When Arnold Caviar bought Liberty Fruit Co. Inc. from his family 30 years ago, it came with just three straight trucks for hauling and a pickup truck.
His three children each got their name on one of the straight trucks.
“Are those different drivers?” someone asked him.
“Well, in some ways, they are,” he said.
Caviar, 70, is proud his children joined him.
Other things did change. The company is now a $100 million-a-year Midwest produce giant, distributing to a nine-state area from Kansas City, Kan.
As the company grew, Caviar named more things after people he loves. Diversifying against the ups and downs of produce sales, he began a repacking brand, Mary’s Pride, named after his mother. He developed another branch, which does value-added produce and custom packaging. It’s called Carol’s Cuts, named after his wife.
“I had to do something so she wouldn’t get jealous of other companies with things named after their wives,” Caviar said.
For 15 or 16 hours, six or seven days a week, Caviar would do it all. He’d unload trucks, or clean the dock at 2 a.m. Carol pitched in a few days weekly while she was watching their children and helped out more when the kids grew older.
“You’ve got to work for what you get,” Caviar said. “I feel like I’ve put in my dues.”
That base of honest work remains with the company. Caviar demands integrity, chief operating officer Scott Danner said.
“He won’t put up with liars,” Danner said. “If you lie, you’re out.”
“I’ve worked for corporations,” Danner said, “and there you did anything you could to get to the goal. Arnold has instilled that we want to get to the goal, but we’re getting there the right way.”
Caviar backs up his words with dollars. He and the company give regularly to charities, such as Operation Breakthrough, Little Sisters of the Poor and especially Children’s Mercy Hospital.
Liberty Fruit has hosted a charity golf tournament for 12 years, with most funds given to the hospital. It’s earned a million dollars for Children’s Mercy.
Perhaps Caviar’s greatest accomplishment? Turning the family business into a business family of 300.
If you ask Caviar why, when other Midwest produce companies have failed and he — a thousand miles away from produce-growing coasts — has succeeded, he credits his workers.
“It’s not the Caviar business,” he said, “It’s the company business. People know the way I think. It’s everyone, from the highest manager all the way down.”
From two bonuses a year to an annual picnic at the company, Caviar said he treats his employees the way he wants to be treated, and they do the same thing back.
“It’s dedication, it’s love, it’s taking care of your employees,” Caviar said. “We do that. All the employees know that.”
But it’s a two-way street. If the company gets jammed with work, the employees are willing to put in 14 hours a day to take care of it. They say they’ll put in the hours anytime its needed for Caviar.
“Do they want to go home to their families? Absolutely,” he said. “But if you get in a bind, they’ll take care of you.”
“Eight years ago,” Caviar said, “I made one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in hiring Scott Danner.”
When Caviar hired Danner, he wanted to start stepping back from the company, bit by bit. Now that he’s 70, he wants to step back more, but it’s not easy.
“You can’t step back totally,” he said, “especially when you’ve worked that hard.”
The company still has his business strategy to build around. It’s not difficult to remember.
“Our whole thing is service, number one. Quality, number two. And price, number three,” he said. “We’re big on quality. It’s proven to be the right decision throughout the years.”
And spending money to make money?
“I’m all about that,” he said.
Liberty Fruit spent money to buy an old produce warehouse in 1994, where it now sits, and then spent more money to refurbish it. Then in 2007, it added a 9,000-square-foot processing plant expansion, which made it 13,000 square feet. In 2009, a 30,000-square-foot repacking and storage expansion paved the way for the company to grow to 162,000 square feet.
And, thanks to being a family business, decisions are quick.
“The big expansion was basically an hour’s discussion between Arnold, his son Allen and me,” Danner said.
The company isn’t sinking into complacency, however. Caviar and Danner mention the possibility of a second 30,000-square-foot expansion.
And then there’s Caviar’s granddaughter, 9-year-old Morgan, to name something after.
He suggests “Morgan’s Munchies.”