Michelle LaCrosse took all the necessary steps to prepare for what she thought would be a career as a lawyer. While attending the State University of New York at Albany, she worked in a law firm, took her LSATS and was accepted into the law school of her choice.
What LaCrosse didn't plan on was the affinity she had developed for her part-time job as bartender and server at a local casual restaurant chain. "After graduation, I was offered a job as a manager at the restaurant and realized I didn't want to be a lawyer," LaCrosse says.
Two years later, she moved to Los Angeles and worked as a bartender while pursuing a career in the hospitality industry. It was then that she stumbled upon the sales position at R.W. Smith, which is where she has been for more than five years.
LaCrosse has a broad and diverse client base, ranging from individually owned restaurants to big resorts to small chains. Last year she opened three properties in the Middle East. This year she is working on a large hotel opening in Las Vegas.
FE&S: Tabletop is your passion. What draws you to this part of the business?
ML: I love listening to my customers explain their vision for a project we are working on. I also enjoy putting together tabletop presentations that fit their needs and giving them new ideas. I get excited when I see new products or find a different use for an existing product and a particular customer pops into my head because I know they would want to see it. I really enjoy seeing a project through from beginning to end — whether it be a new opening that starts as a gutted-out space or a simple bar/glassware reconceptualization.
FE&S: You also remain well versed in smallwares and equipment. With so many options out there, how do you know when you find the right solution to your customers' challenges?
ML: I learn more about what customers are looking for by asking a lot of questions and putting together suggestions or solutions based on those conversations. This provides me with better insight into exactly what is needed. I also rely on local manufacturers' reps when working on heavy equipment projects to ensure the equipment specified is appropriate for the space and will help my clients meet their end goals. I know I've found the right solution when I get positive feedback from my customers, and we move on to the next project.
FE&S: Last year, you opened three properties in the Middle East. What did you learn from those projects, and how did they differ from projects here in the U.S.?
ML: I learned that shipping containers overseas is a challenge. With these projects, there were a lot of additional steps. Because this was my first time working with installations overseas, I didn't realize what was involved. Product got stuck in customs, for example. A lot of behind the scenes work had to be done between several different channels to get the product released from customs. I learned how important it is to communicate with the client, the procurement company, the manufacturers, our warehouse and the freight forwarder simultaneously to make sure we were all on the same page. The best lesson I took away from this project is to not hit the panic button and give up — if you are proactive, organized and honest, and have resources available to you to help you solve an issue, there is always a way.