Constructive criticism

Last week, I wrote about trust between the producer and the market agent, focusing particularly on the role of the producer.

Trust, however, is a two-way street and the agent carries an equal responsibility to ensure the relationship works. There are the obvious requirements that come to mind, such as providing good service, ensuring the best prices in relation to market forces, and making prompt payments within the parameters of the law. But unseen components also play a key part in the success or otherwise of the relationship.

The whole truth
Take, for example, constructive criticism of a farmer’s products. If you mention this to most market agents, they laugh and remind you that some producers have large egos and don’t take kindly to criticism, even if well-intentioned. In some cases, the agent has a legitimate fear that the producer will move to the opposition, so they don’t tell the producer the whole truth. This serves no good purpose, but unfortunately, it happens from time to time.

It’s a common joke among market people that every farmer believes that he or she only produces ‘the very best’, and any subsequent downgrading must be the fault of the market, or the market agent, or the weather, or something else. But it’s never the producer’s fault! If a sound trust-relationship exists between producer and agent, the chances of constructive criticism being misconstrued are virtually eliminated because both parties understand the benefits of constructive criticism – in fact, they welcome it.

Flourishing relationship
I can recall pleading with the salesman selling my fruit on the Joburg Market to criticise my produce when necessary. He was reluctant because he feared I’d move to another agency. In the end, I threatened him with just that if he didn’t give me his opinion of every one of my consignments! Our relationship flourished and the standards of packaging, grading and presentation of my fruit improved considerably. This was seen in better prices for my produce and proved that constructive criticism can have a positive effect all round.

Contact Mike Cordes at [email protected]. Please state ‘Market floor’ in the subject line of your email.