Details may change but concepts like consistently high-quality produce that catch the consumer’s attention and lure repeat sales remain the bedrock of success at retail in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., region, according to produce suppliers there.

“I guess it’s the same as success anywhere: The less that goes out the back door, the more goes in your pocket,” said Joe Rahll, vice president of Edward G. Rahll & Sons Inc., a Jessup, Md.-based wholesaler. “Getting the proper mark up and cutting down on shrinkage is the key.”

Retailers’ attention to detail is crucial, said Stan Steppa, vice president and general manager of Magruder Inc., a seven-store retail chain based in Rockville, Md.

“It’s like this: A can of beans is what it is, no matter whether you buy it here or there,” Steppa said. “It makes no difference. But there is a difference with fresh broccoli or lettuce.”

It’s not complicated, Steppa added.

“Here’s the deal: There is a difference between perishable merchandise, as opposed to a can of pork and beans. There’s a difference in the way people take care of things. There’s a difference in where it comes from.

“There’s a difference in price, too. There’s certain items like iceberg lettuce that, if you don’t buy it from the West, you don’t buy it because it’s not a handsome product.”

Steppa says that philosophy enables his stores to compete with much bigger rivals in the region.
“We only survive because of our produce,” he said. “And, we’ve only been here since 1875, and we’re still eating.”

Magruder also seems to know its customer base, too, which helps, Steppa said.

“We seem to survive better in an ethnic area where you have Orientals, Jews, Greeks and Italians. They seem to want to shop our stores,” he said. “And restaurants have found out they can make a better deal with us than buying from somebody else.”

Jerry Chadwick, vice president of marketing and business development for Jessup-based Lancaster Foods Inc., said the key driver at retail always will be quality.

“Consumers will pay for it, and they get frustrated if the product isn’t rotated properly,” he said. “It’s about presentation and effective merchandising. It’s getting seasonal items and getting attractive price points, which certainly drive a lot of volume, but it all begins with the quality and presentation.”

Packaging can play a role, as well, said Gus Pappas, president of Pete Pappas & Sons Inc., a Washington, D.C., wholesaler.

“We’ve seen a definite growth of club packs,” he said. “Tomatoes, people have gone away from smaller packaging of singe, double and triple tomatoes to a bulk gas tomato or vine-ripe. On strawberries, you’re seeing the bigger-volume club packs.”

Success at retail is knowing what a particular customer wants and delivering the right product every time, said Paul Pappas, chief operating officer of Keany Produce Co., Landover, Md.

“It’s a value you bring to your customer,” he said. “If you have a cost-conscious customer, you bring the best value for the products. If you have a quality-conscious customer, you concentrate on providing what your customer wants.”

Adaptability also is important to retail success, said Lolo Mengel, co-owner and general manager of Coosemans D.C. Inc., Jessup.

“For us, it’s been being very flexible, being able to change your focus at the drop of a hat,” she said. “You feel a trend changing, and you need to be able to act on it.”