The past two years have tested the foodservice industry in ways that were previously unimaginable.
From wholesale economic shutdowns to dealing with rapidly changing federal, state and local requirements to a plethora of supply chain issues, the challenges have been broad and dynamic. When operating a business, some of this is to be expected. What’s been unexpected, though, is the industry’s collective approach to solving these issues.
Prior to the pandemic, it was common for dealers, reps and manufacturers to refer to one another as partners. That was never truly accurate. In truth, we are all members of the same business community. It is a community built on honor, trust and integrity. It’s a community with business relationships that span generations. Within that community, business relationships can be very transactional. You exchange money for goods or services. In a true partnership, we are in it together and share the risks and responsibilities.
Everyone understands there will be challenges and the rules may have to change, particularly during times like these, but we should be trying to resolve these issues together. When wrestling with a once-in-a-generation crisis, why wouldn’t factories come to their dealer network to look for ways to work together? We can draw on our generations of experience and relationships with both the factories and operators to help develop solutions that benefit all of us.
It starts with better communication among everyone within the community. Communication needs to be clear, concise and, most importantly, timely. All individual members of the supply chain think long and hard, or at least they should, when it comes to changing policies and raising prices. That information should be shared with other members of the supply chain in such a way that it gives everyone a chance to prepare and adapt. We can all handle bad news. What we can’t do, though, is address issues we don’t know about.
We should be able to have differences, but we are a community, and we also have to take care of that community. People can sit down and have hard discussions and then we shake hands and move forward.
When we receive word of a delayed shipment, for example, days before the scheduled installation, it becomes impossible to manage. No company can operate at warp speed like that. As a result, reps are working three times harder than before for the same orders. Factories need their reps more than ever because they make these companies more efficient. They are an effective liaison between the factories and their customers.
Please understand that by no means am I saying dealers are perfect. But we pay our bills within the agreed-upon terms and conditions, and if we don’t, there are penalties to pay.
A true partnership transcends the transaction by thinking longer term. Being a partner requires more than raising prices and changing policies to meet short-term obligations. It requires honesty, integrity and trust. In other words, you can’t cancel a bunch of orders one week and the next week start advertising you have better lead times than your competitors.
We may not be partners in the strictest definition, but we are part of a community. If the end users and the marketplace can’t count on us to be honorable our community will suffer long term. Let’s put honor and integrity back in the market so all parties can have the opportunity to succeed.