Interview with Mercè Sousa, wholesaler with CMR, the fruit and vegetable sales company

"I feel right at home at the Market"

At 90 years of age, Mercè can count on one hand the number of days she has not come to the Market. A tireless worker, Mercè has been selling fruit and vegetables wholesale for seven decades. She has seen with her own eyes how her small dealer's stall at the old Born Market has grown into one of the most powerful companies in the Central Fruit and Vegetable Market.

Q- How did you get started in the wholesale fruit and vegetable business?
A- My husband was the next in line in a family of farmers from Sant Feliu de Llobregat. Day after day he’d go to the Born to sell his products, but he fell ill and I had to take over.

Q- And how was that first day?
A- I wasn't too sure I'd be able to do it, but it all went very well. I took 60 large sacks of broad beans and sold them all.

Q- You started to get a feel for sales...?
A- I already really liked sales and dealing with the public. In fact, before getting married I'd worked as a sales assistant in a hardware shop in Sant Feliu. When I started going to the Born, I sold the fruit of other relatives and producers who were also farmers, and so continued building up the CMR company. That's how I became a dealer at the Born. Afterwards, with the incorporation of my son Carles and the move to Mercabarna, everything started slowly growing bigger and bigger, which has eventually led us to where we are now and where we'll hopefully continue to be for a long time to come!

Q- What do you most recall about those years?
A- Working at night. We slept very little. We spent the whole early morning at the Market and then the day in the Sant Feliu warehouse preparing the load for the next day. They were hard years!

Q- Nowadays, what's a typical day like in the Market?
A- I'm in the Market from ten in the morning to mid-afternoon, which is a piece of cake for me! (She laughs.) I arrive, make calls to my lifelong customers, ask them what they need and prepare their orders. I also attend to all the customers who come along the aisle and stop. I do the small sales whilst my grandson takes care of the "big ones".

Q- The Market customers have changed, haven't they?
A- I still have some of the same customers from way back when. But over the years many retail traders have disappeared, especially from the Municipal Markets. I see that immigrants are now replacing many of them.

Q- Have you had to change your sales techniques?
A- I carry on just like before, although a while ago I asked my grandson for a cell phone to be able to talk to the clients. You have to be with it! I like to talk with the customers and give them advice – but without tricking them! It's important that the products are good and I understand a fair bit about that.

Q- That comes with experience, I suppose?
A- I learned to value the products we sell at an early age. When I was nine I used to go and pick strawberries for one peseta. On the first day when I went to get paid, the owner said he wasn't going to pay me. I asked him why and he said, "Because you've eaten most of them!" The next day I didn't put a single one in my mouth!

Q- Do you sell a lot on an ordinary day?
A- Now I do what I can, but when times were good I could shift more than 1,000 crates a day.

Q- What do you feel when you see the company now?
A- Great pride. I've seen how my son has carried on and developed the business and how his children are continuing it, which makes the 5th generation. What's more, they have all received an education, they speak languages, and this opens up new markets.

Q- Do you give them advice?
A- Ha! I know a lot about the product but now they know much more than me. Although I always tell them to go carefully and don't let anyone cheat them…

Q- Have you ever thought about retiring?
A- I am retired! But I feel good here at the Market. It's like being at home because I come here and get to see my son, grandchildren, the assistants… I like to be around young people! I certainly want to keep on coming here and what's more, no one has told me not to! (She laughs.)