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Jason Sem, Senior Business Development Manager, R.W. Smith & Co., San Mateo, Calif.

A self-proclaimed foodservice industry lifer, Jason Sem admits that his career has taken many twists and turns along the way.

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Jason SemHe started his foodservice career in restaurants as a dishwasher and bus boy when he was just 16 years old. Sem quickly moved up the ladder as a server/bartender and dabbled as a prep cook, all while going to California's Community College of Marin.

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At the age of 24, Sem finished his degree and joined Hyatt's corporate training program, where he became a convention services manager. Three years later, missing the restaurant industry, Sem dove back in as the food and beverage director for a country club restaurant.

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The opportunity at R.W. Smith came at a time when Sem was looking for an alternative to the long hours of restaurant work. "It was so random and unexpected, but it was a great fit," he says.

Serving in sales for the past eight years at R.W. Smith & Co., Sem has cultivated a diverse client base ranging from independent restaurants, country clubs, hospitals and hotels.

FE&S: Are there differences in your approach with various clients, such as independent restaurants compared with hospitals, for example?

JS: With these segments I'm dealing with different types of people. At independent restaurants, I'll speak with the owner or someone at a high level, whereas with hotels or hospitals, I work with a number of people in different positions. For example, with a hotel I can be talking to 10 people to get one sale.

FE&S: Your customers place a great deal of trust in you. How do you go about establishing trust like that?

JS: Showing up is always key. I try to see my bigger customers at least once a week on the same day and at the same time. I will meet with them more often if they request it, but I like to establish that I will be available weekly to help build that trust and develop our relationship into what I consider friendships. I never try to sell on price. I sell on what I can bring to the table as far as customer service and the dedication that I have to my customers.

FE&S: When something does not go as planned with a project or a delivery, how do you go about resolving the issue?

JS: Immediate follow up is key when problems arise. Unfortunately, in this business there are always errors and mistakes, but customers appreciate reps who take charge and stay on top of things.

FE&S: What stokes your passion for tabletop?

JS: It's an exciting aspect of the business where there is a lot of free rein for being creative. There are so many manufacturers out there that make fun things. I love sampling to see new products and show my customers what's out there.

FE&S: What experiences from your time working in restaurants and hotels do you apply in your current role as a DSR?

JS: I can walk into a restaurant and know if it's a bad day to stay and sell or a good day to assist the customer with their needs. Sometimes we don't come in at the most opportune time, so I need to be flexible and work within the customer's available time.

FE&S: What's the most important lesson you have learned working as a DSR?

JS: It goes back to the history of my relationships, which are built on respect and good customer service. This pays off in the end. Every job I've had since I was 15 has been customer service related.

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