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Generation Next: B&C’s Kelly Craner is focused on mushrooms … and the guitar

In an era when getting bigger and broader is a valued business model, it’s also good to note that a company in this industry can thrive with a single commodity and a narrowly defined target market.  

B&C Fresh Sales Inc., based in Orange, CA, has prospered largely selling mushrooms to Southern California customers. The company has gone through changes since Marty Craner founded it 30 years ago. Its business strategy has evolved over the years, but at its core it is still a mushroom specialist thriving by meticulously matching the products of its growers with the needs of its customers.craner-2Michelle, Madison, Andrew and Kelly Craner.

With that backdrop, it is a bit easier to understand 37-year-old Kelly Craner’s involvement with the guitar. His story takes a Zen-like path from introduction to discovery to striving for perfection. He recently engaged his son, Andrew, in a discussion of instrument specialization, as the youngster was flip-flopping between whether he wanted a guitar or a fiddle for his next birthday.  

“I told him he had to choose,” said Craner. “I told him that I was pretty good at playing the guitar and I’d like to learn to play the piano, but I still have a lot more to learn on the guitar before I take up another instrument.”

Andrew said he could teach his dad how to play the piano, as he has been practicing at his grandmother’s house. The boy clearly doesn’t quite yet subscribe to the 10,000 hours of practice-makes-perfect theory espoused by author Malcolm Gladwell in his best seller Outliers: The Story of Success — and followed by his dad. But Andrew is only 5 years old and so Craner has plenty of time to beat that drum.IMG 0829Kelly Craner (left) and his band on stage.

To be fair, Craner wasn’t a follower of the theory when he first was introduced to the instrument. His parents, Marty and Ken Craner, won the guitar, which was once owned by Don Felder of the Eagles, at a Fresh Produce & Floral Council event when Craner was in the fifth grade. Hence, he started taking guitar lessons. He stuck with it for a couple of years until the music store where he was taking the lesson closed. A few years later, he started taking lessons again, but backed off when high school and its related activities took center stage.

Fast forward to the end of his college career at Chapman University when the prospective English literature specialist was required to write a paper examining a piece of literature as a graduation requirement. Any book would do for this quasi thesis and Craner happened to be reading Fever: How Rock ‘N Roll Transformed Gender in America. Craner enlisted the aid of an earlier college professor whose music class he considered transformative.

As they were in the early stages of the project, the professor, who was noted musician John Harrelson, a guitar specialist with a career that spanned 45 years, clinically died of a heart attack. Harrelson fell into a coma, ended up snapping out of it, and he and Craner became fast friends. As Kelly seriously pursued lessons about a decade ago, Harrelson became his first guitar teacher and mentor.

“I’d often go out to his house and we would talk about music and play,” said Craner.

After Harrelson died in 2013, his family gave Craner one of his prized guitars to honor that relationship.

Since he took up the guitar in earnest, Craner has devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy learning to play and becoming a student of the music. Among his favorites, he mentions numerous musical experts from bygone eras in a tone that can only be described as reverence. He loves the music and loves the individuals who made that sound.  

“I prefer the music from the late ‘30s, late ‘50s and late ‘60s,” said Craner, speaking of what he likes to play. “I like blues, jump and swing. I like country and I like western. If there is a genre that describes it all it would be that they are all part of swing. It’s music that is danceable… and has a blues leaning.”

While Craner occasionally plays various Orange County venues with a band, most of his musical pleasure is derived from simply learning songs and practicing.  IMG 4899Kelly Craner with his parents, Ken and Marty Craner, and his sister, Cari Dixon.

“I try to be hands-on with the guitar every day. Sometimes, it’s a focused 20 minutes or a couple of hours, and sometimes it’s just an unfocused 25 minutes,” he said harkening back to the theory that it takes 10,000 focused hours to become an expert.

His wife, Michelle, is a college professor who typically teaches night classes as the two of them juggle child-care responsibilities. So Craner’s nighttime playing is often intertwined with the demands of raising Andrew and his 2-year-old sister, Madison. That’s where the unfocused practice time surfaces.

Craner writes songs for fun and is also involved in teaching the guitar to newer devotees. All of his efforts are designed to learn more. “I love to figure out what makes music work. For me, music isn’t about a final goal. It’s a unique dynamic,” he said.

One that he seems to combine well with his day job. Craner grew up around the produce industry. Many of his mom’s friends are industry folks, but the produce industry wasn’t any more important to him than his father’s line of work, which has been in manufacturing electronics.  

“My parents had jobs,” he said. “My takeaway from my mom’s career was that when you own your own business, you have to make a lot of sacrifices.”IMG 0833Kelly Craner (second from left) and his bandmates after playing a gig at an Orange County venue.

B&C Fresh Sales was established as a sales agency for a Southern California mushroom producer.  The “B & C” come from the first initial of Kelly’s nickname, Bubba, and his sister’s name, Cari. Almost 20 years into the life of the firm, his mother disassociated herself with the supplier and overnight turned the company into a mushroom broker and sales consultancy. The concept was to act as a mushroom specialist for local wholesalers. By this time Craner was working for his mother and determined that he liked the produce industry. “I liked the work hard-play hard philosophy that seemed to be a part of this industry,” he said.

Craner has since committed to the company and the career and is now a partner and co-owner of the operation. Today, B&C Fresh Sales is basically the mushroom division of Umina Bros. Inc., a longtime Los Angeles wholesaler. The company operates on a contract basis, funneling the production of about a dozen or so growers through Umina to numerous retail and foodservice accounts.  

“We operate in the same manner as their internal sales staff,” he said, adding that it is a hands-on operation — just like the guitar — as B&C matches the production of the growers to the specific needs of its retail and foodservice customers. Craner emphasized that B&C Fresh Sales is not just a pass-through broker. It breaks down each shipment it gets from each grower to make sure both the growers’ and the customers’ expectations are met. As a matter of course, and to help both its customers and its producers, B&C’s efforts have expanded a bit, but it remains a mushroom specialist at its foundation.

With 30 years of business under its belt, B&C Fresh Sales long ago surpassed the 10,000 hours of practice mark. Craner and his guitar still have a ways to go.