FreshKO Produce Services
Manny Robles and Randal Shepherd founded FreshKO Produce Services (FPS) in 2002. The partners each bring decades of experience in the highly competitive produce trade to the table and independently built their careers from small operations to major distributors. “I ran a roadside produce stand in high school for three years,” Manny recounts. “After I graduated, I started selling fruits and vegetables out of a truck for the owner, serving flea markets and wholesalers. Eventually, I got a warehouse and got into larger sales.”
Meanwhile, Randal got his start in an open air fruit stand in California. He also delivered produce to small restaurants and drive-ins. On weekends, he sold fruit on the side of the road from his truck before becoming a route salesman in Fresno, Calif., for another company. After several years, he was promoted to sales manager of the business when he met Manny. Together, Randal and Manny founded ProPoint Distributors in Hollister, Calif. The duo started with one bobtail truck, a semi and a trailer, making direct store deliveries. By the time the partners bowed out, the business had seven trucks.
The opportunity to start FPS came about when Food Services of America moved into a new facility. The former building was left unoccupied. Manny and Randal jumped at the opportunity. The partners purchased all of the equipment and leased the facility for three years before purchasing. One year later, the company was growing and the partners built an addition.
Now the growing business operates a 24-hour produce distribution business in Fresno, Calif., serving clients north of Los Angeles and south of Santa Rosa, Calif. FPS’s customers include mostly smaller, independent grocers, although the team works as a secondary supplier for large chain stores. The company offers a broad range of fruits and vegetables, sourcing product from major, international brands, as well as small, local growers.
The selection of produce is broad and continues to grow. Manny and Randal work closely with customers to meet the changing demands of consumers. FPS’s facilities include 50,000 square feet of refrigerated warehouse space for storage, 16 loading bays, nine climate controlled rooms, and nine ripening rooms to ensure avocados, tomatoes and bananas are perfectly ripened for customers.
While customers enjoy high-quality service and products, FPS also helps buyers sell their produce. The company’s power marketing program aids retailers in putting together efficient marketing campaigns and initiatives to draw in customers. Services include ad-writing, opportunistic purchasing, department design and display assistance.
Creating a company culture
The produce market in California is highly competitive and presents challenges to business owners. “It’s a tough place to do business,” Manny explains. “There are tight regulations for transportation, which has meant that we have to hire more drivers. That has added to our overhead. We have a lot of good people here, but it is not for everyone. We build a certain culture here and take good care of our people, but not everyone wants to be a part of that so we do have a fair amount of turnover. Many of our employees work overnight and/or in the refrigerator. We offer a great benefits package though and we are non-union. We have a great safety record.”
Manny and Randal are people-oriented in business, whether with employees, strategic partners or customers. These relationships have helped the business to grow, increasing customer range geographic footprint. “Our focus is on service and quality,” Manny notes. “We don’t say no very often. We measure our success in numbers, gauging our volume and our profit margins. The more important number, however, is the number of customers we can gain and keep.”
So far, the numbers look good. The business continues to attract new clientele while working to maximize efficiency and provide the best service all while keeping the business safe. Manny and Randal are looking ahead to growth in the coming years through several avenues.
In an effort to meet the needs of consumers, Manny says his team has taken on more traction in organic produce in recent months. “Our primary customer is the small, independent neighborhood market,” he explains. “For the most part, organic products are not the main focus. The trend is growing, though. We also do a lot of produce-related items and packaged combinations. We have a juice line, a salad line, croutons and dried fruits.”
By catering to the market, FPS is a good fit for each individual customer. Business owners can build custom inventory based on consumer trends, boosting business and keeping margins high. As the company attracts new business, Manny and Randal are looking to grow physically. The team is looking to expand to new locations over the next one to two years. FreshKO Produce Services will be able to offer the same high-quality services, products and peace of mind to an expanded radius.