Hal Block, renowned New Jersey equipment sales representative and marketing executive, has lived an extraordinary and inspiring life. From immigrant parents who escaped Nazi persecution in Germany to the founder of a highly successful marketing firm, Block’s story is the epitome of the American Dream.
Hal Block’s story begins in Nazi Germany in 1934, during which time Hitler’s soldiers terrorized the Jewish population of his hometown, Gelsenkirchen. His father, then a doctor, was tipped off about impending trouble by his secretary and took refuge in a local police station, eventually fleeing to Holland where he found work as a ship’s doctor; Block and his mother remained in Germany, enduring encounters with the Nazis and transporting cameras to make ends meet as his father awaited passage to the United States.
Finally, in August of 1936, Block and his parents immigrated to the United States and settled in the village of Cayuga, NY, where his father hoped to take over the practice of the town’s local doctor. He was passed over for the expected job and his father opened his own practice in the small village with a meager population of 320. The United States was then in the throes of the Great Depression and there was little money to go around; his father did see some patients, but he was paid mostly in poultry or crops. Block’s parents were quick to adapt to their new lifestyle: his mother learned to preserve food, and his father learned to farm and till the crops the family grew in what they called their ‘victory garden.’
Block enjoyed an adventurous and engaging early childhood in Cayuga, learning German with his parents, exploring and fishing the surrounding woods, and meeting new friends. He later moved to Auburn,NY where he served as class president and lived until he left to join the freshman class at Temple University in Philadelphia. During his college career, and back in Auburn briefly after the passing of his father, Block worked as a fabric salesman, selling bolts of satin, and later bridal gowns, in bridal stores. His experience with weddings led him to pursue a stint as a traveling decorative cake ornament salesman, which took him to New York City to join his recently-relocated mother, with whom he shared an apartment.
It was in this same apartment building that Block met his wife, Lois, with whom he shares two wonderful children, Amy and Douglas. Through Lois he also met his long-time business partner and fellow representative Philip Young, his father-in-law, who convinced Block to join his rep business. He quickly learned that representatives must dedicate their time to others without sacrificing their own positions as they called on dealers and consultants and were oftentimes responsible for the marketing and sales of multiple product lines. He was privileged to watch some of the big names of today take flight during the early-to-mid 1960s.
Block and his father-in-law’s business grew quickly from a staff of two to eight, and together, the firm represented roughly 15 firms. After selling some of their contracts, the partnership established YBR Marketing with Rick Rivera, which now represents 10 manufacturers. Over the next few decades, Block and his partnerships bore witness to the flourishing of the independent sales representative, as well as the emergence of buying groups and growth of online business. Block’s passion for his position as a representative made him instrumental to the formation of the national organization Manufacturers’ Agents Association for the Food Service Industry (MAFSI), of which he later served as President.
Concerning the future of the role of the representative in the food service marketplace, Block remains optimistic. Despite the needs of reps changing in light of ever-shifting economic and marketplace dynamics, he finds that the meteoric rise of e-commerce has emerged a new generation of reps, albeit online. Such is to the benefit of the end user, who profits from item convenience and the newfound flexibility of brick-and-mortar dealers who’ve broadened their capabilities to remain competitive. Innovation – in all aspects of industry life – have saved tremendously on labor and time costs, and with the advent and proliferation of artificial intelligence, will only continue to do so.
Block’s story traces across generations and echoes the hallmarks of what it truly means to live, and carry, the American Dream. Driven by immigrant parents from Nazi Germany, he propelled himself head-first into the food service industry by working as a salesman, and later joined his father-in-law as a representative. He carries on today as a founding member of YBR Marketing, and now manages the representation of over ten manufacturers.
For more information about Hal Block or YBR Marketing, visit their website.
Editor’s note: Special thanks to Lynne Schultz of Tri-State Marketing who shared Hal’s incredible saga with Total Food Service.