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John Vena Inc. looking to expand product line

PHILADELPHIA — Moving to the new Philadelphia terminal market will involve having John Vena Inc. expand its product line, said company owner John Vena.

But an expanded line doesn’t necessarily require a buying program that extends beyond the walls of the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market.

Mr. Vena was frank in his evaluation of his business and where it needs to go. “We have identified customer segments within which we have not done a good job,” he said.

In gauging product lines, he is also direct. “We need to upgrade our quality or varieties or purchasing style or the volume we handle with the need to increase our top line,” he said. “We don’t want to jump into new products for added volume. We want to increase our product line in a way that is a response to our customer needs. I believe that you carry new products only if you know where they are going. I know we have to increase our product line to be comfortable here. If we add customers, they will tell us what they want to see us offer. We have a wide offering now.”

John Vena is a specialty house “and there are not too many products we could add unless we go back into commodities,” he said. “I don’t see that now,” but he added that new customers might require such a move.

He noted that an expanded product line would not have to be sourced at shipping point, because anything anyone would want to buy is available from merchants on the Philadelphia market. Market buying enables Vena to fill customer orders, ready for pick up.

“The customers are happy to have one purchase order.”

Already, Mr. Vena said, “we are buying regularly on the street. That is so much easier here” and is better because the entire market is temperature-controlled. Furthermore, the new market is easily accessible because, unlike the old facility, there is not a large parking lot separating two market docks. Regular treks across that expanse brought constant product exposure to the elements.

“We have all the same advantages that our customers have,” Mr. Vena noted.

In the first week of the market’s operation, Mr. Vena had talked with customers and fellow merchants about the new market.

“I am amazed and impressed at the attitude everyone takes,” he said. “We are all on the same page. The big stuff is solved” that might have been a problem. “The little problems we can work out together. I heard that all last week. Together we can get it done.”

Asked how he felt about the only complaint regarding the new market — the 50-degree ambient temperature is good for produce and too cold for humans — Mr. Vena replied, “If you stand still long enough, the cold catches up to you. If you’re cold you’re not working hard enough.”

Mr. Vena said June 15 that “We are struggling to find products” as a result of “corporate dementia. We put things away and can’t remember where we put them.”

A small Vena cooler didn’t work for a few days, which added fuel to the dementia fire.

Over time, he expects experience will cure disorganization and also to give a better feel for what is needed to enhance the business.