your-news image

Ellie Coen proud to follow in her mother's footsteps

Ellie Coen's mother always said that her daughter would love working in the produce industry. It turns out that mom was right.

"She was an inspiration to me," the 28-year-old account manager for Dovex Marketing in Wenatchee, WA, said of B.J. Holland, who died just over a year-and-a-half ago. Well known in the Wenatchee Valley fruit business, Ms. Holland had her own pear orchard, which is still managed by her husband, and had worked over the last 12 to 15 years in sales for Dovex as well as for Stemilt Growers and Gwin, White & Prince Inc., also in Wenatchee.

Ms. Coen grew up on the edges of the produce trade, but didn't plunge fully into the business until shortly after her mother passed away, working first for Stemilt before accepting an offer to join Dovex about six months ago. At Dovex, she handles organic sales, but counts some conventional commodities, including apples, pears and some stone fruit and soft fruit, among her responsibilities.

It's a change from the five years she spent managing and acting as the buyer for a women's clothing boutique in Wenatchee, where she met many of her current co-workers -- or their wives. "Everybody I work with now, I knew and helped at the store, she laughed. Though the job was fun -- and challenging, as she pursued a course of general studies at Wenatchee Valley College at the same time -- as her mother predicted, it was not the perfect fit the produce industry has proven to be.

"She was right -- I love it just like she did, Ms. Coen said. "Everybody in the industry is just like family; I just love and respect everybody.

Joining the trade was like going home in more ways than one. As it happens, Ms. Coen's first job, at age 16, was sorting cherries for Stemilt. The experience resonates today.

"It's a lot of work to get one little cherry in the box, she said. "It really makes you want to get the most return for your grower; we really want to support the growers.

Dovex Marketing represents the Dovex Fruit Co. as well as other individual growers, all based in Washington state. The company's sales staff travels regularly.

"It's important for us to see our customers, and we do a lot of that, Ms. Coen said, adding that she makes frequent trips to California to visit her many clients there. It's not always all about business, she pointed out, citing a jaunt to Disneyland with a buyer as an example.

"It's a lot of good food and good times, she said. "It's more about going out and getting to know your customer. A good relationship will get you far.

Those relationships come in handy on the rare tough days when for some reason "you can't cover an order for your customer. When you don't satisfy your customer's needs, that is the hardest part of the job, she said. "You hate to tell her no. It doesn't happen a lot so when it does happen, it's hard.

Thankfully, she has more good days than bad. "Getting into sales was a good day for me here, she asserted. "The best days are when you sell all your fruit -- you make your goal for the day and the customer is happy -- everybody's happy.

Ms. Coen indicated that she is looking forward to many good days. As with many Generation Next members of the produce trade, she constantly weighs and balances the advantages of her youth against the disadvantages, and turns the negatives into positives.

"It's the little things, the vocabulary -- 'palletizing!' You learn something every day; I ask questions every day, she said. And everything she learns just adds to the momentum. "I want to work harder and harder and I know I have time to do that, because I just got started.

Ms. Coen has in some ways come full circle. She lives right next door to the family pear orchard, which is now tended by her stepfather. "I moved back from Chelan when my mom got sick, she said. "I'm three miles from work -- I'm right here.

The location makes it easy to spend time with her little brother, Kael, 10. Another brother, Brent, 25, attends college in South Dakota.

In her leisure time, Ms. Coen works out at the gym and "I love to go fishing. Her family has a cabin on Lake Chelan, where they also enjoy boating and jet-skiing. "We spend as much time there as we can, she said of the get-away, which her parents bought seven years ago, shortly before her mother first became ill. My mom spent all the time there she could until she got really sick, Ms. Coen said.

The lake has been special to Ms. Coen ever since she was a child. Several uncles are fishing guides, so she grew up fishing and camping.

"I fish any way I can -- off the shore, in a boat -- for anything -- trout, bass, salmon. We catch and release them, she said. "We caught seven steelhead salmon here in a day once, which was pretty awesome. That was a good fishing day.

On the job at Dovex, Ms. Coen is trawling for bigger fish as well.

Looking into the future, "I see myself here -- just getting a bigger customer base, she said. "I love everybody I work with. I could see myself here forever.

Her mom would be proud.