We are excited to share the story behind the success of FE&S' 2015 Dealer of the Year Award recipient, Clark Associates, Inc. By merely glancing at Clark Associates' impressive growth over the past few years, you will quickly understand why they were considered for this award in the first place. But, FE&S' Dealer of the Year Award is much more than a simple measure of sales success.

We carefully vet contenders through conversations with supply chain partners, key manufacturers and, perhaps most significantly, past winners and other peer companies. While we look for many qualities in a Dealer of the Year recipient, one of the most important is the ability to maintain healthy margins by adding real value to the sales process as well as innovation. The Dealer of the Year Award recognizes those organizations that move the industry forward with exceptional service, creative thinking and organizational excellence.

Clark Associates is a truly innovative company. Some detractors point to the company's strong online presence as a negative. Generally speaking, the thinking goes that selling products online strips out the human side of what foodservice equipment and supplies dealers offer their customers, making them merely low-cost providers. Some feel this approach minimizes the value-added nature of what dealers can and should provide their customers and ultimately diminishes the health of the dealer community.

What we have discovered, however, is something quite different. Clark Associates has implemented an all-of-the-above approach. The Lancaster, Pa.-based dealer continues to invest heavily across its main channels of distribution, which include its traditional dealer model, Clark Food Service Equipment, and the company's multi-location cash-and-carry arm, The Restaurant Store. Each of these channels leverages a consultative sales approach.

As you will learn in Joe Carbonara's in-depth article, Clark Associates has combined this more traditional approach with a well-executed and highly effective online effort. The WebstaurantStore effectively competes with other online retail giants who often regard foodservice equipment and supplies as little more than another category in their exhaustive list of offerings. And, just as in other segments of its business, Clark Associates invests heavily in the e-commerce site, training its people extensively, maintaining high inventory levels and remaining relentless in their pursuit of enhancing the customer experience.

May, of course, means the National Restaurant Association Show will convene in Chicago. We look forward to seeing many of you May 16 to 19 in Chicago. We will roll out the red carpet for all of our 2015 award winners the evening of May 16 at The Four Seasons Hotel Chicago for FE&S' Dealer of the Year and All Industry Awards Gala. We hope to see you there but if you can't make it, we will cover the event live via social media and in the pages of FE&S.