Ryan Stevens of Ben E. Keith – Gulf Coast located in Missouri City, Texas has earned top honors as AFDR’s December 2021 DSR of the Month and has been inducted into the AFDR DSR Hall of Fame.
Ryan’s territory is in the inner loop (downtown) of Houston which is around 20 miles from the warehouse.
How did you get in the foodservice business?
Ryan: I grew up oversees and food was a big part of my experiences which encouraged me to become a chef. When we returned to the U.S. I enrolled in the University of Houston at the Conrad Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant management program. After graduating, I opened a restaurant as a managing partner and failed miserably, but it was a great experience. Then I did some restaurant management with a corporate group but was getting burned out. Through friends, I got an interview and began working as an inside sales rep at a small distributor in Houston, TX.
Did working on the “inside” help you working now on the “outside”?
Ryan: Absolutely. Getting those orders in and learning the book was my job. I was assigned to the lead salesperson, and it was a sink or swim situation. I began at 6 am keying in his early orders from his hotel and country club chefs and ran his Will Calls all day long and had to be back to the office by 3 pm to key in his restaurant orders. I learned a sense of urgency and how to prioritize time; being able to handle all kinds of things being thrown at me which all helped me prior to having my own territory.
Would you recommend this be a part of the training program?
Ryan: Yes. It is great way to learn the book, items and descriptions. I was learning while helping with someone else’s account. The people on the inside helped a great deal. We had the traditional sales pit with inside reps in the center and the purchasing managers’ offices around the sides. We could yell or walk across the room, asking questions, so no question was stupid. As sales reps, I believe we are the type of people who seek out knowledge and information.
DSR Dave: I have learned through working with 100’s of DSRs, my own experience as a DSR, and from my 16 years of doing these interviews that some of the best operators have the best relationship with their DSRs, they work as partners. More of those restaurants who do not have those good working relationships tend to fail.
Looking back on that restaurant you managed, did you have a good relationship with your distributors?
Ryan: No, not at all. Our distributors were simply fulfilling our orders. We were using Japanese distributors, mainly imported stuff. There was a lot of pride within the ownership about watching price, getting the lowest price. We were undercapitalized from the beginning, trying to invest as little as possible and maximize as much as they could. It was very cutthroat. There wasn’t the opportunity to develop those relationships.
I use that experience every day, knowing that no matter how much you put into it as an operator, there is still the opportunity for failure. I keep this in mind when I am working with my customers.
If you are just taking orders, many of your operators may not make it. Some operators ask for opinions, utilizing all resources to make them successful. We as DSRs see what works at one place that we can share carefully with other operators by making suggestions.
We are in the hospitality industry, therefore should not be shoving our opinions down operators’ throats just because we maybe ran a restaurant or worked as a chef. Our goal is to make people feel good about their purchasing decisions. Some reps coming straight from this background tend to make the mistake of trying to prove that their ideas are correct and what the operator should do as opposed to making solid recommendations to them.
Don’t let your ego get in the way of developing relationships with your operators. Restaurant folk can be a different breed. They have a thousand ideas and want to do them all at once. You have to be able to work with that kind of personality.
Most restauranteurs do not want to be told how to run their businesses; you collaborate WITH them.
Be a Resource and SELL SOMETHING!