“Always be your customers and your prospects best employee. Do things that most people wouldn’t do to help them make money in their business.”
Founding member and retired board member of AFDR, Todd Hauser of Martin Bros. Distributing, Inc. in Cedar Falls, Iowa has earned top honors as AFDR’s DSR of the Month for January of 2022 and has been inducted into the AFDR DSR Hall of Fame.
Todd’s main territory is in North Central Iowa, but he also has accounts in ten different states. Hauser is about 100 miles from his warehouse.
How did you get started in this business in the first place?
Todd: I’ve been in food service sales for 37 years, 29 of those years with my current company, Martin Bros. I worked for a little company before that for seven or eight years which was bought out by Martin Bros. I grew up in the family restaurant and catering business and our family of my parents and four kids all worked at the restaurant. When I was about 22, I decided to try something different. So, I got into the other side, food service and it was a great move for me. I’ve been in national accounts off and on, but I’ve been basically in food service sales as a DSR or national accounts for 37 years in total.
What were some of the hardest things to learn when you first started in a small company, going against the big guys?
Todd: I think starting out when you’re a new DSR, it was all about product knowledge. When I worked at the small distributing company, Martin Bros. was the big company that I had to compete against. Since I grew up in the restaurant business and had been an operator at one time with my family, I knew how to think like an operator. I had to use that to my advantage when I’d be calling on people because I didn’t have a great breadth of products to offer. So, it was maybe more knowledge and hands on.
In Northern Iowa at the time, a lot of the small bar restaurant owners kind of warmed up to me because they knew I kind of knew their business and what they were going through. But product knowledge then and even now, is indispensable. Since Covid is not as bad as it was a year ago, there are starting to be some more new products coming out, and the more you know about them, and the more you can help your customers utilize them, is really key.
How are you learning about products now since there are not very many sales meetings anymore? How are you reaching for that knowledge, whether it’s a brand-new product to the industry or new to your inventory?
Todd: I think in the last two years, we’ve had one in person sales meeting, and as much as we all dislike it, we still do a lot of Zoom meetings. I am going to a district meeting this week, but we have a few really good vendors that service us at Martin Bros., and they’ll do district, where there’s eight or ten sales reps, and they’ll show their three or four new items. Kind of like the old round robin at a sales meeting. It’s great to see items we didn’t know were out there.
Also, the information AFDR sends out is helpful, and stuff I find online if somebody sends me something, I don’t have time to go looking for it. Usually, it’s a broker or manufacturer rep that I’ve known for years who asks what I think of a product.
I never thought I’d say I miss sales meetings, but I have realized that when we get together as a district with a broker or manufacturers rep, how valuable that is. So, I hope someday we get back to where we’re in person and get to taste and smell and see the stuff.
Are samples important to your sales growth?
Todd: Very, very important. It is important to get that sample to a good, qualified customer, as important as it is to get it to our sales reps, so they taste it, smell it, know how to use it, know how to sell it. Samples have always been tough for years. We all know that. But the good brokers, the good manufacturers, they still know a way. I know my district manager, Brian, they’ll send him a couple or three cases of something they want to push, and he’ll reportion them up and get them out to sales reps.
There are so few reps/brokers going out anymore that as a DSR, if you show up with a sample, if you have the right product for the right customer, it is very impactful, and you’ll probably have a very good success rate of getting them to try it.
How are you sampling now? What’s your best approach to actually get a sample to a customer and get it sold?
Todd: If you pre-qualify the customer and they’re large enough, usually our good broker/manufacturer reps, not all of them, but a lot of them will authorize us to either take a case (versus two meatballs to try, LOL) out of stock and send it, which is the best way, because the customer can get it on their normal delivery, the normal way they would get it.
But some of them (because there are a lot of rules) might take a little more time because there are many companies that won’t let us pull something out of stock, but they’ll pay $250 to send a case FedEx with dry ice to get it to the customer. And that’s fine but seems overkill on expenses. But then, on the other hand, if my sales manager gets us a bunch of samples bagged up and we split them up and we do the old, “drag the bag,” you really must be there with those smaller samples helping show it or cook it up, otherwise if you ship a small sample, they get lost or eaten by the help.
DSR Dave: Like Todd said, if it’s in stock or even if it’s not, put it on their next truck and let them send it out on their truck so it gets there at the right time with the rest of the order, how much cheaper that would be (for the manufacturer) to bill back for the sample. Since their reps/brokers are not taking samples out, manufacturers could save if they thought of it differently.
Todd: We are doing business with a little appetizer company that has come up with four or five new appetizers, and they are making up Sample Kits at the factory. They ship them to us, we give them an item number, and now we do not have to give a full case to say a small mom and pop to sample them, we have the sample kit.
To me, it’s the most efficient. So, we have X number of sample boxes from this appetizer company in our freezer warehouse and we talk to the customer, maybe showing point of sale, tell them we tried them and maybe give them a customer testimonial, and if they’re interested, we just key it and it goes out at no charge, and it comes on the truck. If you don’t have dry ice and you are hauling stuff around in 80-degree weather, the integrity of the product is never going to be like it would be coming off the truck.
So, to me, if a manufacturer is really going to do it right, that’s what they should do. They don’t have to give a free case to everybody. If they would make sample packs and we slot it, it seems very efficient. And you’re getting the product to the customer in the condition you want it. Maybe some of the larger distributors wouldn’t do this, but it works.
Are you selling many different brands now because of the product shortages and Covid than you were maybe two or three years ago, that maybe even were not on your radar screen?
Todd: Absolutely. Some of our biggest brands in the past have become kind of the most unreliable. And it’s all communication. I could give you several companies that would short us for four months and say, it’s coming, it’s coming. And then when everything is out of their pipeline, everything’s out of their warehouse, then they tell you, oh, yeah, we discontinued that. They should simply tell us that the product is no longer produced, because we know many companies have to cut back on what they produce because labor is a problem everywhere in the factories.
Yes, we’ve entertained smaller companies. Some call them boutique manufacturers. Not the biggest, but they have good product. This has happened when the major company cannot get us half of what we order our customers.
Are the customers pretty open to you showing them these products that you wouldn’t even have shown three years ago?
Todd: Yes, because if they can’t get say the top five breaded, deep-fried appetizers out there, they’re more than willing to look at something similar, new or different. The only problem is sometimes the smaller companies, when they have a great product that really takes off, then you may run into the problem that they don’t have the capacity to produce it either.
Since Covid started, how are you Prospecting? In person, on Zoom? Or is there so much business out there that they’re calling you because you’ve been around 37 years?
Todd: When COVID first hit for six or eight months, nobody went anywhere. Nobody left their homes because they weren’t allowed. Operators have had so few visits for almost two years now and I’m not saying you can’t call somebody or Zoom them, but I’m talking about the independent street operator, you need to just call them, get an appointment or walk in and eat and talk to get information for an appointment.
Last Spring, I went into a nice little steak house in a town of 5000. Had lunch and started talking to the bartender. By the end of lunch, I figured out she was the owner, and I introduced myself and company. She was upset with her current distributor because nobody had really called on them, mostly because of COVID things. And their rep wasn’t smart enough to come up with alternative items that we ALL were out of. I ended up making like, two or three visits to her, and she wanted some pricing and a few samples. Now I’m getting 80 % of their business. There are many manufacturers that won’t let their reps see people in person yet that there are very few out there. I know we must be safe, but the DSRs who are doing it right have a lot of business now. They don’t have a lot of help. They’re having labor issues.
John Martin used to say, the problem is your opportunity. So, if you can get in this particular account, for instance, a nice steak house that used to make many homemade appetizers, but they are having labor issues, they need help with their appetizers. So, I’ve been able to show them some pretty good premade upscale appetizers and suggested they might do a little signature sauce. They loved that.
They had been stuck with two other distributors who had not been to see them in a year and a half, and not receiving any new ideas.
What do you usually talk about with the prospect on your first real sales call?
Todd: Well, my main thing is once you get past the pleasantries, I just asked them a lot of questions. I ask them what their biggest struggles are now… every place, the biggest struggle is labor. Doug Cohen, our general manager, always said something like this, “If you could wave a magic wand, what would your perfect distribution look like?”
So, if they begin telling you their biggest struggles, they are telling you what they need help with. And if you can come back with solutions for their problems, you are going to get noticed right away.
Be a Resource and Sell Something!!