With the exception of bananas, G.W. Palmer offers every commodity – from 2,000-pound potato “totes” to 4-ounce spices – to retail, wholesale and foodservice clients. From its headquarters in Memphis, Tenn., and satellite operations in Nashville, Tenn.; Clearwater, Fla.; Elba, N.Y.; and Pismo Beach, Salinas and Upland, Calif., G.W. Palmer is a brokerage company that is known throughout the United States and internationally.
A strong reputation cannot be achieved overnight, however, and it has to be maintained day in and day out, consistently and efficiently, Palmer says.
“We base our relationships with customers on proven product,” he says. “Customers look to us for quality, and we have to stand behind what we sell. The produce industry is very efficient in identifying a company’s character. Therefore, if you’re in business for a long time, you must be doing something right.”
G.W. Palmer has been in business since 1929. That year, Gilbert Watson Palmer (Alston’s grandfather) set out on his own after working for many years with the Fruit Dispatch Service, which was a division of United Fruit Co. and a forerunner of Chiquita Banana. Sales contracts were handled across town and across the continent through Western Union telegraphs, a far cry from today’s telephone, fax and e-mail options.
Since then, the business has withstood the Great Depression, World War II and many economic highs and lows. Alston Palmer believes his firm has succeeded where others haven’t due to both the company’s and each broker’s high standings in the industry and in their communities. The continuous focus of G.W. Palmer since its inception, he says, has been on honesty and integrity.
“My grandfather started this company in 1929, my father joined him in 1946 after WWII, and I started here in 1980,” he says. “The core founding principle was integrity, and we’ve all worked to uphold that. This is a very competitive industry, but you have to stay true to your work, even though that’s an everyday chore. It’s constant work to maintain your contacts, but that’s extremely important. It’s all about standing behind everything you say and do.
“We represent our shippers to our customers and our customers to our shippers,” he adds. “If there is a dispute, we have to do what is right by both parties. That, I believe, is our strength.”
Handshakes Remain Superior
One of the constant challenges G.W. Palmer faces is that it is always at the mercy of its shippers, its trucks and the weather. Therefore, it must maintain close contact with its suppliers – companies that include Sunkist, Dole, River Ranch and the Holland brand of produce from Buurma Farms – speaking with them three to four times daily. Palmer says this business requires an hour-by-hour focus on detail and service, and that it must maintain hands-on, working relationships with its suppliers and customers to remain successful.
In fact, close contact with suppliers and customers is still the most important part of the business, Palmer stresses, even as technology continues to advance. “This is still very much a handshake-agreement business,” he says. “It’s hard to replace one-on-one relationships with any kind of technology, because it’s those relationships built on trust that drive the business.”
It goes without saying, therefore, that knowledgeable and service-focused people succeed in this market, and these are exactly the type of people G.W. Palmer keeps on board. The majority of G.W. Palmer’s employees are industry veterans with 15-plus years of experience, Palmer says, and their combined experience is bolstered by the fact that many come from different sectors of the industry, including those who have spent time in the past as suppliers, shippers, retailers or brokers for other firms.
“This is not an 8 to 5 job, and it takes a special person to succeed in this business, so we are grateful for all of the dedicated people we have with us,” Palmer says. “It’s the work ethic that everyone here maintains. Our people are not only working to keep our customers happy, but they also understand that this business requires around-the-clock contact. We know we have to be available to solve problems whenever they occur. It’s the maintenance of this high-integrity culture within our operation that really makes me proud.”
‘An Integral Part’
In January 2008, G.W. Palmer stretched outward and established G.W. Palmer Logistics (GWPL). Alston Palmer, with his many years of experience in the produce industry, partnered with Bobby McClure of Left Lane Transportation Inc. and Earl Wayne Dowell of Dowell Transport Inc. to create a multistate brokerage and use their long-term relationships to increase their carrier and customer databases.
Palmer is confident G.W. Palmer will continue to grow, even while the economy remains slow.
“In this economy, there is a continued consolidation of shippers, growers and customers, but we’re in the middle of all of that,” he says. “Regardless of how the economy is performing, American consumers still demand the highest-quality produce, and we plan to remain an integral part.”