While his brother-in-law decided to go into business selling bar supplies back in 1977, Dave Kort was looking to get out of his job as manager of a fast food restaurant.
"I told him if I can make as much money as I was currently making, count me in," Kort recalls.
He joined forces with his brother-in-law and learned all aspects of the business, from working in the warehouse to taking orders and making deliveries. A decade later, when his brother-in-law left the business, Kort joined the company's other owner in creating another company specializing in selling restaurant and bar equipment, along with produce and dairy products. Then the recession hit.
"When I decided to get out, I knew most of the players in the restaurant supply business. Premium Supply was up-and-coming then," Kort says. "The only position they had open was in sales, the one aspect of the business I had no experience in."
It's a position Kort has held for the past 22 years. He is known by his colleagues as being "dependable, efficient and unfailingly punctual." FE&S spoke with Kort to learn more about his business philosophy and successful career as a DSR.
FE&S: You've been in the business for nearly 40 years, and you are as enthusiastic as ever. What keeps you so energized?
DK: I love getting up and going to work. It's always a challenge and never boring. I enjoy seeing and talking to people. When I was a buyer, I hated dealing with pushy salesmen. I learned a lot from dealing with people and took the philosophy of becoming the type of laid-back salesman I liked to work with.
FE&S: In developing relationships with customers, you take a very warm, personal and hands-on approach — going so far as to bake cookies for them around the holidays. How does this warm approach benefit you and your customers?
DK: I consider my customers more like friends because that's the type of relationship we develop over time. I'd see others leaving chocolates or a bottle of wine for restaurant owners and decided to take a more inclusive approach by baking cookies for the entire staff. Fifteen years later, people still ask me if I'm baking cookies for Christmas.
FE&S: How has your business changed over the past 22 years?
DK: There's not a lot of longevity with new clients as there is with long-standing customers. I think people don't research locations like they should. I've avoided businesses that I know are in a bad site and have talked people out of going into certain spots that have a bad history.
FE&S: Cultivating good supply chain relationships seems to be a key element in your success. Describe your approach to working with reps and the like.
DK: Even though I've been in this business for 37 years, I still don't know everything. The rep chain is very important. When I need help, I reach out to people who are experts in their field. All I have to do is pick up the phone and they're there.
FE&S: What is the most important lesson you've learned over the years that has helped you remain successful?
DK: I need a good team behind me, and here I have that team. I can go out and sell anything I want, but having backup is key to my success. It doesn't work to be a loner in this business. Also, my boss is behind me 1,000 percent.