Seeing Opportunities Differently

December 2021 – An industry member called and explained that he wasn’t going to take a booth this year at the New York Produce Show and Conference. He had assessed the situation in light of the pandemic and felt that the number of people at the show would be down.

I told him a story: Ken Whitacre and I had just launched Produce Business magazine and sales weren’t exactly where we needed them to be. As some entrepreneur had launched a specialty food show in San Francisco, and his booth sales weren’t exactly where he needed them to be, we exchanged our unsold ad pages for his unsold booths and headed out to San Francisco for a show that featured almost no fresh produce.

The funny thing is… that it was a very successful trip. We went booth to booth, looking for things relevant to produce. One guy sold croutons, another had salad dressings, still another a baking mix to combine with bananas. These were companies and products that we would have thought secondary at a true produce show.

We spent lots of time with these exhibitors, had dinner with a few, hung out at the hotel bar with some others and, when it was done, it turned out to be a very profitable trip, a very successful show for the new Produce Business magazine.

My father was a super-smart guy. He was enormously successful in the produce business. At a trade show a few years ago, Berne Evans, the founder and CEO of Sun Pacific, once pulled me aside. He wanted to tell me about his interactions with my father. Dad was an exporter of produce and would, from time to time, call Berne to buy citrus for shipment overseas. Berne wanted to tell me that he found my career choice — in launching a magazine — interesting, because when my father would call and have a discussion with Berne, after they would hang up, Berne told me he would turn to his colleagues and say that Mike Prevor was so smart, he shouldn’t be buying produce, he should be writing articles or something.

I once asked my father, because he was, in fact, very smart, whether he had considered another career. He said he had and, in moments of reflection he wondered how successful he would have been had he taken another path.  We would never know, of course, but he basically said that in looking to paths to success, one had to look at the competition. Maybe there were geniuses at Harvard or MIT who could have out-traded him in produce, but we would never know because they went into other fields of endeavor.

Just as all people make choices that alter their future, I explained to my friend who was looking to pull out of our show that there is a kind of balance in life…  that if a place and a time is known to attract every buyer, almost always it attracts every seller. It makes it filled with potential but, almost inevitably, that potential is hard to realize.

When I go off to some giant foreign trade show, very often the best and most valuable experiences I have are not with the global trade but, rather, with some American guy, who I knew before going but we are both super busy in our own circles at the US trade shows. In Germany or Tokyo or Hong Kong, we find it easy to find time for dinner.

Getting involved in the trade show business by launching The New York Produce Show and Conference a dozen years ago has been illuminating. Partially because you see people in exactly identical circumstances, with an identical trade show booth on the trade show floor, but with they not only have wildly different outcomes but perceive the situation in wildly different ways.

So often two people in booths literally next door to each other or across the hall from each other will report wildly different experiences and outcomes. Almost inevitably, when you dig into the situation, you find that it is not the circumstances that were so different; it was the people themselves who are different, and that explains the outcomes.

Some people make their own destiny. Long before they went to that show, they were calling up the key buyers they wanted to meet and invited them to stop by the booth, to have drink, to meet for dinner. Not everyone said yes, of course, but enough did say yes to make their experience significantly better than those who never reached out at all.

Even at the event, some companies are so intent on selling their products that they forget to sell their customers. In fact, they often show up and just have no idea how different organization might view the exact same offer. They are so busy selling what they have that they forget to sell the customer what he or she needs.

The pandemic has caused many problems. One blessing, however, is it has broken patterns, and that creates an opportunity to reassess what we do, where we are and where we are going. The successes of tomorrow will come from those who used this post-pandemic moment to seize on opportunities that,  in a previous period, they would have neglected. pb