While the Young Pecan Co. sells nuts by the trailer truckload to major food manufacturers, its sales reps are more likely to be chatting up a recipe developer than a purchasing agent who's barraged by calls from competitors. That's because what's happening in research and development labs sometimes offers the best sales opportunities.

At this early stage of the game, Young's sales reps can help create a pecan-packed ice cream for Hä agen Dazs or a nuttier breakfast cereal for Post. Working with the R& D labs is harder than simply quoting a price over the phone to a buyer, but it helps the company maintain its relationship with major food manufacturers.

"To create the breakfast cereal for Post, we had to build a piece of equipment to apply a preservative to the nuts," says J. Givens Young, founder and chairman. He adds that such specialized equipment is another barrier to entry for a competitor.

In addition to getting in on ground-floor opportunities, working with the R& D lab also insulates a company from the risks of dealing with buyer turnover in the purchasing department. "It seems that buyers change about every two years, so it's important to have multiple contacts within an organization to support your company," advises Young, who founded his Florence, S.C., business in 1942 and has grown it from the smallest pecan processor out of 150 to the largest of just 22 still in business.

Copyright 1998 G+J USA Publishing