I had the chance to chat with Dick Spezzano on May 4. Spezzano, president of Spezzano Consulting Services, Monrovia, Calif. In 1990, Spezzano, as vice president of produce and floral for the Vons Cos. Inc., Santa Fe Springs, Calif., was recognized as The Packer's Produce Marketer of the Year for his role in promoting the use of electronic sales data as a tool for retailers and suppliers. He also was cited for his efforts to forge industry bonds as well as increase charity fund raising.
2:24 p.m. Tom Karst: Thanks for taking time for a chat this morning Dick
2:25 p.m. I wanted to ask about your first connection to the industry. Where did you grow up and when did you find yourself first talking about produce?
2:27 p.m. Dick Spezzano: Hi Tom
2:28 p.m. I grew up in the Boston area and worked for the Star Market Company in the produce department while going to college.
2:29 p.m. Tom: So you had a connection to the industry even before you were done with college - and it stuck!
2:30 p.m. Dick: It did. I loved the changing seasons and the excitement of the department.
Tom: Your name is synonymous with retailing, particularly in California. Did you ever work on the sales desk for a shipper - or were you ever tempted to?
2:31 p.m. Dick: I had a few offers but always declined as I felt my true calling was at retail.
2:32 p.m. Tom: We often hear about relationships in the produce business. When you sliced it and diced it, while you were a retailer, how much did those relationships with suppliers count versus other factors?
2:35 p.m. Dick: Our philosophy was to work with a small number of really good growers and marketers, so relationship building was key. Vons would have not had the success in the produce division if it weren't for these relationships. We knew what the next great item was going to be usually prior to other retailers by working with the innovators like the Sun World people.
2:37 p.m. Tom: In today's environment, how much do you think retailers should value innovation versus just offering the lowest price to consumers? Does that equation change with the economy?
2:40 p.m. Dick: I believe it can be a combination of both. Lowest price is only one segment of the value equation and certainly innovation is another but there are even more like selection, quality, knowledgeable associates, etc.
2:42 p.m. Tom: What's a typical week/month like for you now? How can you compare consulting with a full time retail job, pros and cons?
2:46 p.m. Dick: When I first started my consulting business 11 1/2 years ago I worked full time. Now I have to say that was about 20 hours a week less that my typical work week at retail. I started to slow it down about a year ago and I now work about four days per week. My full time retail job prepared me for my consulting business. I loved the retail end of the business and my consulting business has been very rewarding both financially and personally. I get to continue to stay in the business I love and work with the selected people that I do work for. It is a great life and I see other ex retailers who are doing consulting and are doing very well.
2:48 p.m. Tom: Great answer. What are the things and people you think about when you reflect on your career? What do you think was your biggest contribution?
2:54 p.m. Dick: First, my wife and family that made it all possible for me to dedicate so much time and effort into both my company and then the industry affairs that I was involved in. Secondly, I had a great supporting group in the people I worked with and for that allowed me to do what I did. Thirdly, all the great people on the supply side that I had an opportunity to work with and learn from. Probably my biggest long lasting contribution was being the Chairman of the PMA's Produce Electronic Identification Board who created and managed the PLU's and UPC's for fresh produce and floral products. Without these the industry could not have moved forward on the tracking of produce sales at retail.
2:57 p.m. Tom: And today's progress toward traceability continues. I've kept you a while, and I appreciate your time. One more question ...Speaking about the recession again, what are two or three creative things you see retailers doing to keep produce sales strong, despite the weak economy?
3:04 p.m. Dick: I believe that as a retailer you have to stay aggressive. Fresh produce is still the cheapest thing in the supermarket and it is today's RX. The fresh produce department is still the envy of the rest of the supermarkets management’s team and the produce leaders have to aggressively move forward and not be afraid of shrink, food safety, and flat sales. Don't get me wrong, as you have to continue to manage all of these, but these all doable and you can still develop new items, create aggressive displays, and sell more produce-AT A PROFIT. I had a boss who once said a company doesn't grow unless there is a profit and it is not a sin to make a profit.
3:05 p.m. Tom: Dick, great to visit with you again. Thanks for making time today.