Harry & David chief sees good days ahead

Harry & David chief sees good days ahead

CENTRAL POINT — Harry & David's new leader says the company's best days are to come after it got a new lease on life through a bankruptcy reorganization.

Craig Johnson, named to lead Harry & David Holdings last fall, said the Medford-based gourmet food and gift company has to focus on what is ahead as it strives to leave the turmoil of Chapter 11 reorganization in the past.

"You have to take the rearview mirrors off the car," Johnson said Wednesday in a talk to the Central Point Rotary Club.

"The challenge is to build and grow the business. We need to focus on the legacy and DNA — things that worked well — and things that will drive the business forward."

Johnson took his own advice in his talk and largely focused on the future. He noted that he, and the company for that matter, had no control over bankruptcy laws and alluded to concerns in the community that many local vendors had suffered when they were not paid.

While it might heal festering wounds left over from the company's restructuring, bankruptcy laws preclude making nonprescribed payments to any vendor, he said.

"The (bankruptcy) platform is what it is."

Johnson said the company's travails also took a toll on its employees.

"The staff has been through a lot," Johnson conceded. "The last four years has not been the smoothest for Harry & David. We're rebuilding and establishing enthusiasm."

The former Musician's Friend chief executive said Harry & David has to look at things from the customer's perspective.

"I come from an aggressive retail environment and I like to win," Johnson said. "He or she with the most customers wins. We want to get them to buy, buy again and buy more stuff."

He said Harry & David needs to exceed customer expectations and when mistakes are made turn them into positives.

"No matter how hard you try, when you have 300,000 orders in one day the odds are against you," Johnson said. "Even if you have 99 percent success rate, you are going to have some problems."

Rather than elevate problem orders from one level to another through the organization before they are resolved, Johnson had another idea.

"I call it first-call recovery," he said. "If a customer has had a bad experience — if you do it right and admit we messed up — you can get a lifelong customer."

He said the company has to be where customers are shopping or browsing.

"You can't legislate where customers are going to be," Johnson said. "You can't catch fish in a bathtub, but you'll find them in the river. Whether it's online, retail (stores), mail-order or a call center, we need to make it a seamless experience and the same consistent message."

Johnson said pears are still a primary part of the operation and a key component of the "Fruit of the Month Club"

Beyond its own Bear Creek Orchards in the Rogue Valley, Harry & David obtains pears from other sources so they can be stored in Medford warehouses through February.

"We sell HoneyBell (citrus fruit) from Florida, but they are also grown in Arizona and California," Johnson said. "We go to other locations to extend the season, but we have to be careful, because we are built around quality."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email

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