In a mature industry such as foodservice, many people will often over-simplify the role of the distribution chain as mainly providing a product for a price. The concensus among people who adopt this line of thought is pretty one-dimensional: You order a product and it shows up. If it were only so easy.


A lot of times operator customers will tell me that they feel they can get better pricing if they purchase their equipment directly from the manufacturers. What they tend to forget, though, is that in many instances dealers have more buying power than they do because dealers purchase equipment not for one or two locations but for literally hundreds of clients. Further enhancing our purchasing power is the affiliation most dealers have with buying groups. It’s important to note that dealers don’t stock just one line of product, we stock most lines out there.

And in the pursuit of better pricing, some customers will have the inclination to cut out dealers or other members of the industry. Unfortunately for them, that better price tends to come in name only. The many other related activities that go with procuring a product only just begin upon the issue of a purchase order. And if not properly managed, these activities can erode the benefit of the lower price considerably and even cost the operator money and another just as important commodity: time.

Often overlooked in the scheme of things is the fact that dealers will track the status of orders to ensure they arrive in a timely manner. Most operators do not have the infrastructure to do this and it will take away from serving their customers effectively and efficiently. Dealers also stage and hold ordered products until an operator needs them. And the significance of this only grows when we discuss an opening. Many dealers will delay billing terms for their customers, which will help with the operator’s cash flow.

For reasons like the one mentioned earlier and countless others, good dealers will try to become more like a business partner or a resource in the eyes of their customers. In doing so, you shed the perception that you are just another vendor coming in or calling in to take another order. Doing this is easier said than done. I’ve had instances where it has taken me a year or longer to be perceived as a partner or resource by certain clients.

But the worst thing a dealer can do is come into an account and just ask what an operator needs. That is how dealer sales reps get stereotyped as being order takers. To be perceived as a partner, reps need to bring new ideas to their customers on a regular basis, which will help them start to see the value you provide.

Just as important as being proactive is the dealer’s ability to be reactive and a good listener. Chefs regularly come up with lots of creative ideas and a good dealer partner will listen to their customer’s vision and provide the equipment or supplies that will help bring it to life. When this happens, the dealer sales rep becomes a member of the operator’s staff, but one that’s not on salary.

By their very nature, many people tend to look over the proverbial fence and feel that the grass is always greener on the other side. A good dealer sales rep, however, will take the necessary steps to show their operator customers that they already have the greenest grass on the block.

“Parting Shot’’ is a monthly opinion column written on a rotating basis by guest authors. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of FE&S.