EMD Sales

Elda Devarie

“The story of EMD Sales is the story of a young military wife who came from Puerto Rico, who found herself in a position where people would not give her a job.

That young woman was me and companies did not want to invest in me because they didn’t know if I was going to be there for 12 months or 18 months, which is normal in the life of a military family.

I always felt like I fell in love with the food industry early on. I graduated college with a degree in accounting, but I loved marketing so I asked my father if I could go back to school for my calling, which is marketing.

I always loved the marketing aspect of food. I asked myself, what is one thing that people need every day and can’t live without, and food was the answer. So early on as a college graduate, I went to work for the largest supermarket chain in Puerto Rico at the time.

When I came to the United States, we moved to Cape May, New Jersey and there weren’t a lot of jobs in the food industry. That's when I decided to start EMD Sales out of a spare room in my house. I made connections in the New York market and imported products from Puerto Rico into New York. I’d do all the transactions in New York and then go back home. I came here in 1987 and I did that until 1989.

We moved a lot in those early years and finally landed in Washington, D.C. where my husband at the time was stationed. It was December 27, 1990, and I'll never forget that day because I came here with my tiny little three month old baby in my arms and my business in my briefcase.

My connections in New York told me they knew it would be harder for me to travel with the baby, so they encouraged me to open a warehouse here and offered to help me.

I didn’t know anything about warehouses. I knew about importing and selling full tractor trailers, but I decided to give it a try.

I started by using a phonebook and driving around Maryland, D.C., and Virginia to find the Hispanic stores and learn the market. By knocking on doors with samples of products, I was able to get those products into independent stores. 

I learned to drive a truck, and I would drive to New York and New Jersey with my baby and pick up cargo.

I had no business plan and no credit, but people saw something in me. They saw my desire to be self-sufficient, to pay my dues, and to pound the pavement to let people know I'm here to offer something valuable.

A broker for Nestle food saw the work I was doing in the independent stores and took me by the hand to get my products into Giant Food, a supermarket chain with stores in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

He said I think you have something to offer to them, and I thought to myself what’s the worst that could happen?

I'll never forget that first meeting. They gave me a huge conference room and I decorated it with things and products from different Hispanic countries. I spoke about my work with the independent stores, but was also panicking inside and thinking ‘Oh my God, what am I doing.’

There was a senior VP there and I heard him tell the buyer, “Make sure that she can make it.” I heard him saying those words, and I never thought he was doubting me. The way I read it is that he wanted to give me an opportunity and that meant the world to me.

During that meeting twenty-four years ago, I talked about ethnic cultures, markets, and marketing. The diversity we have in the Baltimore-Metro area now wasn't the same, so to a certain extent, I was talking to them about a vision.

The one thing I promised them was that if they gave me a chance, I would give them my best.

They understood the concept and they gave me a chance. Today they are our largest customer and we have over 1,200 items in every single one of their stores, and they have over 160 stores in this market.

I faced several challenges while building EMD Sales. As a small business it is difficult to scale, there were issues with product availability, and it was a challenge to learn to drive a truck to go to New York to transport products.

I overcame those challenges by building relationships. I learned early on that I had to build relationships with my banker and other experts for all the different areas of the business.

I saw the importance of connecting with people that knew more than me, because you cannot pretend that you know everything, and you need help and advice.

Our first warehouse was in P.G. County, Maryland but we needed a larger location. I was very lucky that I was able to contact the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) and they opened the door for me to get to know Baltimore better in terms of the warehouse market.

My contact at BDC gave me a list of places to go and see, and he also facilitated introductions and information about all the opportunities in the city that could benefit my business.

I knew Baltimore City, because this is where I started knocking on doors and opening accounts, but I never had a warehouse here. My experience with the BDC was very positive and they were instrumental in helping me find EMD Sales’ current home on Washington Boulevard.

I came here in 1990, so I have seen a lot of changes in Baltimore City. It's wonderful to see the growth, new opportunities and how everybody wants to make it better.

Baltimore has been very welcoming to us. We appreciate it very much and we intend to stay and continue growing.

We’ve got to continue working together and inviting people here to see what some people don't know about Baltimore City, because there is so much more to it than the tourist attractions. We have fantastic, little communities throughout the city.

I have very high hopes for the business community, the community in general, and for new families to come on board and raise their kids here and enjoy the city, and everything that we have to offer.

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