The Mechanics of Natie Kirsh's Cash Cow (Jetro):
Every day 3000 giant 16-wheeler trucks fan out across the US, carrying everything from fresh fish, tomatoes and the carcasses of 5000 cattle to imported bottled water, dry goods and kitchen equipment. They are headed for 10 large Jetro stores and the 72 enormous warehouses of Restaurant Depot — a subsidiary of Jetro about the same size as an SA branch of Makro.
Through the day, up to 50000 restaurateurs and small business owners buy fresh produce, meat and seafood from gigantic walk-in freezers. The stores sell oversize sacks of potatoes, huge vacuum- sealed packages of every sort of meat, and live lobsters at big discounts. Their 11000 product items are all you need to run a restaurant or stock a small retail store.
“The trucks carrying loads of single product go to special cross-dock facilities where they are reloaded so mixed products are delivered to each warehouse,” says Natie Kirsh, who owns 63% of Jetro. “It’s a very efficient operation.”
This is Kirsh’s cash cow — Jetro, originally modelled on Metro Cash & Carry , his great success in SA, which he lost to Sanlam in 1986.
“New York is congested with many powerful suppliers competing for hordes of Mom & Pop stores,” says Kirsh. “There are no large shopping centres or supermarkets. There was similarity with SA’s market of small black shopkeepers but we had a steep learning curve.”
Jetro languished through the 1970s and 1980s until Kirsh moved to New York in 1986, when his SA retail and wholesale empire collapsed. He stayed in the US for five years until the business was properly established.