We often talk about how the fresh fruit and vegetable industry is all about relationships. We do hundreds of thousands of transactions on a handshake – now a ‘virtual’ handshake.
Since opening Vanguard in 1991, we have always been focused on providing the very best customer service, and in turn, putting relationships at the forefront of everything we do. As we navigate this new world faced by a global pandemic, we find the players all along the supply chain are leaning on their trust in relationships more than ever to mitigate risk.
From the beginning, it was our strategy to establish quality assurance and grower relations teams in every major growing region around the world. Our inspection experts select and inspect the fruits and vegetables we supply to our customers to ensure that we are delivering on our promise of quality, food-safe, fresh, and tasty produce. However, perhaps most importantly, they are Vanguard’s ambassadors to our many grower partners around the world, and our customers have come to trust and rely on their eyes and taste buds. They can speak with confidence about market conditions for each category in the dozens of markets we serve. Our relationships with our growers go far beyond a simple buy/sell transaction.
We implemented in-market managers throughout Asia who provide an extra level of service to our growers and our customers, and who provide valuable feedback to our procurement and sales teams whether that be in Chile, Peru, South Africa, Europe, or the USA to name just a few.
Now, with travel suspended as a result of the pandemic, customers feel more comfortable working with companies they have known and built these important trusting relationships with. This goes for our growers as well. Growers consistently face financial challenges, so the reward of developing a direct relationship in a foreign market does not adequately match the high risk in doing so. More and more often we are hearing “Vanguard – we know you; we trust you; we like you; YOU are the experts at this international fruit and vegetable business. We want to grow our business WITH you, not around you.” And for this, we are thankful.
We don’t take this responsibility lightly. We believe that our sales teams are world-class when it comes to understanding the markets, and the customers we serve. How do we cultivate trust at Vanguard even while tackling challenges through a pandemic? The key is strengthening, not reducing the practices that are at the core of your organization.
The ‘sundowner’ rule
We have what we call our ‘sundowner rule’ at Vanguard, practiced globally. EVERY communication whether that be an email, WhatsApp, WeChat, text, or by phone MUST BE and IS responded to on the same day it is received. This company culture has allowed us to build strong relationships on both sides of the supply chain. It has cultivated trust with those we do business with, and we know this is even more critical during periods of crisis or concern.
Grower partners are paid every time
We have very robust protocols pertaining to accounts payable and receivable. Our grower partners get paid every time. Of course, inevitable challenges arise when products perish, but we work through these challenges as partners with our growers. We do this not only to establish a viable trust cycle, but to protect our customers, our grower partners, and our employees.
Put working relationships first
Our on-boarding of new customers at first glance might seem a tad onerous, but it allows us to provide best in class service, and ensure that relationships can be built on a very solid foundation. We build our professional sales relationships around three pillars: we know you; we trust you, and we like you. With these factors at the forefront, we are able to develop a working relationship that not only pleases and satisfies our customers, but surprises and delights all parties involved with how easy it can be to do business.
Whether it be a ‘regular’ day, or a day in the current climate, it is both gratifying and humbling to be able to respond to the needs of our grower partners and our customers. It is what we built our business on, and is just as important today as it was back in 1991.