEI, but we did no West Coast business. That changed as the business changed. People used to handle certain areas. Pinto Bros. [in Philadelphia] was all West Coast veg. You had people who were East Coast veg and you had people who were in fruit. They all stayed within their core items. There was not much overlap, but as the business changed " wholesalers are like farmers " if they see someone make a buck, they branch off and try other things. But we are still known principally as an East Coast veg house. But we managed to make inroads into Western vegetables and we?re a respectable fruit house. We?re not the biggest on the street, but we try to be the best. Integrity is first and foremost with my dad, and that?s not easy sometimes. If the truth is ugly, you still have got to tell the truth. One key to success is that no one ever said a bad word about my dad."
Chip Weichec added that his father?s business philosophy was "the first loss is the best loss. It's tough to sell when you?re losing money, but if it's a dog, you get rid of it and make room for something else."
Frank Weichec "always had a life outside of the produce business," his son continued. "There are people in this business who die with their boots on, but he always wanted to fly. When he could afford it, he became a pilot and got a plane."
Frank first flew in 1975, and he flew for business and pleasure from Florida to Canada. As Chip swam on scholarship at Clemson University in South Carolina, Frank would buy season tickets for Clemson football games and fly in for each game. He also flew the short hop across New Jersey to his beach home there. He sold his plane, a Piper Saratoga, two weeks before Hurricane Charley?s 170 mph winds destroyed it and its Punta Gorda airport in August.
Now in Punta Gorda, enjoying his 41-foot Carter christened Seapiper, Frank is commander of his yacht club. The retired Weichecs moved onto the comfort of air conditioned Seapiper when Hurricane Charley knocked out power to their home last summer. Frank and his second wife, Alice, have owned the Florida home for several years.
Looking toward the future of Hunter Bros., Chip Weichec said, "We are getting back to our core things." After an expansion plan spawned in 1999 created some problems, "we decided that instead of being a jack-of-all-trades, we would specialize in what we do well."