Lessons from Vito

Vito Rugani always used to say, “Remember the power of the brand!” A legend on the markets,

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Vito passed away a few years ago.

His knowledge was incredible and his passion for the commission system formidable.

He was a larger-than-life character who could display his volatile Italian temperament at the drop of a hat. Yet he always served his beloved producers and buyers with total dedication right to the end.

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Whenever I visited the Joburg Market I would stop at his section – the largest tomato section in the country – to sit quietly at his sales desk and soak up the man interacting with buyers and others.

On the odd occasion when the steady stream of buyers left a short gap, I would grab the opportunity to ask questions and talk shop. I always learnt something on a visit to Vito Rugani. One of his many themes was the power of the brand. Branding is a powerful marketing tool and can play a pivotal role in the fortunes of a product. Vito sold the most powerful brand in the fresh-produce business in this country and he understood exactly how it was central to the success of the product.

Over more than 10 years of selling those tomatoes, he had shown how the brand could be used to promote and improve sales. He was backed by top quality and consistent supply – two of the basics of good branding – which meant he could always negotiate prices and quantities with confidence.

Of course, there was the occasional grumpy buyer who complained of being exploited or the envious opposition who said Vito was “controlling the market”. What they didn’t fully understand was that he used the current market situation to the maximum benefit of his clients.

If the prices were high, he still moved volumes, because buyers knew they were getting value for money. When prices were down, the same applied, because quality sells – and when it’s backed by a top brand, it sells even better!

I suspect Vito and his team accounted for at least 50% of all tomato sales on the Joburg Market. That’s what happens when you have a good product, a powerful brand, and top people selling it.

The prices they achieved every day were the benchmark for other salespeople on the Joburg Market, as well as other markets. If that’s “controlling the market”, so be it. It’s also an example of the free market in action.