Tony Witts, Innovative Foodservice Group/Louis Wohl & Sons
After working as a dishwasher in a restaurant at 11 years old in the 70s, Tony Witts was already in a management position at age 15. “Back then, working at a job like that as a seventh grader wasn’t so unusual,” he explains.
Fast forward a decade and, after starting a family, Witts made the switch to a sales position at an equipment dealership. After three years, he joined a national broadline distributor as an equipment and supplies specialist from 1987 to 1991. Following a brief stint working as a stockbroker, he returned to the foodservice industry, joining a Florida rep group.
Witts then joined Tampa, Fla.-based Louis Wohl & Sons as a sales manager and then became national accounts manager. After 15 years, he wanted to be “back on the streets” in a sales capacity, where he’s been for the last five years.
Witts’ book of business includes operators from a variety of segments, including corporate feeders and independent restaurants. Most of his clients, however, hail from the healthcare foodservice segment. He helps design some of his projects, specifies the equipment, coordinates the installation and assists with smallwares and tabletop packages.
Q: How does your experience as a sales manager help you better serve clients?
A: I get things done efficiently and effectively. I preach a certain way of selling. It’s about being consistent on the call and providing as many services as I can.
Q: What goes into developing the right design and equipment package?
A: The right design comes down to extrapolating and squeezing out of the customer what they’re trying to do. We’re trying to help customers get ahead of the day and make their lives easier. Time is the most precious thing to foodservice operators. I try to help them get back their time to focus on what they need to focus on. It’s about being efficient and effective.
Q: Proper installation plays a critical role in ensuring a long and productive service life for equipment. Describe a few critical steps you take to ensure proper installation on your jobs.
A: First off, communication is key. I have a group of installers that I primarily work with that have been in the business 30 years or more. They have the full breadth of knowing everything going on in installation. Also, I’m half street salesman and half contract salesman, so I do a little of everything.
Q: In what ways has the industry evolved since your career began?
A: It’s important to embrace technology. Anything that can give me more time in the day is a good thing. Just 20 years ago, we were handwriting orders, faxing and everything was on paper. We spent so much time filling out and touching paperwork two to three times. In terms of equipment technology, combi ovens can do multiple tasks and decrease hood space, and it is magical what speed ovens can do.
Q: What’s the secret to developing long-lasting client relationships?
A: First and foremost is follow-up. My customers know I will follow up in 24 to 48 hours with anything they’re asking for. I learned in the stock broker industry to deliver bad news fast, as soon as an issue comes up, to get ahead of the problem. It helps to have relationships with the factories and get assistance when you’re in a jam. Buying groups will also bail me out due to our relationships.