As a relative newcomer to the foodservice industry (I’ve been here four and a half years), and coming from the IT industry, I have had to face a steep learning curve. In many ways, the foodservice and baking industries are similar to my background in IT services but so much is different.


Chris Heina, President Cobblestone Ovens Elk Grove, Ill.
As a mentor reiterated to me, the three basic things we all need to understand and master are:


  • Product Knowledge
  • Who are the Players?
  • And How to Play the Game?

Participating in various industry associations such as CFESA, NAFEM and NRA, along with networking with members from MAFSI, FEDA and FCSI has been the single best investment I have made to help me answer these questions.

The online resources these associations have assembled offer a tremendous amount of information. For example, the information on the NRA website has taught me a lot about my customers’ issues. Resources like the Glossary of Terms from the CFESA website have helped me with terminology. Articles penned by our peers have prompted me to think about problems in a different light or have provoked deep introspection in our organization. And many of the resources have been useful to share with our technical staff.

The certification processes these associations offer legitimize the experience and expertise of countless foodservice professionals. We believe in the value of the CFESA brand and have invested significant resources to have our technicians become certified in practice areas, ultimately becoming master certified technicians. Same goes for the NAFEM-sponsored CFSP program: one staff member has earned this designation and I have been challenged to do the same. Participation in these kinds of programs drives a commitment to higher standards and this enables us to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace. CFESA and CFSP certification also provide us a means to measure our technical and professional competency and portrays us as legitimate members of the industry.

I have had the opportunity to attend association-hosted conferences and shows featuring fantastic speakers ranging from the motivational to the educational. Participating in different roundtables, workshops and educational sessions has brought me closer to my peers and provided a forum where I have felt comfortable sharing and learning. Every conference I have attended, I have considered more than a worthwhile investment.

Finally, the single greatest value I have found is in the individuals that I have met at the conferences and shows and the relationships I have built with them. As a relative newcomer to the industry, I have been amazed by the amount of information that these new friends have been willing to share with me so selflessly. Members of these affiliated associations have shared their individual experiences with specific manufacturers, specific clients, and their own go-to market strategies. They have also shared with me their strengths and weaknesses, their successes and failures, their goals and ambitions, while challenging me to push my organization to higher achievements.

I have gained tremendous product knowledge and have met many key players who have taught me how to play the game in this industry and have drastically shortening my learning curve. In turn, I look for every opportunity to give back.