Lynell Johnson entered the foodservice industry like many others. She spent close to two decades moving up the ranks, starting as a hostess, then working as a server, before becoming manager of a well-known casual dining chain’s location in Grand Forks, N.D.
“We had someone from Culinex, which was then known as Dakota Food Equipment, calling on us at the time, and I saw an ad for a salesperson for the company, then applied for the job,” Johnson says. “This was back in 1999.” Six months later, and after taking another job in the meantime that wasn’t a good fit, she joined Culinex as an inside sales person. In 2002, she moved to territory sales for northern Minnesota.
Johnson’s Culinex clientele ranges from independent restaurants to schools to hospitals and nursing homes. She has a particular affinity for selling furniture.
Here Johnson offers her take on the industry today, how technology impacts her dealings with customers and the importance of trust in her interactions on the job.
FE&S: How has the industry changed for the better over the past 19 years?
LJ: Technology has made our jobs easier and customers also get their products quicker. Years ago, we used to go on the road, take orders, and customers wouldn’t get them until the next week. With today’s technology, including smartphones, tablets and the internet, they get their orders the next day.
FE&S: You work a pretty large sales territory and yet are known for developing and maintaining customers’ trust. What’s your secret?
LJ: The secret is my customers. I’m fortunate to have a customer base that’s loyal. I went into a territory that was already developed. Everyone was loyal to company and, therefore, to me. Although the internet makes doing business more challenging, everyone knows each other and would rather buy local. I owe my success to my customers’ loyalty to me. Culinex and SEFA provide a great training program in which all sales staff attend at least one training a year to further our knowledge.
FE&S: Why do you like furniture so much and what goes into writing a good spec for this product?
LJ: It goes back to when I worked inside sales. I had a lot of people coming in wanting furniture, looking to see samples, colors, options, and it was so easy. I could pair a chair with a frame color, even though it was out of the norm in foodservice. I like changing it up. It can be time consuming, but it’s also rewarding.
FE&S: What trend excites you the most at the moment?
LJ: The most exciting thing right now in our industry is schools getting into combi ovens. This equipment is making their lives easier. I enjoy showing school foodservice departments what combi ovens can do. These units make it easier for their operations because schools are always short-staffed and no one wants to work overtime. It’s like having an extra set of hands. When I explain how combi ovens work to customers, it’s a no brainer since it helps with labor and food quality. It’s exciting to talk about, but when we can show them a demo, then they really get it.
FE&S: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned working as a DSR?
LJ: The biggest lesson would have to be trust. We work as a team. I need to count on all my co-workers, from inside sales supporting me to the shipping and service departments. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are. I trust them, and they’re the ones that make us successful.