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Longtime onion salesman Chris Woo announces retirement
Chris Woo, sales manager for Baker & Murakami Produce Co./Potandon Produce in Ontario, OR, announced on June 6 he will be retiring from the sales desk after more than four decades in the industry.
Woo said his departure will be this summer.
A native of California, Woo got his start in onions on the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Terminal Market in the 1980s. His father, Albert, was an onion and potato broker in that city. Though his dad died when Chris was 20, the young man followed in his footsteps with the guidance of Tommy Hillcrest, also an onion man on the LA market.
Woo worked with Hillcrest for five years in Los Angeles and then traveled to the Treasure Valley of Idaho-Eastern Oregon, where he first sold onions for a shed owned at the time by C.H. Robinson.
“The shed was called Treasure Valley Growers, and partners were local growers and C.H. Robinson,” Woo said. The operation today is Golden West.
After selling for one season, Woo returned to Los Angeles to get married. He returned to the Valley for a second season, with wife Lonnie staying in California. Woo then moved back to Los Angeles to finish college, and he and Lonnie came to the Treasure Valley together for season three. He became sales manager that year.
A few years later Sig Murakami of Murakami Produce offered Woo a sales job. Chris thanked Murakami for the opportunity but chose to remain with C.H. Robinson several more years. In 1988 he was approached again by Murakami Produce, this time by Murakami partner Grant Kitamura. Woo said he signed his contract on an A&W Root Beer napkin.
In time he became a partner at Murakami Produce, which then formed an alliance with Potandon Produce for sales and marketing. Woo managed the sales from the Ontario, OR, office. In 2017 Murakami Produce merged with Baker Packing Co. to become Baker & Murakami Produce.
Upon his retirement Woo will have logged 45 years in the onion industry, and he commented that it’s different business in many ways today.
He said more acres and more sheds have enlarged the Northwest’s standing in onions, and he said he has experienced the industry changes brought about by weather events, market inclines and declines and the ever-present issue of labor.
“There are more acres and more sheds here and throughout the Northwest,” he said. "There have been huge weather events, roller coaster market conditions, transportation issues and the matter of labor". Woo also cited the ongoing technological advancements, noting the improvements to production and to farming.
One thing that remains the same, Chris Woo said, is the importance of business relationships.
He said the decision to retire was difficult, but he is looking forward to more time with family, golf and fishing.
What he hopes to leave behind is the example of knowing both product and customer. He said, “I’ve tried to instil in sales people the importance of product knowledge, customer awareness and marketing/pricing savvy.”
And, he said, he takes 45 years’ worth of good memories and solid friendships he’s made along the way. “I cherish each working relationship I’ve developed,” he said.
For more information:
Baker & Murakami
Tel: +1 (208) 741-6505
Publication date: 6/8/2018
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