Lesson Learned: The Cost of Staying the Same

For years now, if you were to ask most any member of the foodservice supply chain about some of their biggest challenges, they would include attracting and retaining top young talent and coming to terms with price pressures brought on by their arch nemesis, the internet.

As the recession amplified these pain points for many members of the foodservice industry, one company actually proactively addressed them. Even as market conditions continue to improve, their efforts keep paying dividends. The company I am referring to, of course, is Clark Associates, Inc., the $444 million foodservice equipment and supplies dealership based in Lancaster, Pa. that is FE&S' 2015 Dealer of the Year. In the past four years, as individual players from all industry segments have fought to stay afloat, Clark Associates has almost tripled its topline sales.

How did Clark Associates manage to flourish during such a challenging period? It's simple. While other companies cut back, Clark Associates upped the ante by investing heavily in its business. While most companies sit around wondering how to attract new, young talent, Clark Associates dispatches its employees to college campuses to recruit the industry's next generation of leaders. While most companies decry the increasing role technology plays in today's business world, Clark Associates leverages the knowledge, expertise and passion of its younger associates to develop best-of-breed solutions that make all aspects of its business, not just its e-commerce arm, more efficient and effective.

Easily, the most talked about part of Clark Associates' business is the online behemoth known as the WebstaurantStore, the company's e-commerce arm. But those who think Clark Associates is all about the "e", as in e-commerce, can't see the forest for the trees. The company understands the experience customers desire from each of its main distribution channels and strives to provide value on their clients' terms, not the other way around.

Did the company make some mistakes along the way? Or perhaps ruffle some feathers? Without question. But that comes with being an agent of change. In fact, everyone in the company understands that making the occasional mistake is part of the process. CEO Fred Clark refers to a mistake as tuition — the price one pays to learn about what's right for their business. What Fred understands better than most people in the industry today, though, is that the cost of staying the same is greater than the cost of any mistake associated with trying to help a business grow and evolve. And he does a great job of making sure the entire Clark Associates team embraces this line of thought.

It is a lesson we all need to embrace. 

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