Date: Nov 01, 2014
Magazine:
November 2014: Drought Diagnosis--Difficult Year Ahead

OR Member

 

John Botsford

Botsford & Goodfellow Inc.

Portland, OR

Member Since 1985

 

BACKGROUND:  John Botsford and Bob Goodfellow were produce brokers in Portland, OR, working together for another company when the owner decided to retire.  In 1965, the two men bought the firm, changed its name and Botsford & Goodfellow Inc. opened its doors.  As the company is getting ready to celebrate its 50th year in business, a lot has changed.  But the firm still operates as a produce brokerage and distributor, and Chuck Botsford, John Botsford’s son, is still running the organization.

THE EARLY YEARS: Botsford & Goodfellow began their firm with several core products, including watermelons, potatoes, onions, cantaloupes and many different lettuce varieties from California.  They were a national firm, but a majority of their customers were in the Northwest.  “We started as brokers, but we patterned our business after the sales organizations that existed for growers,” said Chuck, who joined his father’s firm in 1970 at the age of 25.  “We basically represented growers.”

ENDURING RELATIONSHIPS: The company began with several grower deals and grew significantly over the years.  But much of that growth was organic as many of those core deals grew, and Botsford & Goodfellow still represents them today.  For example, in 1965, the firm represented a Hermiston, OR, grower named Skip Walchli.  Today Skip and his son still grow melons, potatoes and other crops and still market their product through Botsford & Goodfellow.  In fact, Chuck says they market most of the potatoes and watermelons grown in the Hermiston area.  “There are five watermelon growers over there now,” he said.

Bill Case Farms is another grower that has been selling its products through Botsford & Goodfellow for more than 40 years.  “We began selling his corn in 1971,” Chuck recalled as he rattled off another half dozen long-standing grower relationships the firm has, including one with longtime WG member Pasquinelli Produce.

A DIVERSIFIED COMPANY: Though the original model and many of those early core items still make up the bulk of the business for Botsford & Goodfellow, it has also diversified over the years adding products and services as the need arose.

On the product side, Chuck Botsford listed mangos as a relatively new item that is very important in the firm’s commodity mix.  “Mangos are an item we didn’t handle and now we sell them in huge numbers,” he said.

On the services side, the company has a transportation department and also a unique software package for the fresh produce industry.  Long before it was commonplace, decades ago, this Portland produce firm had an information technology (IT) department that started writing its own software package to electronically handle the ordering, invoicing and other data entry elements unique to the industry.  After developing a usable program, Botsford & Goodfellow put it out on the open market and sold it to other firms to help defray development costs.  “We never really pursued that as a business, but at its peak we had about 12–15 firms using our software package,” he said.  “Right now we have eight companies still using it.”

But Botsford quickly added that the entire software program has recently been rewritten, updated and made better than ever.  “We are going to make a more concerted effort to market it,” he promised.

TRANSITIONS: About 30 years ago, Chuck Botsford bought Botsford & Goodfellow from his father.  Several years earlier, Bob Goodfellow was bought out as he was ready to retire. Now it was John Botsford’s turn.  “I actually bought him out a couple of years before he retired, which was a little strange as he then started working for me.  Let’s just say we had a love-hate relationship,” he joked.

Now, Chuck can see his retirement on the horizon (“four or five years down the road”) and he is in the process of selling the company to a handful of longtime employees, including his son John.

A CHANGING INDUSTRY: As Chuck reflected on his almost 45 years in the business, he said there have been lots of changes.  “When I started, there were six full-service brokers in Portland.  We are really the only one left.  There are a couple of others that dabble on the side, but we are the only company still doing it full time.”

And back then, Botsford & Goodfellow consisted of the owners, Chuck, another guy on the sales desk and three women in the office.  Today the firm has 20 employees, two offices (Seattle and Portland), the aforementioned IT department and all the other departments necessary to run a dynamic produce company.

Though there have been lots of changes, Chuck said the original business model still works and expects it will for a long time coming.  “There has been a lot of consolidation at retail and elsewhere and that has helped us.  People look at us for their year-round supplies of a lot of items, such as watermelons.  We have the Yuma deal, and when that’s done, we have the Hermiston watermelons.”

He said consolidation has meant fewer players at the supply level and that retailers need to rely more heavily on reliable distributors that do have multiple grower deals.

THE WESTERN GROWERS CONNECTION: Chuck Botsford and Gary Pasquinelli first met when they were about 12 or 13 in the 1950s, Chuck remembered.  “My father and Pete Pasquinelli were good friends.”

In fact, when Botsford & Goodfellow opened their doors in 1965, they were selling watermelons grown by Pasquinelli Produce from Yuma, AZ.  Chuck and Gary continued the relationship as they got involved in their family operations.  Today they are partners in the watermelon deal.  Gary grows them and Chuck sells them.

As Gary became a director and more involved in Western Growers, Botsford & Goodfellow joined the association and has remained a member in good standing ever since.

“Gary got us involved, and so that’s why we joined, but we have always aligned ourselves with growers.  They are the backbone of our industry.  And Western Growers is a different organization than most,” Botsford said.  “They are all about taking care of the farmer and making sure the grower survives.”

At this writing in mid-October, Chuck Botsford is scheduled to attend the WG Annual Meeting in Las Vegas in early November, primarily to honor his friend and partner, Gary Pasquinelli, this year’s Award of Honor recipient.

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