With a goal to move back to his wife’s hometown to raise his two young children, Paul Roeske interviewed and received job offers from two companies in Traverse City, Mich. — one was Stafford-Smith.
Although his 11 years of sales experience was not related to foodservice, it turns out Roeske had a connection to the company. “Stafford-Smith Bay City had a former employee who dated my sister in high school, so I called him to find out what I could about Stafford-Smith while looking at my employment options,” he says. “The Traverse City branch manager, Cris Gross, also checked in with this same ex-employee to find out about me.”
After accepting the position, Roeske first worked a smallwares route with stock equipment, then, as the company changed its focus, he began working more heavily on the design/build side of the business. “Growth in the assisted living segment is a huge area for me,” he says. “While there is some bid work, much of it is design.”
Now with the company for 15 years, Roeske has a diverse client base that includes restaurants, healthcare, senior living, schools, colleges and supermarkets.
FE&S: In your own words, describe a well-designed foodservice operation.
PR: I have Foodservice 101 designs in my mind, but the same design and flow doesn’t work for every customer. It’s important to understand what the operator wants to do. In many cases, I throw an initial design down and ask everyone who’s involved their opinions. The more input they provide, the better the finished project will be in the long run.
FE&S: How do you determine the right piece of equipment for a specific application?
PR: Especially with design/build projects, I have a conversation with customers to get a feel for what they’re looking for and the budget. I will specify American manufacturers whenever possible, since there is great industry support behind these factories, and we don’t get warranty calls as often on this equipment. I purchase as if I was building the restaurant myself. I look for quality equipment that I expect to stand up to the wear and tear of a commercial kitchen and serve the customer well.
FE&S: How does having such a diverse group of customers make you a better salesperson?
PR: Those focused on a chain are typically only looking at what equipment the chain uses. The diversity forces me to continually educate myself on new units I may not have considered before. This helps me understand more types of equipment and expand my product knowledge.
FE&S: A foodservice design project includes a lot of details. How do you go about keeping track of all of them?
PR: Stafford-Smith has a system of checks and balances. Our internal sales support is great, and without it we wouldn’t be where we are today. I stay fairly regional in the work that I do and am fortunate to have a great crew that provides turnkey installations.
FE&S: What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started in this business?
PR: There has been a tremendous evolution in this business over the last 15 years. How customers purchase and where they purchase has changed, and the internet has driven a lot of this. We have to fight for customer loyalty, and we get that by providing performance, knowledge and customer service. The dealer network is a value added part of the industry.