By Chuck Anderson
Published on Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Bernie Chester was the long time director of seafood for the Wakefern ShopRite organization from the 1960’s to the late 1980’s. Wakefern had a great seafood program then, and has a great seafood program to this day. Bernie was a pioneer in the retail seafood business and was my mentor and my friend. He taught me about buying seafood, but more importantly, he taught me how to buy seafood the right way. The concepts and principles Bernie worked by, I call the Bernie principles. They are now my principles.
The Bernie principles:
1. Quality, service, price, sustainability. Quality first. When making any business decision, these are the priorities to keep in mind. If the decision helps the quality of product, it is probably a good move, and vice versa. Every decision should be measured against these priorities, in this order. This also applies to judging suppliers. Sustainability is not the word Bernie Chester used, because the term had not been used in this context yet. Bernie said every product had to be from a well managed fishery or farm.
2. Buy Direct. This is simple and straightforward. Buy from the direct points of production, and reduce middlemen whenever possible. This fits with principle No. 1, because buying direct can reduce time from water to seafood case, reduce cost and ensure products are from well-managed sources. This also helps to keep the finger on the pulse of the market.
3. Keep a finger on the pulse of the customer. Customers are the final judge of product winners and losers. Use scan data, consumer interviews, seafood manager feed back, or any source available to better understand the customer. Seafood marketing should be about buying what the customer wants, not selling what you have.
4. Keep a finger on the pulse of the market. Set aside a few hours each week to visit or call suppliers to find our what is happening in that market. Try to stay current on two or three markets each week. Tell suppliers to call whenever market dynamics are changing. This is part of good service from a supplier. Perform periodic reviews of products or categories to understand the nuances of buying that market. Make announced and unannounced visits to suppliers as feasible. So much can be learned by visiting the points of production and asking simple questions.
5. Be Fair. Treat suppliers how you want to be treated. Take every phone call, return every call, be polite, and be fair. Perform reviews or bids of products and categories on a planned periodic basis. Call the losers of the bid, before calling the winners. Be honest, tell them why the choice went to another supplier.
6. Be Flexible. Products change, markets changes, customers change, companies change, people change. Be flexible about everything, except the principle of quality first.
The Bernie Principles have served me well, and are the right way to buy in this crazy thing we call the seafood business.