Dallas Direct Distributing LLC: Brokering Fresh Produce and Service Excellence

Steven Ford, owner of Dallas Direct Distributing LLC (DDD), has a quarter-century of experience in the produce brokerage business. “Before we started DDD, my partner and I worked together for Delmonte Fresh Produce [Delmonte],” explains Ford.

Ford was the sales manager of Delmonte’s produce brokerage department. “I was with Tom Lange Co. for 12 years, then I was with Standard Fruit and Vegetable for five years before it was bought out by Delmonte in 2003,” he explains. Ford and his partner Tommy Miles struck out on their own four years after the buyout, founding DDD in fall 2007.

Ford and Miles have since found success utilizing a network of loyal clients who opted to move their business to DDD. Through experience and longevity the duo has established a reputation in northern Texas for reliability, competitive pricing, experience and excellence in service. Time and time again clients stick with DDD because the brokers have an outstanding familiarity with the region and its supply needs. “Combining the years that I have spent in northern Texas with Tommy’s 15 years of experience has cemented many strong relationships,” says Ford.

A Fresh Supply

DDD sources its fresh produce from suppliers all over North America. “We bring our clients produce from the 48 continental states and imports from Mexico,” says Ford. In an increasingly competitive market, Ford and Miles have perfected the art of timely delivery, because falling short in this area is one of the biggest deal-breakers for retail and foodservice clients. “We don’t see a lot of client turnover,” explains Ford. “We know who we’re selling to and what their needs are. We have built solid relationships over years of working with those same customers over and over.”

The company may only have four employees, but each has been in the business for years. “Our business has stayed fairly level,” says Ford. “We’re about the same size we were when we started.” Ford and Miles, always a step ahead of the game, were well-prepared to accommodate a changing market through the downturn. Flexibility has been a major component in the business’ success. “We’ve seen our customers as well as their customers changing their buying habits,” says Ford. “We have tried to stay a jump ahead to create a successful business model.”

Market Changes

Ford says the market has gotten a lot smaller since DDD was founded. “These days we’re competing for every dollar,” he says. “People are buying direct from shippers, growers and brokers rather than through wholesalers, and that has forced a lot of direct vendors to provide better service and quality at better pricing. You really have to get products there on time. If it’s late, a lot of buyers have established that the vendor covers the cost.”

Companies that cannot meet the level of service required by customers are passed over for companies that can. “Over the next few years I think we’re going to see fewer people in my business if they can’t build those relationships or don’t have the financing,” Ford explains. “We’re also not going to see new businesses starting up like we did and others have in the ’90s and early 2000s due to the ability to acquire operating capital.”

DDD’s clients have tightened their belts, and Ford says his company trimmed down to survive the market dip. “It’s slowly coming back now, but customers are playing business very close to the vest in a way they didn’t do before the downturn,” explains Ford. Still, he has no plans for any big expansions. “We’re doing business with about the same market shares as when we opened our doors five years ago,” says Ford. “We started strong and have lost customers, but we gained new ones to replace the lost ones. Overall the business is running about even.” For the most part, Ford’s products are going to the same places they always were, but now through a more direct route.

Overall, Ford is satisfied with the size of the company. “We’re looking at new customers all the time,” he says. “But we’re not looking at any major growth plans. We’re not looking to expand to multiple offices. We’re just looking for good, steady business.” Ford clarifies that the focus of his business is not to be the biggest supplier, but to consistently provide customers with experienced, knowledgeable service. “And continue on into the sunset,” he laughs. “Basically, Tommy and I are in our later years of business.” Ford’s son also worked at DDD for a few years; however, his father says, “It’s just not his cup of tea. I don’t think he’ll be taking it over when we retire.”

As of now, steady operations are the focus for Ford and his team. “We’re going to keep doing what we do best,” he says. DDD will maintain attention on the customer both from a service standpoint and from the aspect of updating the business model to remain sustainable. Ford thinks the turnaround has a long way to go and the most important thing a business owner can do is pay attention to consumer patterns. Dallas Direct Distributing has built the reputation and relationships to stay competitive while maintaining an advantage through dedicated market research.