Building purveyor relationships (again)

“Bill: Wanted to let you know I’m transferring.

And with that farewell email, we’re on to our fourth Giant Foodservice Company sales rep in about a year and a half. (It’s not the company pictured.)

Forging relationships with our purveyors, farmers and local business owners is one of my favorite roles here, and it’s a part of the job that’s still fairly new.

For the first nine months, I commuted three hours from New Jersey — “just helping out for a while” I told myself — every weekend to run the kitchen, but first filled the car or minivan (sometimes both) with coolers and boxes stuffed with products from Restaurant Depot, the downstate cash-and-carry wholesaler. Buying only what we needed, focusing on sales and paying excellent prices for a lot of it, we saved thousands.

Then came the 200-mile move and the need to look into the larger food-service purveyors. Quite a mixed bag here in the Adirondacks. I found what many of you in the industry also likely found:

Local Foodservice Company — Pros: Daily delivery, online ordering. Cons: $19 for 3 gallons of milk and other ridiculousness I found on past invoices. (I’ll get this out of the way now — we don’t use them.)

Regional Foodservice Company — Pros: History with the sales rep, who gave us excellent prices because he wasn’t commission-based. Cons: Somewhat limited selection and only weekly deliveries.

Big Foodservice Company — Pros: Most knowledgable sales rep around — and a high school friend to boot — and house-brand products that are exceptional. Cons: We’re the last stop so our deliveries are late and battered. And despite being part of a cooperative buying group, I’m not wild about the prices. And no potential for equipment.

Giant Foodservice Company — Pros: Access to just about every product under the sun, near-daily deliveries and free use of equipment. Decent prices. Cons: A high minimum order, and they don’t really care about us in the first place

Who would you choose?

I couldn’t settle on one. I use three, in a juggling act that can be financially rewarding but occasionally awkward, as I deliver regular “sorry, no order today” texts to the commissioned guys on the other end of the cellphone during slower seasons.

But I’ve been hoping and praying we could build one solid relationship with a company that anticipates and can meet our needs. Giant Foodservice Company makes sense on paper, between the equipment and most prices, but that old girl just won’t commit.

Once we got established here, I tried to purchase from Giant Foodservice Company right away, only to have my calls to the rep unreturned. Turns out, he’d quit, but nobody thought to tell us. It took a month to find out who his replacement was, and by that time, he, too, was gone. The third guy was — is — very nice, and pushed for us to get replacement coffee equipment and new juice-dispensing equipment despite our relatively low numbers. But as one of his smaller clients — probably the smallest during the winter season — we just didn’t captivate the company. I never felt like they were selling us solutions as much as they were just shipping us food, taking our order between calls.

And now, here we go again.

“Bill, just wanted introduce myself,” came the email today from the new sales rep. “I’m in your area every day,” he added. “Can’t wait to sit down and talk.”

So I have the same feeling I’ve had in my other industry when a new employee starts working for me. A blank canvas where anything is possible. Will this guy be someone who understands who we are and how we function, or will I have to explain why he can’t send me beer fries. Will there be perks that weren’t offered before (more equipment, lower minimum purchases) or will it be more of the same. Or worse?

Time to return his email. We’ll see what the future holds.

Photo credit.


2 thoughts on “Building purveyor relationships (again)

  1. I feel your pain, Bill. My situation differs somewhat from yours. I have low numbers all the time. My max capacity is 26 at a drug-alcohol rehab center in a big Western city. So I shop at several “cash and carry” stores and local discount markets.

    It’s tough encouraging purveyors to help. In 2010 I called a respected local produce dealer. Two or three times the salesman called during lunch (I thought that’s no-no in the restaurant world!). When I asked him to call me at 1 or 2 pm, he wouldn’t. I gave up after two weeks of phone tag.

    On the other hand, mySysco rep is very good. She understands my limited capacity to store cold food and to purchase food in bulk. I often take advantage of freezer sales. Even stil, I frequently say, “No thank you. That product doesn’t fit my operation.”

  2. I hear stories about how 10 years ago, Sysco donated all the food for the camp’s big fundraiser for years on end. Turns out, the rep’s boss was local and sent her kids to camp. I wish we had connections like that these days, despite the fact that I have personal AND professional history with two of our reps. But I can’t imagine any of our purveyors donating so much as a sugar packet these days, nor do I feel like we’ve necessarily given them a reason to.

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