When Jeff Fortier joined his family’s company, Fortier Inc., 18 years ago, the main concern was his unfamiliarity with the products he’d be selling. “I was doing well as sales manager for a sunglasses company out in Virginia, and didn’t know much about the foodservice equipment industry,” he says. “But my uncle Rick said he could teach me, and I knew that learning about a gazillion different products wouldn’t be an obstacle for me.”

Jeff FortierJeff FortierIt turns out the concern about the price differences from selling sunglasses to pricey restaurant equipment was unfounded.

“I’m a natural sales person, so it came easy to me,” says Fortier.

While he works mainly with convenience stores, Fortier also has experience with a variety of restaurant types and other foodservice operators.

FE&S: How has the c-store foodservice model evolved in recent years?

JF: It started more on the East Coast with c-stores that were innovators, like Sheetz and Wawa. I saw this when I lived in Virginia, but now foodservice here in the Midwest is starting to catch up. Stores that formerly were just selling candy bars and soda have evolved into full-fledged foodservice programs. It’s amazing how this has exploded in such a short time.

Foodservice programs also are getting more sophisticated. I have a customer that started with gourmet hot dogs on an island display and now has a QSR-type foodservice program with an oven, fryers and foodservice cabinets. These retailers are making food to order and branding foodservice programs themselves, rather than pay franchise fees.

FE&S: You are known for working collaboratively with reps and other members of the supply chain. What is the biggest benefit to approaching business that way?

JF: I think working closely with reps keeps me current on my product knowledge as well as in the know about new and innovative equipment. If you get lost in your projects, you become stuck in a routine. Reps constantly show me new things that I can introduce to my customers. This helps expand everyone’s business and knowledge. It also helps my company to be constantly forward-thinking.

FE&S: What’s your approach when something does not go right?

JF: It all goes back to customer service. I evaluate what happened and where the mistake occurred relatively quickly. If it’s my error, I just take care of it. When it’s something the customer has done, I let them know and go over our options.

If this is done diplomatically, 9 times out of 10 the customer is understanding, and it’s not an issue. It’s important not to take advantage of these situations or leave customers high and dry for any reason. When there is a vendor error, I address it with them, track what’s happening every step of the way and keep the customer in the loop.

FE&S: Over the course of your 18-plus years working for a foodservice equipment and supplies dealer, what’s the most important lesson you learned?

JF: It’s important to always be honest. If something is screwed up, customers would rather get bad news honestly than be lied to. The truth is always appreciated.