My 5th week blog from TMK

This week and the next couple weeks I am continuing to work on my marketing project that I described previously. During the last couple of weeks I had been surveying existing customers, but this week I started to work on potential new customers. Two markets I worked with are Delicious Orchards and Red Top Market, both in New Jersey and not current TMK customers.

Delicious Orchards front blog week 5

Red Top Market blog week 5

With these farm market and roadside stand owners, I learned that I had to take a more conservative approach when first trying to break the ice. I designed my survey so the wording was not too aggressive by first emphasizing that I wasn’t trying to persuade them to buy from us. Rather, I asked them to consider if they feel that they are maximizing their current opportunities with their present suppliers. Their responses showed that these markets put the greatest emphasis on high quality produce, and less so on price. What I also observed in these markets is that most of them were carrying lower grade produce than TMK could supply them with.

Next, I asked them if they have ever been down to the PWPM or if they currently buy off of a vendor within the market. If they answered yes, then I kindly urged them to stop by TMK next time they are there and check out our selection of produce. If they answered no, I invited them into TMK at any time of their convenience and gave them a free entry pass and brochure of the market showing what gives us a competitive advantage over everyone else.

Many of these owners answered that they have not been down to the PWPM in years, and some not ever. Red Top Farms owner, Mary, said that she has not been down to the market in over 6 years. When she opened the brochure I saw her eyes light up as she began to blush and said “this looks nothing like the market I remember.” I told her that a new facility got built and opened in June 2011 and that it is fully enclosed and refrigerated.  Here’s a photo down the main hallway of PWPM showing the impressive facility:

PWPM for blog 5

Redtop currently buys from one of TMK’s main competitors and she said that he does “everything” for her including the buying, storing, and transporting of the produce. Her relationship with him dates back more than 30 years so I did not want to be too pushy when telling her that her produce was not worth what she was buying it for. My goal was to get her to come into the market because if she did, there was no way to avoid going into TMK due to it being located near multiple entry points and also carrying the largest variety of fruit in the market. Once she saw our offerings she would surely realize the opportunities she has been missing out on.

TMK for blog 5

The main thing I have learned during the early stages of this project is that the roadside stands and farm market owners are too content with their current situation. If they took the initiative to reach out to new suppliers or make the drive down to the PWPM they would surely realize the great opportunities they are missing out on. Some goals of this project are for me to learn about customer behavior and for me to engage with current and potential customers, but if I could acquire a new customer along the way that would surely boost my value and meaningfulness to TMK. If Redtop and other farms are unresponsive then I will make my way back there with a more aggressive mindset and a carload of free samples to help sway their minds.

The 4th week of my internship at TMK

During this week of my internship at TMK, I started working on my market research project. The purpose of this project is to visit existing roadside stands and farm market customers in the general geographic area around Philadelphia, and survey them with a list of questions that I composed. The questions probe the customer’s satisfaction with TMK produce and customer service, and also explore the customer’s buying and selling habits, as well as the buying habits of the farm markets’ customers. This will help TMK get a better understanding of current and new market trends. The survey also invites the customers to visit the Philadelphia Wholesale Product Market so they can better appreciate what the Market can offer and how that can help these markets to expand their product offerings and build their businesses. While they are at PWPM these farm market customers will also see the TMK operation and learn how it is the largest, most significant produce distributor at PWPM. With TMK’s vast range of high quality fruit and vegetable produce, we believe that seeing what we offer will help build our business with these existing customers.

Another part of this project is to visit roadside produce stands and farm markets that are not current customers. One of the main questions I ask is if they have ever visited PWPM. I encourage them to visit by giving them a free entry pass so they can see the great variety of produce offered by PWPM and TMK. Other questions in the survey explore their satisfaction with their current product offerings; if they have interest in expanding the types of produce they offer; if they are satisfied with their current suppliers; or would like to add TMK or one of the other PWPM companies to their preferred supplier list.

The first area that I visited was in central and south New Jersey. One of the typical TMK customers that I visited was Grasso Girls Farm Market in Mullica Hill, NJ. This is a family operation that has been in business since 1924. Over the years they expanded their offerings from just the small amounts of produce they grew on their farm, and added produce from other distributors, as well as other products that would be attractive to their customers.

Another business I visited was Russo’s Fruit and Vegetable Farm in Tabernacle, New Jersey. Russo also has an operation at the Trenton Farmers’ Market. Fresh, homemade pies, cakes, and various fruit juices are other popular products also offered by this market.

In the next couple of weeks I will continue to visit existing customers, and also start to visit some potential new customers. So far I am finding this project to be very rewarding, not only because it can help TMK and PWPM to expand their business, but also because the places I am visiting and people I am interviewing are potential contacts that I can use in the future.

My 3rd week at TMK internship

One of the more interesting experiences I had this week was participating in a marketing meeting. In addition to me and my boss Tom from TMK, the meeting included the wholesale produce market’s general manager, Dan Kane, and the director of marketing, Christine Hofmann, as well as representatives from several other companies who operate in the market. Topics included a new billboard advertising campaign with Clear Channel Outdoor Advertising and the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market’s participation in a large produce market convention in New York City later this year. Clear Channel Outdoor presented several billboard designs that were discussed at the meeting and we developed feedback to work toward a finalized billboard design as well as an expanded advertising campaign. For the NYC tradeshow, we discussed the design and content of a new video presentation that would best highlight the PWPM’s benefits to customers.  For example, here is an existing TMK ad:

Another interesting and challenging project that I started this week was a plan to visit many local roadside produce stands and farm markets. The goal of this project is to measure the level of satisfaction these customers have with us as suppliers. I am now doing some research to identify new and existing customers and what questions to ask that will help us better serve them and possibly expand our business.

Week 2 at TMK

Over the past week, my work at TMK has continued to expand into new areas and I was able to get more involved in important business activities. I had several interesting experiences that I think are also great learning experiences. My boss, Tom Kovacevich, asked me to accompany him on a visit to Long Island, NY to meet with a company called William H. Kopke, Jr., Inc. This company is a major importer and exporter of produce and has been in the business for over 70 years importing the finest fruits and vegetables from around the world and distributing throughout the U.S. The purpose of this meeting was to introduce a Chinese distributor of chestnuts and apples to Mr. Kopke to help expand the Chinese company’s contacts in the United States. Mr. Kovacevich was already a good customer and was able to connect the two business men. One of the important lessons I learned was how important it is in this business to network with your contacts. Another valuable observation I made was how important a company’s or person’s good business reputation is for growing the business. Because TMK and Tom Kovacevich have such an outstanding reputation, even new contacts and businesses have a deep trust that facilitates business agreements with less concern about being taken advantage of or making a bad deal.

Back at TMK, I was able to discuss work-related issues with my fellow employees to get their experienced comments. In this produce business it is important to keep in perspective that we are selling perishable products that must be properly cared for and sold while still in optimum condition. In some cases it is better to sell remaining inventory of a fruit or vegetable at lower price to make sure it does not degrade to an undesirable level. It is a fine balancing act to know how high to start the selling price for a top quality product and when and how much to lower it, and to what customers, in order to meet shelf life limitations while still satisfying the customer’s needs.

I’m glad that my responsibilities at TMK are really starting to pick up and I am being put into roles that show a growing trust and interest in my input.

My internship at TMK Produce Company

After interviewing for many internships, I finally decided that TMK Produce Company would be the greatest learning experience for me. TMK is a wholesale produce company located in the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market (PWPM). As stated on PWPM’s website, PWPM is “the world’s largest fully-enclosed, fully-refrigerated wholesale produce terminal. The facility’s main building is one-quarter of a mile long and 686,000 square feet — bigger than 14 football fields!  Its most distinguishing operational benefit is cold-chain protection for our fresh fruits and vegetables. This assures freshness, food safety, quality and maximizes shelf life.”  For anyone interested in learning more about PWPM than I can say here, this is a good video of the operation:

 

TMK is the largest of the twenty two companies in the market, and they have grown significantly in the past six years after moving from the old produce market near the Philadelphia Eagles stadium.  TMK is open 24 hours a day, from Sunday morning to Friday afternoon, and Saturdays by appointment and they handle a wide selection of premium fruits and vegetables mostly to wholesale customers, but the public is also welcome to shop there.

Here is a photo of PWPM main entrance area and loading docks:

Here I am in a TMK office area overlooking the PWPM main hallway:

This is a photo of the main showroom area for TMK:

As stated on TMK’s website, “TMK operates out of our 2000 pallet facility located within the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market. The “Market” features roughly 25 companies that together offer an incredible selection of the finest produce available in the world. Combined sales of the “Market” is estimated to be over 1 billion dollars. Fresh produce arrives by air, truck and rail 24 hours a day, every day. The “Market” is ideally located just off interstates 95 and 76, and just minutes from the Ports of Philadelphia, PA, Camden, NJ and Wilmington, DE. Philadelphia International Airport is just a 5-minute drive.”  Considering what a unique facility the PWPM is, I am very happy for the internship opportunity I am experiencing this summer.

I applied for many internships in the Midwest region including SpartanNash, Kroger, and Aldi, but now I feel that none of these internships would teach me about the same things as TMK. Many of these other companies seemed to have a personnel management focus where managing people would be my ultimate role. Managing the kinds of people that work at TMK cannot be taught in a book, nor learned in a tutorial, but instead you need to work with these people hands on, learn their unique system of values and what managing methods motivate these workers in the most effective way. That may sound like a universal approach, but many of the employees at TMK did not graduate college, and many of them are labor workers and spend long hours moving produce throughout the warehouse. I did not know what to expect being a college student from an affluent suburban area going into this workplace filled with many less formally educated, inner city people. As I am learning, these people have a different sense of humor, different hobbies, and wake up thinking differently than most college kids that I know. In order to fit in I needed to adapt my mindset. Fortunately, this transition was rather smooth for me.  I have always had friends from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds and these friendships taught me about how to have a good conversation and make it meaningful regardless of a person’s background.

My father was the one who recommended I call Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market and get inquiries about an internship. After a few tries I finally reached Christine Hofmann, Director of Marketing for PWPM. She was very pleased to hear from a college student looking for an internship job since she knew the market needed more focus on marketing. She recommended that I call the largest supplier in the market, TMK. She then put me in contact with Tom Kovacevich, President and COO of TMK. He informed me that they have never had an intern at TMK but he was also very interested in seeing if we could arrange a mutually beneficial experience where I could learn and also contribute. This just motivated me more to get in there and learn as much about their system as possible.  There is a lot for me to learn about the sustainable sourcing, supply chain management, logistics of receiving and shipping produce in such large quantities, and about the sales process to wholesale customers.

As the days go by and I learn more and more about the wholesale produce market operations, my eyes are opening up on how to manage the work and people in such a unique and under-appreciated workplace. One of the goals I already established for myself, with Tom Kovacevich’s full support, is to find ways to spread the word on what a valuable and unique facility the PWPM is not only for their customers but also for the local economy and community, and how TMK plays an important role in the market’s success.