I’d like to call it a “food-thropic movement” — philanthropy through food! We’ve started incorporating this in several ways. First, through quality of product. This means giving our customers access to the best quality products, such as organic, non-GMO, heart healthy, no sugar added foods. Secondly, we place attention on packaging — staying away from plastic and other products that aren’t biodegradable. We are utilizing more glass and aluminum packaging both which are recyclable. Last and certainly not least, we want to develop a non-profit initiative. I’m still sketching that out in my head but I’d love to create a product line that would benefit the less fortunate in South Florida and beyond. This might involve taking profits from that line of products and donating it or allocating a portion of our inventory for donations — overall my vision is to help, while also inspiring others to join the movement.
I had the pleasure to interview Justin Comparetto. Justin serves as president and co-founder of Just Ryt Foods, a family-run business specializing in importing and wholesaling gourmet foods. In 2010 — at the age of 19 — Comparetto, his grandfather, Joe Comparetto, and cousin, Ryan Braun, partnered with a family friend that ran an import and manufacturing business in Canada. The trio began selling only 12 products to farmers markets and small grocers throughout Florida. After expanding the product base and developing strong relationships within the industry, Comparetto co-founded Just Ryt Foods in 2013 with his grandfather and cousin. Under his leadership, the company launched its first brand, Giusto Sapore. Today, Just Ryt Foods distributes more than 2,500 products to national grocery chains in the Midwest, eastern region and Mid-Atlantic, along with selling product on Amazon.com. The company is also in the process of launching a new Caribbean brand that will pay tribute to Comparetto’s late grandfather.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I was born and raised in Minnesota, and have had an entrepreneurial spirit since a young age. When I was about 9–10 years old I started my own lawn and handyman service in my hometown. During the summer months in Minnesota, I would go around to all my neighbor’s houses and mow their lawns, fix their fences, paint. During the winter months, I would shovel snow, clear up ice from driveways — I’d basically do whatever I could to make some money! Because I always made sure to do an excellent job, they would refer me to friends and family — near and far! I’d do whatever I could to get there — either riding my bike or asking my parents for a lift. At that very early age, I’d already started to understand the importance of creating good business relationships and building a rapport with my customers.
As I went into high school, I began working for my stepfather at a beer company and that’s where I learned how the distribution business worked. I started working in the warehouse pulling orders and quickly moved up to riding in the delivery trucks as an assistant. In that role, I learned everything from creating routing systems to merchandising and eventually when I turned 18 I obtained my class A license and became the lead driver, and the face of the company. Around that time — right after high school — I had a close family friend, whom I really looked up to and in one occasion and unknowingly to him, I overheard him make remarks
about how I would never strive to be anything great because I was never a good student and as a result couldn’t get into any good colleges. For me that served as a huge motivation and eye-opener, so I took a leap of faith and decided to move to Florida. There, I obtained a real-estate license and decided I’d go after the high-end housing market — think million dollar condos. Unfortunately, that was in 2008–2009 when the market was at a low point and I struggled to make a living. Then, opportunity knocked at my door when a family friend that owned a manufacturing business in Canada wanted to get started in the U.S. Since I was living hand to mouth working in real estate, I decided to give it a shot. At that point, while I was just 19 years old, we started a partnership. He sent me a shipment of 12 different items, I grabbed some posters and flyers and got to knocking on doors of small supermarkets, mom-and-pop shops, and farmers markets.
As that business grew, I started expanding the line by adding even more Mediterranean products. We had demand to carry additional products with repeat customers requesting specific items. Luckily, through our work with the supermarkets, we had made great connections for sourcing these specialty products and were able to quickly expand our inventory. In 2013, we decided to expand further — carrying more Mediterranean and Italian products and that’s when Just Ryt Foods Company was born. We started with just 120 items, and now import more than 2,500 items internationally and domestically.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
In 2015 after we decided to get in to the manufacturing and production realm, our first venture was with packing our own olive oil and balsamic vinegar. To do this, I had to learn the hard way how the whole system worked — from pulling from the bulk source to the filling heads. One of the items that was the most comical to learn from, was a balsamic glaze. Balsamic glaze is a reduced balsamic vinegar that is cooked down and becomes very sticky and viscous. To get the product to flow correctly through the machinery we had to make sure the supply was consistent. When we first started working with a new piston machine to get the product to flow evenly we kept getting inconsistent fills. I then had to figure out how to get the product to the heads faster while still keeping even fills. I had the idea to hook up a double diaphragm pump to the bulk glaze container and cranked up the pressure and air speed to the maximum. This allowed the product to flow quickly but once the pressure was decreased it didn’t quite work. When we turned it back up, I didn’t account for the back pressure created during the resting time and as a result, the hoses blew off of the machines and sprayed about 80 feet all across the warehouse and covered everything in glaze! For months after, we kept finding bits of balsamic glaze in all corners of the warehouse. Needless to say, it was a running joke!
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
Back in May of this year, we realized we needed more structure for our growing team of 20–25 employees. I knew I needed a little guidance because this was all new to me, as it is with any next step of a growing business. To help with this task, we hired a business coach, who helped us create what we call “tiger teams” — or small teams of 4–5 employees to represent each department. Each team appointed a leader, to serve as the spokesperson and a scribe, to serve as a note taker or secretary. The teams created a list of tasks or issues that needed attention within each department. The team concept allowed our employees to discuss, address and find solutions to important issues, without my help, giving them a role of ownership and independence. After this, each team leader would bring their issues and solutions to an executive meeting with the president (myself) to discuss their findings. This structure worked for us because it gave everyone a voice to share their thoughts on how things could run more effectively and served as an opportunity for all employees to speak their minds about ways to work together and help the company grow because we are all in this together, after all.
What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?
If I had different offices throughout the U.S or internationally — communication would be the biggest focus — it is key in any business. When you are up to date with everything that is going on in different areas of your teams it’s a huge success. You’re far less likely to have things fall through the cracks because everyone is well informed. Knowledge is power — so if your teams are knowledgeable on all aspects of the business, they can work together to accomplish things together, quickly and efficiently.
With our business partners in Italy, for example, I do my best to explicitly communicate in the production forefront how I want things done, what exactly I’m looking for, what my forecast is, etc. so I can prevent any issues in the future such as product shortages, mislabeling, or wrong items. We try to keep everyone well in the loop with what our plans are so they are aware, prepared and equipped to handle any obstacles that may come about.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
In my experience, to be a successful CEO you have to treat your employees with respect and make them feel important. Every role in business is important, they need to know that you care about their roles, their work and give praise where it is due. Let them know they are needed and wanted — make them feel appreciated. Personally, I am courteous, respectful and I get to know every one of my employees. This will allow them to feel part of a team, part of a family.
As a result, your employees will naturally want to do more, help more and see the company succeed, as opposed to feeling like they just have a “job” where they count down the minutes to clock-out daily. Most of my employees even enjoy sticking around after their shifts just to hang out, get to know each other and harvest a professional friendship, eventually helping everyone succeed together and feel part of something bigger.
Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
Retaining talent starts with the importance of properly training managers. Hiring the right managers and training them to be good leaders and role models is key to retaining the talent. Managers should always respect the employees just as much as the CEO or President of the company. They should make their employees feel appreciated and important. If they make a mistake help them fix it, guide them and train them, doing everything possible to make them better. This will give employees someone to look up to amongst their peers and will propel them to strive for more.
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
· Respect and Morale — Revisiting my previous points, respect has always been one of my top priorities because when you respect your employees and keep morale high it elevates the aura of the office. Every morning, I walk around and greet my employees and as a result others do the same. If it’s a Monday we ask how their weekend was, if it’s a Friday we ask what their plans are for the weekend. Making personal connections and keeping a positive attitude goes a long way!
· Be a Good Role Model — Be someone people can look up to and lead by example. One of my employees has an 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. schedule, yet everyday he comes in between 6:30–7:30 a.m. simply because he enjoys coming in early, getting organized and being the first one in to get focused. It demonstrates that just because you have a set schedule, that doesn’t mean you should do the bare minimum. Likewise, since day one I’ve demonstrated to my employees that going above and beyond will lead to success. This is the exact principle that has helped us grow so quickly — day in and day out we all put in a bit of extra effort in everything we do.
· Leadership — Leadership is very important to employees, especially new ones learning how to succeed in their roles. I encourage my team to take the bull by the horns and go the extra mile. As a leader, I strive to be someone my employees look up to. I keep an open-door policy, inviting my employees to ask questions and bring suggestions. I listen to their feedback and concerns, offer help if they’re struggling and I’m proud to say all my managers do the same.
· Structure — Having structure in a company is essential. I’ve learned this more than ever in the last year because we’ve grown so much and it’s become a vital element in our company. It keeps us organized, from having schedules, plans, benchmarks, guidelines, budgets — it’s all so important in running a business. Bringing in the tiger teams concept has created a lot of structure so everyone understands the different roles that they play. Our teams also know how the next department works so when they pass on a project, it’s easier for the next department to take on. For example, the sales team makes things seamless for the production team, which then makes it seamless for the graphics team and so on… it’s a tear-drop effect.
· Goals — If you set goals for your employees then once you reach them, they will feel proud and accomplished. I like to have short-term and long-term goals so we always have something to look forward to and when we reach them we celebrate with company parties, spiffs, and different things that help track our growth and successes. We place a strong focus on awards and set goals to reach these, for example, we’ve been recognized in Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 list of “Fastest Growing Companies” in the United States two years in a row. When we celebrate these types of accomplishments our team truly feels excited to be part of making that happen. If you have no goals, you won’t have the drive to succeed and work harder. Goals serve as a timeline and a sort of endorphin for excitement of successfully reaching that next step.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d like to call it a “food-thropic movement” — philanthropy through food!
We’ve started incorporating this in several ways. First, through quality of product. This means giving our customers access to the best quality products, such as organic, non-GMO, heart healthy, no sugar added foods. Secondly, we place attention on packaging — staying away from plastic and other products that aren’t biodegradable. We are utilizing more glass and aluminum packaging both which are recyclable. Last and certainly not least, we want to develop a non-profit initiative. I’m still sketching that out in my head but I’d love to create a product line that would benefit the less fortunate in South Florida and beyond. This might involve taking profits from that line of products and donating it or allocating a portion of our inventory for donations — overall my vision is to help, while also inspiring others to join the movement.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote would be: “Take risks and don’t fear failure, as failure is just a learning lesson.”
In regard to that, I’m always taking risks in the business to advance our company. Not all risks have been successful but I’ve learned from them, especially what to do and not do in the future. This has helped me go further than my competitors, most of them play the safe route, which is not necessarily a bad route, it’s just simply a slower route. I’m always on the creative edge of experimenting with new things, testing different products. Again, it hasn’t always been successful, but the few items that have been successful have truly paid off and helped set us apart from other companies.