“I always knew I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps and be a DSR.”
Kathy Stevenson-Loes has wanted to follow in her Dad’s footsteps for as long as she can remember as a distributor sales rep! Her father Tom Stephenson, his brothers, and his mother owned Stevenson Foodservice (frozen food distribution) in Bremerton, WA before Kathy was born.
“We have always joked about the time my dad took me on a will call delivery one Saturday when I was two years old, and when he turned a corner, I fell out and didn’t even cry. He knew I was going to be good DSR one day.” Her dad also worked for Continental Coffee along the way and the family was very involved with going on sight when a machine would break or need a weekend delivery so Kathy felt a connection to the work.
Kathy’s dad was working at FSA and didn’t really want her to work there at the same time so she began there in 1995 when he semi-retired. FSA was purchased by Harbor Foodservice a year and a half ago.
Nowadays if Kathy needed to repair a coffee machine, she would call Bernie Kenyon, her partner in crime who comes from the coffee business and he would walk her through it.
When did you actually get started as a sales rep?
Kathy: I bought a one-way ticket to Hawaii determined to make it on my own for at least three to five years, which I did. I started at the Hilton Hawaiian Village cocktailing around the pool and then I called my dad asking him to help me find a real job with his connections. I went to work for a broker, and I really liked that and then ended up going to work for Rykoff briefly before moving home.
When I came home my dad encouraged me to get a different kind of sales job so I’d have some street sales experience so I went to work as a beauty consultant sales rep with Nexus out of Minneapolis and I became their top salesperson out in Western Washington for about five years. About that time my father moved to Arizona in semi-retirement, which finally opened the door for me to start interviewing with FSA.
Did the street sales with the beauty products help you as a DSR?
Kathy: The sales consultant experience really turned out to be a good thing because it kept me organized. I learned to plan my day, work my plan, take care of customers, and do daily call reports, it was very strict. I was so excited to sell more than just the 50 items I had to sell with Nexus. I couldn’t wait to have the opportunity to sell all those food items because it is endless.
What was the hardest part for you if there was one?
Kathy: I don’t think there was one, I took to it like a duck in water. I did vacation relief for two weeks and got an offer for a territory in Olympia from one of the district managers. I drove down and checked it out, liked it, and moved to Olympia. I had to go to FSA University for two weeks on, two weeks off and then two weeks back on again up in Seattle. At that time, my manager called me and said there’s a brand new huge seafood restaurant being remodeled that’s going to reopen next year and it’s going to be yours. I wanted to go meet them right away, but I had to finish FSA school. It was a historical restaurant in Olympia and it became my account!
From the moment I met them, it was nonstop planning equipment, China, glassware, etc. It happened very fast so within six months the restaurant opened and I immediately had a $30-35,000 a week account from the get go! Then I opened up quite a few other places from prospecting – – I picked up all the taverns in town and kept getting busier so I don’t even think I ever went through an actual tick down on commissions because I exceeded my base right from the start. For me, it was pretty easy to feel at home in the business and most of the time, it still is fairly easy. I did open up a ton of new accounts in the first and second year.
Was the FSA University helpful for you when you first started?
Kathy: It was amazing, in fact it was very planned out in depth with plant tours and very in depth information with product cuttings, can cuttings and all kinds of other cuttings with selling skills as well. I think if you know and like food and you know how to cook, it does help. I do know how to cook, I’m not professionally trained by any means, but I know how to cook and whip something up so I do have ideas on what to do with an item and I think that’s very helpful when you’re cold calling and showing product on how to dress it up.
Did you ride-with other sales reps?
Kathy: Yes, for about two weeks. But my dad taught me to call them work-withs versus ride-withs because a bag of potatoes can ride in the passenger seat, but you need to be working with the rep.
How did you go about learning products?
Kathy: Sales meetings, brokers, customers. Searching and learning. Customers will come up with some crazy things for you to find. Sales meetings are virtual now which is actually really great because they are just as productive as they were when we were doing in person. And in some ways, virtual may be even more productive sometimes because the brokers and the category managers are arranging for samples to be delivered to our homes so when we have these 3-4 hour meetings we’ve got the folders with point of sale, the sample kits, and the product plus we don’t lose 3 hours going back and forth on the highway.
The future of the DSR came along because of a forced situation due to COVID with things they possibly should have tried before, like the virtual sales meetings. Now many DSRs are taking care of more customers, with orders being placed online by customers, this gives more time to the DSR to do everything.
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