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“We have a good organization,” Sirmon said. “We've been here for a long time, we've built a good reputation, and we try to bend over backwards to work with and please customers. We don't just try to be the cheapest guy on the block. We try to be competitive on everything, and we try to provide more than just a product. We provide our company.”
The company operates offices in Mobile; Destin, Fla.; and Nashville but will serve customers as far west as Texas and as far north as Michigan. Sirmon, who works out of Mobile, is one of 11 outside sales reps. He joined the company — and rejoined the industry — three years ago, moving over from Capital Truck Parts in Montgomery, Ala. His résumé includes stints at Barland Restaurant Supply, from 1983 to 1989, and Rykoff-Sexton Food Services in 1989 and 1990.
“Once you've been in this industry, you never quite get it out of your system,” he explained. “I had a friend who was working at Mobile Fixture. He said they were about to hire someone, and I was looking for something. So, we came together.”
Sirmon's experience continues to serve him well. His sales totals have increased in each of his three years at Mobile, topping off at about $700,000 in 2005. Helping fuel the growth was the rebuilding that so many of the region's foodservice operators needed to do in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He has maintained relationships with those he helped, even once the operators were back up and running. This has helped Sirmon establish some momentum. “It's like a snowball,” he said. “The more business you do, the more business you do.”
An example is his largest independent customer, a 240-seat steak and seafood restaurant in Ocean Springs, Miss. Devastated by Katrina, the restaurant required $100,000 of work to get back into business. “I'd been trying to get in there. I called on them after the hurricane and that was when they needed me,” Sirmon said. “Since then, we've been able to develop a very good relationship.”
The majority of Sirmon's customers are mom-and-pop-like independent restaurants, although he also services accounts ranging from school systems and nursing homes to hospitals and casinos. He prefers the independents, though. “I get to look in the eye of the person who's going to buy and use the equipment, rather than dealing with a buyer who has no interest in it and usually doesn't even know what it does.
“What we can provide for a customer other than just price,” he added. “That's a value to them. They see that we can provide them everything from drawings to delivery to setup to help them avoid problems that might come up.”
Sirmon's reputation, according to Mobile President Walne Donald, is that of the first man into the office and the last one to leave. And Sirmon's philosophy is a pragmatic one. “You've got to make hay while the sun is shining,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities out there right now, but people aren't just going to give you their business because you're there. You've got to go get it. And while you can go out and get it during the daylight hours, you've then got to come in and work on things, such as getting the quotes done and back to them, or they'll find somebody else.
“You try to start shutting down at a normal time,” Sirmon added, “but it depends on what you got accomplished that day. You just have to play it by ear. If you've got somebody who needs you there, you go.” He usually ends up servicing his nearly 140 clients about 11 or 12 hours each day.