By Joel M. Albrizio, President
"Do You Remember When C&S Was Just One Of Many Grocery Wholesalers?"
There was a day, not that many years ago, when C&S was just one of hundreds of other grocery wholesalers across the county. It's true just a little over a generation ago "C&S was no big deal...Except, that is, for Lester Cohen."
So Who Was This Wholesale Grocer "Lester Cohen" From C&S & What Was He All About?
An interesting gentleman, always dapper even often wearing a simple trench coat with a great suit beneath it. It was a time when "Colombo" was America's number one T.V. Show and that was the look. Somewhat differently however, Lester Cohen wore the coat like the cover of G.Q. while Colombo loved to look wrinkled and confused as he outsmarted T.V. villains.
This was a man Lester, who loved his company (pointing to a C&S location, "its former headquarters" from many years earlier) like he loved his family. Lester Cohen grew up in the grocery wholesale business in Worcester, Massachusetts. Lester was the son of a grocery wholesaler who knew his place in the local food business. With accounts like Big Discount Supermarkets, (who at one time were 33% of C&S total sales) Lester understood customers and how and what was important to them as retailers.
"Tell Them The Truth & Then Deliver....This Was His Approach"
A vice president of sales for C&S back in the early 1980's, Perry John once referred to Lester as "The Grocery Worlds Best Salesman". While I tend to think Perry was correct, calling Lester Cohen a great salesman is almost condescending. I don't think Lester Cohen ever sold a thing....I now realize Lester embraced the definition of credibility as a perfect gentleman.
With a warm smile and a great handshake Lester Cohen worked with less to create more and looked you straight in the eye the entire time.
Today we live in a world that turns faster than ever. Business is done with no real connections taking place. Real business partnerships and relationships are a thing of the past. Executives tend to text or e-mail today instead of the once popular coffee and muffin that rounded out that casual get together of a meeting that seems to no longer exist.
A prized object in Lester's office was a tin can encased in glass on a stand and in view for anyone to see. Lester Cohen never forgot he sold groceries and he was proud of it. If I could have one object that defined our industry in my office it would be that can....its who we all are.
"Today Big Companies Design Strategic Meetings & Not Business Friendships Built On Trust"
So if C&S was at 90 million or so as we passed into the "Reagan Years Of The 80's" was this guy Lester really a big deal and why? Lets look at it this way.
As the stars aligned for C&S as a company. Rick Cohen, Lester's son came aboard ready to enact his ideas of what grocery wholesale could be. Soon after Ron Wright became part of the C&S foundation and Ron was able to be very granular and build the processes that Rick believed could work. The very functions Rick Cohen, now president would need to grow and become successful.
"So Now C&S Goes After The Chains & Grows To Become Number #1"
And so it becomes wholesale grocery folklore how C&S goes from 90 million in 1980 to almost 30 billion in sales. This is in fact one of the most incredible growth stories in any space in retail, be it food or any other catagory.
So lost in all of this, as if a footnote in some business book somewhere is Lester Cohen and his many years as president of C&S.
It seems though what Lester Cohen left behind was the warmth of relationships, the essence of corporate credibility & the foundation from which Rick Cohen and a talented group of executives could thrive.
"In Paul Harvey Fashion.....This Is The Rest Of The Story"