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DSR of the Month, Jan. 2004: Nick Ranieri, Standard Restaurant Equipment, Phoenix, Ariz.

"It's about honesty and being able to perform for people — and not giving up on them when there's trouble."

It is little wonder that Nick Ranieri trumpets the virtue of an old-fashioned direct sales approach. It has led him straight to success - and to designation as FE&S' first DSR of the Month in 2004.

Ranieri, an outside sales consultant for Standard Restaurant Equipment Co. in Phoenix, personally accounted for between $1.5 million and $1.7 million of the firm's approximately $30 million in sales last year. In fact, the year just passed was the fourth in a row that he ended as Standard's top revenue generator. One of 14 DSRs on staff, he regularly sells both equipment and supplies.

Achieving success has meant, for Ranieri, "Calling on people, and in a timely fashion," he declared. "A lot of salespeople don't get back to their customers right away. Of course, it helps to have product knowledge. But if you don't call people back you're not going to get the business."

Ranieri came to Standard nearly seven years ago from Dick's Restaurant Supply in Seattle, where he had worked for eight years. "I had to wear lots of hats there," he recalled. "It was a small company, and I was in sales." In fact, his career in foodservice E&S had begun with Dick's in 1980 at its original location in Portland, Ore.

Ranieri has prospered even during slow economic times, he said, because of the loyalty he enjoys from customers, but also from a more tangible factor: the Phoenix area's steady increase in healthcare construction.

"They keep building hospitals around here," he said. "They just need more and more bed space. All of them are adding on; they're always growing." Nor is local growth limited to hospitals. "They're also building retirement homes and assisted-living facilities, and I do a lot of those, too. That's probably the up-and-coming market sector."

Another steady customer for the past four years has been Hilton Hotels, which owns half a dozen area properties under its own name and several more under other brands. The dollar volume of Hilton business, he added, "varies, however, because it has its own purchasing department that is used sometimes to purchase against us."

Ranieri also handles a smattering of independent restaurants, though he is quick to add that he tries "not to do too many of them. They're pretty time consuming and take away from the hospitals."

His total number of clients is about 65 and, during the holiday season, he remains in close touch with nearly every one of them, about half by phone. "It's been crazy. This is the tourist season down here. Things are hopping." All told, he puts about 750 miles on his car per week.

One aspect of the business at which Ranieri excels is negotiation. How does he do it? "It's not always about price," he hinted. "It's about honesty and being able to perform for people - and not giving up on them when there's trouble. A lot of DSRs run from trouble. I like to get problems resolved the best way I can and keep the customer happy, if at all possible." The thing about cutting a deal, he added, is that "if people know your reputation, it's going to be a lot easier to negotiate with them. It's all about being honest."

Ranieri and his wife, Cecelia, have been married for 24 years. Their son Andrew, 19, attends Paradise Valley Community College. He is characteristically straightforward about the change from Seattle to Phoenix, where he lives. "It's fantastic. No more gray skies."