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Questions for your broadline distributor

Start with this one: How do you define broadline? Distributors describing themselves as broadline, or full-line, vary greatly in terms of the product lines they carry. Is it really a one-stop shop? Do they carry specialty products? Fresh meat and seafood? Will you still need a specialty distributor?

How do you define broadline? Distributors describing themselves as broadline, or full-line, vary greatly in terms of the product lines they carry. Is it really a one-stop shop? Do they carry specialty products? Fresh meat and seafood? Will you still need a specialty distributor?

What service level can I expect? Distributors judge themselves on their service levels, and you can, too, says Matt Riddleberger, director of purchasing for Firehouse Subs, a 265-unit Jacksonville, Florida-based chain and previously a vice president at Sysco. “Service level” is defined by a distributor’s own measures of performance on things like out-of-stocks, mispicks (inadvertently getting the wrong product), damage and on-time deliveries. “They have these statistics at the ready and they should be part of your discussion,” Riddleberger says.

How much access will I have? This is especially important if your distributor will be with you for new-store openings. “It can be as simple as the company providing you with cell phone numbers for everyone from the vice president, to the sales rep to category specialists,” explains Jim Benson, corporate chef for BiRite Foodservice Distributors, Brisbane, California.

Can you help with menu development? “Menu engineering is a science and can add at least 3 percent to the bottom line,” says Bill Main, president of Bill Main & Associates, a consultancy based in Half Moon Bay, California. Same goes for test kitchen development of new menu items and recipe costing.

What will my pricing structure be? As a restaurant account gets larger, it moves to different pricing structures. Those structures typically comprise moving from “street” account to “program” account status and agreeing on a fixed mark-up over the distributor’s cost or on cost-plus pricing. “Under this system, for every case delivered, the distributor adds a fixed dollar amount to the cost of the product,” says Riddleberger.

Are pricing incentives available? If you’re willing to take fewer, larger deliveries, to always paying on seven- or 14-day terms, or to using a certain percentage of private-label products the distributor may be able to offer pricing incentives or rebates.

What support do you offer? All big chains have in-house training for hourly supervisors and salaried managers. Distributors can help smaller operations level the playing field here. At a minimum, most competitive broadliners today can offer specialist service in center-of-the-plate, equipment and supplies and fresh produce, as well as in niche segments such as healthcare and marketing.

How advanced are your food safety systems? Ask to see recent inspection reports from third-party auditors. Tour the distributor’s facility to see how clean it is, how they handle product, train employees and monitor temperatures from their dock to yours.

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