Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chat - John Toner


Here is a Fresh Talk chat conducted Jan. 28 with John Toner, who is vice president for convention and industry relations for the United Fresh Produce Association. The veteran of United Fresh of nearly 10 years has key responsibility for the April 21-April 24 United Fresh show in Las Vegas.




8:31 AM me: John, are you there?
john.toner.v: yep
8:32 AM me: Great. Thanks for making time for another Fresh Talk chat. First of all, where did you grow up, and what was your hometown "famous" for?
8:33 AM john.toner.v: I was actually born four city blocks away from our office at the GW Hospital. I grew up in Arlington, VA but trace my roots back to Pittsburgh where my grandparents lived and spent lots of quality time on Southside - Go Steelers! I also grew up spending summers at Lake George in the Adirondacks.
8:34 AM What's Arlington famous for? The cemetery, Pentagon, "inside the beltway"
8:35 AM me: We know your Super Bowl pick then, don't we?
john.toner.v: Yep, although I am a bit nervous. The Cardinals know our offense better than we do.
8:36 AM me: This is sort of an off the wall question, but what would you say are the "words of wisdom" or "words to live by" from your mom or dad?
8:37 AM john.toner.v: It's actually from Calvin Coolidge: "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan press on has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."
8:38 AM me: I like that. I think Churchill had a quote like that -- keep trying
8:40 AM john.toner.v: Also, I was taught when it comes to business - it's not a quotable quote that I know of - "When doing a deal with that has 4 zeros, shake a hand; when it has 5 zeros, see the office" that's a fundamental part of why we are in the financial mess we are in. Not knowing enough about one's business partners. I am nervous for my generation who thinks everything can be done through the internet. Trust cannot be established through the internet - that has to be face-to-face.
8:45 AM meHow did your career path lead you to United after college?
8:46 AM john.toner.v: How soon did I find United? I was working at Safeway(I worked nights in produce/dairy - double pay for the night shift) and started temping in accounting departments during daylight hours. One of my college fraternity brother's sister friends worked at United and so I knew socially Jeff Oberman. They were looking for help, and one thing led to another and I had a job.
8:47 AM I am a strong believer in joining things for the common good and a trade association seemed like a good fit for me, and so it has.
8:49 AM me: To follow up, you have been at United nearly 10 years by my accounting. What have you enjoyed about working at the association and your interaction with the industry? For the benefit of readers, what is your job title and what does your inbox look like now?
8:54 AM john.toner.v: This is a great industry, it really is a family. I have enjoyed the friends that I have made because for the most part, they dont change. And it's a growing industry - agriculture is part of our roots. And what can be greater than working for grapes, bananas, oranges - things that taste great naturally! My job title? I've had many here over the years but it's now Vice President, Convention and Industry Relations - but I'm not too concerned with titles. My inbox? In actuality it's a mess - I try to stay up on restaurant/foodservice trends, fresh-cut trends, growing trends, expo management trends so it's overflowing with periodicals. As far as email inbox? We have a show coming up in three months so it's full of exhibitor requests, attendance promotion plans, plans for Berlin next week, and alot of emails about how the Steelers are going to win the Super Bowl.
8:56 AM Some of the emails in my inbox right now are about "A penny wise and a pound foolish." You will see our attendance marketing talk about saving pennies. To often our industry is so focused on sales/marketing that they don't realize at trade shows if eyes are open attendees can see ways to save costs. Too often people are looking for the "Red badge" and not looking at other opportunities -it's one of my biggest challenges on a day-to-day basis.
8:57 AM Also, I just got my daily FreshTalk blog update in my inbox.
8:58 AM me: Very nice. You mentioned the show in Vegas. How has the recession impacted what you want to do with the show? It has to be a challenge for anyone responsible for a convention..What are the main selling points you use to convince people of the value of the show?

7 minutes
9:06 AM john.toner.v: Hmm, that's a loaded question. It's a challenge for everyone right now. Obviously people still need to see what's new, connect with trading partners, etc. But at the end of the day it's an economics thing. Sure, in the short run you could costs and cut travel etc. - but that is not a good business plan to long-term profit growth. The economy will turn around an you have to positioned to capture it. Think of it this way: What's 10 sales trips cost a company or someone personally? $1,000 a trip? $500 a trip? Plus the costs of being out of the office. So at a convention you can spend your time and money more efficiently and get a better return on the spend by planning meetings in advance. Too often companies think if I set up a booth, customers will buy from me. That's just not the case. We are investing in exhibitor education to help educated new exhibitors on how to invest their money wisely, as we want them to have an ROI. But at the end of the day, conventions serve a vital role in the economy in the industry, bringing everyone together for a short period of time under one roof. Imagine if you walk away with one idea that can save your company $10,000 it was worth coming...or if you make one new sale it was worth coming.
9:08 AM me: I look forward to what United has planned. Thanks for your time, John.

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