When Tony Riggan joined Pioneer Distributing Co. after graduating college 28 years ago, he had no clue that a long, successful career as a sales rep was ahead of him. Those who know Riggan are not surprised by his chosen path. He is known for positively impacting the people he meets, both on a personal and professional level. Riggan is highly respected by his customers, who appreciate his extensive product knowledge and many years of industry experience.
FE&S spoke with Riggan about the current state of the industry and what methods today's DSRs can employ to stay ahead of the game.
FE&S: How have you adjusted the way you do business to meet the challenges of today's tough economic environment?
TR: This business is not only about selling to customers, but also about educating them. Because it is easier to find low prices in a hurry, it is important to develop relationships with foodservice operators by providing extra service, like information on products. Training through dealer marketing groups makes this easier to accomplish.
FE&S: How have your customers reacted to the challenging business environment?
TR: Operators are telling us that customers who used to come in three to four times a month are now dropping by only once or twice a month. In response, restaurants have become more efficient. Operators are watching food costs and waste. This is an opportunity for us to provide equipment and supplies that can help restaurants operate more profitably. More of our customers are now receptive in learning about equipment like cook-chill systems. We also can recommend supplies such as ingredient scales that offer a quick return on investment.
FE&S: What are the biggest benefits and challenges in working with smaller clients and independents?
TR: The biggest benefit with these customers is the solid relationships that are formed. Small customers tend to be my best customers, and I enjoy dealing with them the most. Once we establish a sense of trust with one another, a real partnership exists. It is a definite advantage that my customers trust me to take care of them, but they also expect personal attention. On the downside, because smaller clients have tighter budgets, there is less buying power compared with big chains. This is where a strong relationship can be a benefit in terms of negotiating pricing.
FE&S: What steps do you take to keep product knowledge current?
TR: Maintaining a good level of product knowledge is an ongoing educational process. I take advantage of training offered through SEFA. I also continuously read industry literature and magazines, including FE&S. In addition, our company schedules sales meetings with local manufacturer reps as often as possible to keep up to date on equipment innovations. I make a point to regularly go on sales calls with these reps. During these calls, it's important to ask questions. I've also had the opportunity to meet with successful DSRs from all over the country, and there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained from these people. Networking is extremely important in this business.
FE&S: What ways has the internet helped your business?
TR: We have been gearing up for a stronger push in internet sales, although 99 percent of our sales effort is still face-to-face. The internet's biggest advantage is providing information quickly. Our company was one of the first to sign up with AutoQuotes, which provides fast results. I also like the efficiency of e-mailed invoices and electronic payments to manufacturers.
FE&S: What advice would you give someone starting out in the foodservice industry as a DSR?
TR: I would encourage new DSRs to seek out a dealership with a showroom, because this is the best place to become knowledgeable about a wide range of products, and deal with a variety of customer types. In addition, the more product knowledge gained from factory reps and marketing groups meetings, the better. One saying that I find holds true is, "it may be promises that get them, but it's performance that keeps them."