Seven years ago Seth Pemsler joined the Idaho Potato Commission, and Larry Whiteside of the commission’s retail field staff took him on the road to acquaint him with what the commission does.
“I came back and said there’s no way I could do that job,” said Pemsler, IPC retail/international vice president. “Back then they were traveling 45 weeks a year, and Larry was non-stop when he was on the road.”
That nonstop approach is something Whiteside, a regional retail promotion director, has maintained, even though he gave his retirement notice a year ago. The last day of his 22-year career with the commission is Dec. 31.
Pemsler said Whiteside not only increased retail participation in Potato Lovers Month promotions by 50% last season, he has been in full-tilt mode since then.
Frank Muir, commission president said no one will succeed Whiteside. His accounts will be redistributed.
Therefore, Whiteside has been logging extra miles this year in an aggressive transition period, making sure his three Field Force compatriots know his customers in more than a dozen states.
His customer base includes hundreds of retailers, but it’s not as big as it used to be.
“I used to spend a full week each in Detroit and Grand Rapids,” Whiteside said. “Now, with all of the mergers in recent years, I do both cities in one week.”
Besides mergers, Whiteside has seen many changes in his 22 years at the commission, and during the preceding 21 years when he worked for Safeway Inc. Many changes were related to technology, and Pemsler said Whiteside knew how to keep up with the times.
“Data services is one area in particular where Larry stepped up,” Pemsler said. “The field guys hadn’t worked with that kind of information before, but Larry saw the potential from the beginning and learned how to use it.”
No matter what the trend de jour was, Whiteside said he focused on his customers.
“One accomplishment I am proud of is my relationship with my retailers,” he said. “A counterpart once told me he could see that people really respected me. That is something I’m really proud of. It’s one thing to be liked, but to be respected by the people in your industry is really something.”
As for his plans after Dec. 31, the 66-year-old Whiteside said he will spend time with his passions: nature photography, fly fishing, running from grizzly bears during salmon season, diving with manatees off the Florida coast and “pickin’ and grinnin’ ” with his guitar and five-string banjo.
Field Force future?
As one of the IPC’s “Field Force” characters featured in comic book style promotional materials, Whiteside has a fan base that exceeds the boundaries of his Midwest sales territory.
Consequently, when he announced he would retire this year the commission had a tough decision: What should happen to Whiteside’s Field Force persona. Rather than have the character die a traumatic death in some sort of potato caper, the commission decided to allow him to retire gracefully.
A video of the Whiteside’s character and the other potato superheroes marking his retirement is available online.