In 2005, Green Tree International Inc. was founded in Visalia, CA, to represent Golden State growers. After further expansion in the West, in 2011, the company recognized the same business model and commitment to quality it has established in California would work well in Texas and a Dallas operation was opened.
GTI started in California representing grape and stonefruit growers on a commission basis, according to founding partner Cary Crum. The business model was so successful that“over time we started doing basically brokering and opening a couple of offices here and there, into Washington state in 2008 handling apples, potatoes and onions, then a Salinas, CA branch that does vegetables and central California does all the fruit items — grapes, melons, kiwi and citrus. That’s what Green Tree was about.”
In early 2011, the opportunity to move into the DFW market “came to us out of the blue.” Mr. Crum and partner John Rast had been doing business with Dallas produce salesman Jim Luck. Mr. Luck was thinking about opening his own business — Mssrs. Crum and Rast convinced him to come onboard and open a GTI branch in Dallas instead.
In March 2011, that operation opened in a warehouse owned by Dallas-based mushroom provider South Mill Distribution. GTI elected to carry a full line of produce “from apples to zucchini” (the only notable exception being bananas). A semi-partnership with South Mill was forged that allowed the mushroom company to serve customers with additional produce items on outbound trucks and helped GTI gain market traction.
With Jim Luck at the helm in Dallas, “we started to bring in products from California and warehouse them there and sell them out in smaller lots to make it easier for customers and help with transportation costs. That grew from a few items to a few more items and them we were actually doing a fair amount of volume. It’s kind of a hybrid wholesaler situation where we bring in product and load the South Mill trucks and send it out or have customers come pick up.”
Mr. Crum has been in the produce industry since graduating from college in the early 1990s; Mr. Rast has been in the business for 30 years, as has Mr. Luck.
“The opportunity popped up with Jim Luck, the timing was good, the person was right and we decided we were going to take the leap,” Mr. Crum said. “Jim Luck has been an absolute phenomenal addition. We like Dallas as a market because over the last 10-12 years there’s been a lot of changes going on. What we’ve seen is kind of a vacuum developing in Dallas — they have a tremendous economy, they’re the center of that region, pretty much everybody brings trucks into Dallas to buy shorts — there is a demand there for a wholesale business.”
“We’re a straight up produce wholesaler; the one thing we do not do in Dallas is transportation — we don’t deliver anywhere, we don’t own a truck there, all of our customers come to us — it allow us to give better value to our customers and more advantageous pricing because we don’t have to have trucks and drivers and insurance,” he continued. “We carry premium labels and buy from the best growers in California and quality is our number one focus. When someone comes and picks up a product from our dock they don’t bring it back, ever. Because we won’t send it out if it’s substandard.”