The next gen: Building off what got us here

Kevin D’Arrigo

To be a wholesaler located on the Hunts Point Market in the City of New York is to be a wholesaler presented with an abundance of opportunities. We are in the epicenter of the largest buying market in the country. If a shipper needs to find a home for product due to overproduction or the willingness of direct customers to accept only certain sizes or grades, or if they want to introduce a new item or variety, this massive market allows us to showcase the innovative and to find the right home for each product and grade. At its core, we handle volumes that simply can’t be sold in smaller markets across the country.

Being geographically positioned to thrive, however, wouldn’t have been sufficient to set our company, or the Hunts Point Market, up for success. The development and longevity of the market wasn’t a forgone conclusion. The firms that make up the market were built by courageous, hardworking entrepreneurs. When my grandfather came down from Boston in 1948 to open the New York branch of the company, he worked “8 hours on, 4 hours off / 8 hours on, 4 hours off” for two straight years to get the company off the ground. His vision for the company was essentially a reflection of himself: be honest, be fair, treat everyone with respect.

The “Next Gens” have been fortunate enough to join great companies with strong foundations.

On my very first day of work, my grandmother rattled off a few stats: Only 30% of family businesses make it past the first generation, just 12% survive the second generation, and a mere 3% get out of the third generation. This sounded more like a warning than cheery words of encouragement. But the point was clear: family companies don’t run themselves, and they’re difficult to keep together, so you better be ready to work hard.

As the fourth generation entered D’Arrigo New York roughly seven years ago, we brought with us various experiences and skill sets, but probably most critically, ideas about how to improve the company (which won’t be a surprise to anybody working with Millennials). A lot of these ideas were technology-related and focused internally: upgrading our computer system, implementing Slack for inter-company communication, and corporatizing the HR department.

All of these changes improved the company, but as they were being developed, an important lesson became apparent: don’t lose sight of what’s really important. Be honest, be fair, and treat everyone with respect.

People drive any company, and people ultimately determine whether your business is a success or a failure. What good is renovating an older warehouse if you don’t have a competent, trustworthy foreman to run it? It’s easy to let yourself be consumed with organization charts while ignoring ways to foster an environment where people aren’t afraid to speak up with bold ideas or concerns about existing processes. Employees need to believe they are working for more than just a paycheck at the end of the week, but rather building a career with a company that needs and appreciates them. It helps if they can also perceive that the work is important and does some good for the world.

It is also important for people to perceive there are opportunities to grow personally and professionally, and that means being part of an organization on the move. With three members of the third generation and five members of the fourth generation engaged, we’ve redoubled our efforts in our core wholesale business, but we’ve also moved into areas such as delivered sales, cold chain management, cross-dock consolidation, banana ripening and marketing and merchandising support for growers. We expanded to better serve our customers and find new ones, of course. Yet growth helps us better serve our shippers and creates opportunity for our associates as well.

The past year and a half has offered the companies that make up the Hunts Point Market a rare opportunity to work together more closely than usual – providing masks, establishing market-wide safety protocols, and coping with a pandemic. For me personally, it was a chance to trade notes on other aspects of the business, which was a welcome break from dealing with the crisis. It also served as a reminder that we’re all grappling with the same fundamental challenges. How do you grow sales without sacrificing service to existing customers? How do you increase efficiency, while also boosting employee morale?

Through these discussions, I’ve learned that as we look to modernize and expand, we must build off of what got us here. The “Next Gens” – as the market elders have dubbed us – have been fortunate enough to join great companies with strong foundations. Understanding that this strength is derived from the strict adherence to our founders’ core values will be key to navigating the changing tides of the industry and planning for the future of the Hunts Point Market.

Kevin D’Arrigo is the vice president of operations for D’Arrigo New York. He is a part of the 4th generation of D’Arrigos to be working in the business.

This column was originally printed in the June 2021 issue of Produce Business.



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