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Anthony Marano Co. positions operation to continue growth

CHICAGO — The 420,000-square-foot warehouse operated here by Anthony Marano Co. works on some of the principles of a produce market. The temperature-controlled facility has refrigerated space that is competitive with any terminal market.

Anton J. Marano and Damon Marano, brothers who represent the next generation of management in the family-owned firm, discussed their company with The Produce News May 10. They work with their father, Anton Marano, within a firm established in 1946.

Anton J. Marano explained that the company operates seven departments, which are independently run — tomato, lettuce and mushroom, fruit, berry, potato and onion, vegetable and herb, and banana and pineapple. Walk-in buyers move from one department to the next. Thus, “We are a market in ourselves,” he said.

Counting different sizes and varieties of commodities, Anthony Marano handles as many as 1,500 items. Those are too many commodities for one buying or sales desk to handle.

Damon Marano elaborated, “It’s hard to be an informed sales rep” when dealing with too much information.

A natural question relates to a customer’s preference to deal with one salesperson from a firm, instead of seven. Anton J. Marano confirmed that “at the beginning” customers offered some resistance to the multiple department concept. “That turned a few people off but then they realized it is a benefit. We are doing the right thing for them. We are putting dollars in their pocket.”

A narrowed focus improves the efficiency of department buyers and sales representatives, too. Damon Marano noted that, in the first week of May the summer stone fruit deal was moving quickly. That fruit staff “can’t be worried about the arrival of a lettuce truck,” as happens in some businesses.

The Marano company was launched as a tomato repacker on Chicago’s South Water Street Market. There, the firm was located on the third floor of an old warehouse. As was the norm for South Water produce houses, Marano used an elevator to serve its customers. In 1991 the company moved to what was then a new, 35,000-square-foot facility. A decade later, Anton Marano built the first 240,000-square-feet of the existing facility. His South Water Street competitors were invited to work from the new facility. They declined and Anthony Marano has grown to utilize the space, which has since been expanded. Anthony Marano Co. has plenty of room for growth, as single-racked warehouses can still go three-high.

Anton J. Marano said his family’s warehouse has “the relationships and flexibility of a terminal market, but we service our customers like a full-line distributor.”

It is not the Marano philosophy to handle and sell out the same volume of each commodity every week. “We work with our growers and shippers.” If there is a production glut, 20 loads of a commodity may go into the facility one week. That volume may drop to three or four loads the next week, to assure providing adequate product “for our regular customers.”

Damon Marano added that the firm partners with customers and vendors in all phases of the business.

“We were always known as tomato people,” Anton J. Marano said. “But, in the last 15 years we have expanded to be a full-line distributor. We carry everything in volume.”

Eighty-five percent of the company’s volume is sold in a 90-mile range to Chicagoland’s 13 million inhabitants.

The other 15 percent of the business is service to Chicago-area customers’ sister companies in the Midwest. “We never pursued out of town business. We are worried about business in our backyard.” But, Anton J. Marano continued, “Given the size we are, we need to start finding partnerships outside the city. We’ve grown to the point we’ve done a great job of taking care of people in our own backyard. We have the ability now to take on business further away. We have the product, infrastructure and people here to serve new business, while continuing to service the people we’ve served for many years.”

Damon Marano said, “We have a lot of small mom-and-pop companies that started small and now have three, four or six stores and have really become good operators. That is part of the partnership” that Marano has with customers to help all businesses grow.

Marano keeps a fleet of eight straight trucks to complement 22 tractors and 40 trailers.

Marano’s warehouse has 77 dock doors, which are designed to keep adverse weather elements outdoors.

Within the North American produce business, Chicago is strategically in an ideal location, according to Anton J. Marano.

For grower-shippers in Mexico or California, the Northwest or Texas, Chicago, which is now the home of 13 million people, is the first major market. Produce suppliers who serve Chicago can minimize their transportation costs, he said.

Anton J. Marano added that for many Canadian growers, Chicago offers the same benefit.

“So, Chicago is a big produce player. Besides what we sell in the city, we move a fair amount of product out because we are the largest city in the middle of the country.”

Within Chicago, there are many ethnic populations who continue to cook at home, and in the style of, their old countries, Mr. Marano added.