Recession’s cloud may be starting to lift

03/30/2010 10:36:35 AM
Andy Nelson

CHELSEA, Mass. — While they, like most everyone else, are not out of the woods yet, many Boston wholesalers said business is better so far in 2010 — and none said it has worsened.

When asked how business is, Tom Ciovacco, co-owner of Mu-tual Produce Inc., said fair.

But that’s not as quite as luke-warm as it sounds, Ciovacco said. The recession may have the folks at Webster’s redefining what the word really means.

“‘Fair’ is like the new ‘good,’” he said. “If you’re doing fair, you’re doing OK.”

Ciovacco doubts if the story is much different at other stops along the New England Produce Center and Boston Market Terminal.

“You go to other businesses, that’s what you hear,” he said.

To make it in such a tough environment, companies need to stay on their toes, Ciovacco said.

“You have to adjust, come up with new ways of generating income,” he said.

One trend that Ciovacco thinks is not the answer to ensuring the industry’s health is distributors’ trying to stick their hands into too many pots.

“Everybody’s dabbling in everybody else’s business, and I think it makes things worse,” he said. “We’re trying to focus.”

For Mutual Produce, that means not straying far from its staples, which include melons, berries, grapes, broccoli, cauliflower and a few other commodities, Ciovacco said.

One specific fallout from the recession has been the loss of the secondary market, Ciovacco said. A $20 item doesn’t fall to $15 if the quality’s not up to snuff, he said. It falls to $5 or $6.

In such an environment, a focus on quality and long-term relationships is more important than ever, Ciovacco said.

“People can’t go through (product) like they used to,” he said. “Our relationships are 30-plus years and we’re trying to maintain them. You have to be right on price. There’s no room for error.”

Another effect of the recession Ciovacco said he could live without is the slackened pace of business, which has given industry members plenty of time to contemplate their navels and other matters.

“With slower business, everybody has time to analyze every-thing,” he said. “Everybody’s an expert.”

Weather aside, the economic climate also has been better thus far in 2010, said Maurice Crafts, salesman for Coosemans Boston Inc.

“Business has been pretty brisk the past couple of months,” he said. “Better than last year. We’re staying relatively busy.”

The best indicator of that, perhaps, is a fourth man behind the desk on the Coosemans floor at the New England Terminal Market.

Dave Braga came on board in August, Crafts said. For the five or six years before that, three salesmen had been sufficient.


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