Originally created 06/29/02

Fruit stand owners take many paths to success



On some roads, produce stands are seen every few miles - some are large, some are small.

Many are farm-owned, but others buy from markets and resell fruits and vegetables - sometimes also selling fireworks in South Carolina, where they are legal.

"It's hard to make it on produce today," said Teat Davis, who owns and operates Hilltop Produce and Seafood at the intersection of Aiken-Augusta Highway and Old Aiken Road. "If I wasn't retired - you couldn't make a living out of it," he said.

Mr. Davis, who has owned his stand for 10 years, said he gets commissions from selling plants and bicycles for friends to supplement the produce income. He said he works at his stand seven days a week because he can't afford to hire help.

But on Whiskey Road in Aiken, Rick Catts has been able to run a stand and hire full-time employees.

Mr. Catts said his stand, Rick's Produce, saves money by buying and hauling produce directly from farmers, offering diverse items, including landscaping materials, and selling in volume.

Like most stand owners in South Carolina, he takes trips to the state farmer's market in Columbia, where he buys some items and makes connections with farmers to buy directly from their fields.

Franklin Neely Sr., who runs Neely & Son Produce at the intersection of Peach Orchard and Tubman Home roads in Augusta, sells some of his own farm-grown produce along with items he buys from other farmers.

"You've got to be willing to put in the hours to make it work," he said of his business. Mr. Neely sells both wholesale and retail produce, and he said customers are more selective than ever, making it tougher to rake in money from stands.

He said two keys to success in produce are food quality and service. He does not turn away his regular customers if they arrive after closing, he said.

"If you treat people right, they're gonna come back," he said.

Neely & Son is open year-round.

Mr. Catts closes his stand in January and February because very little is available locally for sale, he said. He admits there isn't a lot of money to be made at one time, but he enjoys his job.

"I'd rather do that and have less money," he said, "than work at a job where somebody tells me what to do."

Reach Renee Petrina at (706) 724-0851.