Article by Tim Linden


Tavilla Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Bill Vogel credits an environment of teamwork and sharing
in helping company begin third decade.


November, 1979. Hostages were being held in Iran, Ronald Reagan announced that he was going to run for the presidency, and computers were seen in Star Wars, not the produce industry. It was also the month and year that Bill Vogel opened Tavilla Sales Company in Los Angeles.

Owning a successful business for more than 20 years is a great feat in any industry, and on this particular day, Vogel wanted to share a little of the insight that helps one survive and thrive in the competitive produce business. "There is no way I could have done this by myself. It is the team that makes our success"

Vogel has a clear sense of why Tavilla has been a success for 20 years and "...what differentiates us from some other companies. First, you have to learn good management principles; management 101 if you will. Reading magazines and listening to people talk about the current management styles can be of invaluable help"

By reading and listening, Vogel said you can stay ahead of the curve. "The company of 30 years ago is not the company of today. A militaristic approach to business doesn't work in today's environment. You have to stress teamwork."

A factor Vogel called "crucial" in making a company successful is the willingness to take risks. And that includes failure at times. Vogel relates a story about Tavilla's attempt at importing starfruit from Taiwan during the course of the last couple of seasons. "We put a lot of money into the program," Vogel said, "but we had a lot of trouble. We have had a couple of successes from this, but two years later we're still not successfully importing." (note: Tavilla now carries starfruit)

But what some might call a venture that has failed, Vogel sees as something that makes his company stronger. "If we were not trying things of that kind, we wouldn't be doing anything."

The team at Tavilla is something that Vogel stresses time and time again. "You have to empower your employees. We pay commissions to our sales people. They get a direct benefit for the product that they sell. And we also have a bonus program that lets our employees have some ownership of the company. The bonus pool is 50 percent of the net profit, which goes directly back to our key employees.


Vogel added with a smile, "I am giving more money away, but in return I am getting more. This past year was  the best year we've ever had."

Caring about people is also paramount to Vogel. "You have to care about your employees, your customers and your suppliers," he said. "We are in this for the long term, not just for grabbing a piece of business here or there. To be successful, you have to keep your focus on the long term."

Vogel said that much of his success stems from the long-term alliances he has made with growers. "We are their representatives in the southwestern United States."

Vogel became passionate talking about his last point, which is care about the products he handles. "We're talking about food here. Food that people are going to put on their tables at home and eat. Other than friends and family, what's more important to people than the things they put in their bodies.

"We have a responsibility to these people. We have to take proper care of our product, hold it at a proper temperature and always be cognizant of the refrigeration process. We have to do everything in our power to give the customer safe product that has the longest possible shelf-life"

Challenges occur daily, and although Tavilla's hand is on many products grown outside of the United States, Vogel said the challenges are very similar to the brokerage business Tavilla was in in the mid 1980s. " The difference now is the challenges have more corollaries. We are dealing with language differences. We spend a lot of time, effort and energy overcoming cultural differences to make everything successful."

Tavilla Sales has a new line of limes set for release in the spring of 2000, and deals with many other Latin specialties such as mangoes, chiles, coconuts, Latin vegetables and a lot more. They have just moved into a new facility at the Alameda Trade Center that "provides more loading areas and a 25 percent increase in cold storage. It should make us even more efficient." (note: We are now a top importer of limes)












Vogel is happy about where Tavilla has been and where it's going, which is a nice feeling heading into a new millennium. "We are like a family here. This is such a great company."