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At Yancey's, an independent broadliner founded in 1939, the push is on to build better relationships with customers. That means, among other things, more transparency. Find out what else this distributor is doing to keep business up in tough times.

In today's tough business climate, operators and distributors should strive to build lasting, trusting relationships based on sharing knowledge and transparency, according to Paul Desena, sales manager for Yancey's, an independent broadliner founded in 1939. As a result, Desena instructs his 17 DSRs to wipe away costly and ineffective adversarial relationships in favor of business-building partnerships.

"I don't have any problem with our sales reps sharing costs and mark ups with our customers," he says. "In terms of transparency, the more the customer knows about us, the better, the more comfortable he is, and the better the relationship can be."

Beyond transparency, Desena coaches DSRs to act as if they're owners rather than salesmen calling on restaurateurs. When they act like owners, sales reps will begin thinking like proprietors and place their customers' interests above their own.

"DSRs begin to search for answers and solutions that are truly in the best interest of their customers," Desena elaborates, pointing out that the result may require the distributorship to stock new products just to offer its customers workable solutions.

He points out that sharing knowledge about the market, menu trends and food prices in a transparent partnership is a distributor's greatest offering to independent operators, who lack the time and resources to negotiate procurement contracts or determine the best products for their operations.

In order to help operators keep their costs under control, sales reps get involved in all aspects of their customer's business from the back door to the front door. After the orders are delivered, the sales rep or driver ensures that the products are stored with the least amount of staff disruption.

Operator and DSR inspect a delivery.
Operator and DSR inspect a delivery.

"Customers are encouraged to inspect their deliveries for quality and accuracy before signing the invoice. If there is an issue with a product, especially produce, we ask the customer to use what he can and we will credit the difference. We will obviously take back any unacceptable product, but we are trying to reduce costly redeliveries," he says.

DSRs explain dry, cooler and frozen storage and advise operators on the proper "first-in, first-out" rotation system that ensures freshness of products

"A large part of increased food costs come from mis-rotated product. We have charts for our customers that will help alert them to proper placement for longest shelf life. Produce that has been improperly stored may quickly spoil and have to be discarded," he points out.

As for deliveries, Desena says operators can reduce costs by reducing the number of troublesome drops. In addition to cutting the restaurateurs administrative expensive, two rather than three deliveries decrease distributors' expenses and the savings can be passed along to operators.

While operational issues should not be overlooked and operators and their suppliers should take steps to cut costs where they can, Desena says focusing more on attracting patrons should be the goal.

"So often the operator worries about the cost of goods coming in the back door but he doesn't pay attention to important things happening in the front of the house. The increased cost of products coming through the back door are important but if the operator loses focus on getting patrons in the seats and keeping people coming back, then it's irrelevant what he's spending on food. Operators can combat the rising cost of food with sales in the front of the house," he suggests.

DSRs discuss with customers the top 10 or 20 menu items that have the greatest impact on their bottom lines and review proper costing techniques, ensuring that current costs and yields are up to date. Oftentimes, they monitor consistency of prepared ingredients and point out the benefits of portioning, which contribute to savings.

"We encourage our customers to remove items that either cannot contribute favorably or that require too many inventory items that cannot be used to make other menu offerings. Finally, we develop with operators proper pricing of items in relation to their competition and economic conditions," he relates.

Designing menus and placing selections requires a creative use of the language. Desena advises operators to take advantage of attention-grabbing adjectives such as "new," "favorite" and "home recipe," use bold face type and highlight in colored boxes high-profit offerings.

Enhancing a menu occasionally means making a simple adjustment that will attract consumers, he says. One of his DSRs recently helped a Chipotle-type operator boost revenues on traditionally slow Tuesdays with a promotion dubbed "Fat Tuesday." He developed a potato burrito and small beverage combo that sold for $3.99 and doubled the restaurant's sales on that day. The winning item featured deep fried potato chunks wrapped in a burrito with toppings, ranch dressing, rice and beans.

An overlooked revenue builder in any restaurant is the wait staff, Desena believes. Operators can work with their sale reps to keep the wait staff selling from the moment the patron sits down.

"Operators don't put enough emphasis on training the wait staff and monitoring it. Patrons are known to be more interested in high-quality service than in food. The food can be excellent but if service is mediocre, the patron will not come back. Patrons will come back if they're offered great service," he says.

The biggest component of wait staff training is the pre-shift meeting, which Desena says is a must for all operations. At these gatherings, the staff is brought up to the minute about what the operator hopes to accomplish that day. The staff is exposed to the specials and their features and, more importantly, given the opportunity to try it. This brief experience provides the wait staff with the proper words and knowledge with which to "paint a picture," as Desena explains, for patrons.

"Wait staff has been known to offer a patron a drink as opposed to offering a ‘nice cold glass of refreshing raspberry ice tea.' Most of the time the wait staff doesn't paint a picture for me and it doesn't try to sell me on anything. Consequently, the wait staff is letting patrons get two glasses of water whereas if it took 10 seconds to mention a high-profit item, they could increase their sales by 15%. Training will raise the wait staff to the peak of its ability," he says.

Another sales stimulant for the wait staff is competition. Desena has seen operators boost their sales of, for example, cheesecake, when the server who sold the most portions of cheesecake is presented with a $50 gift certificate to a department store.

"The DSR's role is to help operators understand all of the costs that affect their profitability. The cost of the food that enters the back door is just one part of their success. Our help with the other areas will make operators grow their revenues," Desena remarks.

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