The other day, while designing a new kitchen, I received a telephone call from my opening units director, whom I consider to be my customer. This director was busy opening a new Brinker restaurant in a growing town and wanted to add some shelving for additional storage. I asked some vital questions, received some vital answers and then my colleague went back to preparing the restaurant for opening.

Armed with these responses, I went to my purchasing agent and asked her to order this shelving. But first she had some questions of her own: "What finish would you like, how many shelving units do you need and when must you have them?" OK, I stopped, thought and provided the information required. Satisfied, our purchaser ordered the shelving.

I then went back to my design, only to have the phone ring; my shelving vendor was on the line. While normally very conversational, this time he was quick and to the point. Our shelving order had a problem in that, because of a stocking situation, the ordered items would have to be split-shipped. The vendor had called to notify me so that nobody would be surprised. Two days later, the shelving arrived at the restaurant. My opening units director got his goods and, with them, the additional storage space he needed. It was a good day, as no one got hurt.

By working together with channel partners the task of finding solutions to my design problems becomes easier.

When I looked back at those events, my topic for this article dawned on me ... Solutions. That is what this business is all about ... solving problems. I had wanted to design a kitchen that met the architect's design program expectations. My opening units director wanted to turn over a fully equipped and functioning restaurant. My purchasing agent wanted to satisfy requests for equipment. The factory wanted to sell the products. And, finally, the trucking company wanted to deliver our order.

I rely on many people in the foodservice equipment industry to help me perform my role as a senior kitchen designer. When I come across a problem and need some advice, I first contact my local manufacturers' sales representatives. They are very knowledgeable about their lines and know their competitors' lines, as well, often because at some point they may have had those lines themselves. Their experience across many market segments can help me gain a new perspective when I'm seeking solutions to current problems. Having and sharing that experience is the single most important asset a good sales rep can possess (after a willingness to buy lunch, of course).

If our sales reps don't have a solution, then I turn to personnel at the factory to provide the answers I need. Service agents are also a valued resource for information, as they typically know which brands of equipment tend to require extensive service and which don't. They can also help by determining optimal equipment placement, which will improve the pieces' work-life while avoiding factors that might impair it. Service agents tend to place a strong emphasis on accessibility because they are the ones that have to contort their bodies to perform equipment service.

Our own store managers know which pieces of equipment are reliable and which pieces aren't. They need dependable equipment and we try to provide the brand(s) that satisfy this need.

I will also extend kudos to the factories that build food safety into their products. For example, being able to monitor and track refrigeration temperatures is an important part of our food safety efforts. Although third-party products are available, having these features built-in at a factory makes the transition to using this technology easier. As a result we are able to require our managers to measure and record products' and equipment temperatures as standard practice.

In sum, by working together with all these channel partners the task of finding solutions to my design problems becomes easier. Overall, I'm pleased that our industry does a good job of sharing and exchanging information. I will always embrace someone who brings me solutions to my problems rather than someone just making a sales call.