John Skaggs, field sales representative for Economy Restaurant Fixtures in San Francisco, has an advantage that other DSRs lack when it comes time to make a sales call at a restaurant kitchen.
“I was a chef for about 20 years, so I know how chefs like to operate,” Skaggs said. “If you ever went out with me and saw the way I present myself to chefs and the way I talk to them, you would probably be appalled.”
The first thing an outsider would notice is that Skaggs speaks in what he calls “kitchen lingo.” He also dresses the role. “Typically, I don't wear a suit or tie. It's been my experience with most chefs — and I know this from when I was in a kitchen — that when somebody walks in wearing a suit the first thing that happens is your antennae go up and you think, â€˜I don't have time to deal with this, I'm too busy.'”
To avoid that, Skaggs will walk into a kitchen wearing work boots, a pair of blue jeans and a polo shirt and talk to chefs about food. “Right away I'm on their side,” he said.
Skaggs left the kitchen in 1991 and began working as a consultant for hotels and restaurants in product specifications, pricing and buying programs. He joined Economy in early 2001.
As a veteran former chef, Skaggs' unique perspective provides him with several advantages over other DSRs. “Obviously, the networking is really important,” he said. “I always tell this to other salespeople: You need to pay more attention to the sous chefs than you do to the chefs because the sous chefs grow up and become chefs. Either they get promoted where they're at or they go and find another opportunity somewhere. If you're hooked into them then they're going to bring you with them.”
Such an approach clearly pays dividends: Skaggs does no cold calling, relying instead almost completely on referrals. He currently has 75 clients, including independent restaurants, hotels and catering companies. In 2004, he personally notched about $2 million in sales and has been Economy's top volume generator since joining the company.
And Skaggs shows no signs of slowing down as he continues to handle many high-end openings in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently, he worked with a 4-star restaurant called Frisson, which opened in August. The job, which was worth $250,000, included all of the restaurant's smallwares, china, glass and silver. A colleague handled equipment installations.
“I knew the chef, Daniel Patterson,” Skaggs recalled. “He and I worked together picking out the china and glassware. I brought him several samples, and took him to several showrooms. He had specific shapes that he wanted, and I was able to find those for him.”
Charlie Fusari, Economy's vice president of Field Sales, called Skaggs a “mentor to many.” “I'm really known for being a tabletop specialist,” Skaggs explained. “Economy was very oriented toward heavy equipment and basic tabletop until I came onboard. I've been taking a lot of the salespeople who previously were just selling refrigerators and stoves and teaching them how to present china, glass and silverware, how to penetrate that market.”
Skaggs lives in San Francisco with his wife, Debra Barton, an executive with Starwood Hotels. His daughter Ryan, 19, is a freshman at the University of Washington in Seattle.