Covid has changed everything, so it is a great time to reinvent yourself and your approach. ~~Chris Conder
Chris Conder from US Foods, Fort Mill, South Carolina is AFDR’s DSR of the Month for February 2022. Conder has earned his place in the AFDR Hall of Fame. Chris’s territory is just north of Charlotte in the Lake Norman area of Davidson and Mooresville, North Carolina.
Chris began his foodservice career at the age of 16 for Bigger Brothers, which eventually became US Foods after many acquisitions. Conder has worked for US Foods for 40 1/2 years. He followed in the footsteps of his older brother who worked there for 28 years before buying a distributor in Myrtle Beach, SC where he eventually retired from.
The order department is where it all started for Chris at the age of 16. He worked at night in what we would call customer service now. But at night he would check the invoices as they came off from the computer room, checking for mistakes, calling the sales reps, seeing if there were any issues, and taking care of out of stocks. Then they would pass them on to the warehouse where they would complete the night and load the trucks. Chris worked in that department for seven years through high school and college. Two years after that, Mr. Bigger Jr. asked him to help start up their fresh seafood program.
They were the first broadline distributor, probably anywhere close that was selling fresh seafood and Conder was a seafood buyer for two years. That really put them on the map. After two years of being behind a desk, Chris had too much energy and took over a sales territory that was writing about $25,000 a week, which was a lot back then. Chris has been on the street for 30 of his 40 years with the company.
Why do you believe there is not much fresh seafood sold in restaurants here in Charlotte, NC?
Chris: It may have a lot to do with the minimums that people are carrying now, especially these white tablecloth restaurants. They don’t want to buy 10-15 pounds of product and sit on it. They want 5-10 pounds. But there’s been so many weather issues in the last few years where these day boats don’t go out. Availability is playing a crucial role. But not only that, it’s price. Mahi was $20 a pound last year. You can’t serve that and make money. I think many of the operators are reaching out and looking at every avenue possible. And actually, I have a couple of white tablecloths that serve a frozen product here and there, and it works if they can prepare it properly and present the dish accordingly.
DSR Dave: Last time I was up in Minnesota working with a sales rep up there, they carried a product from Norway that was single frozen and processed on the boat and it was fantastic. I’d rather have that than fresh, knowing that it was frozen at the height of its freshness right on the boat.
Chris: Absolutely. And it’s almost like the bread man’s pitch. There are some very high-quality frozen breads out there that I would buy any day over the bread truck because it was frozen at the optimum time of freshness. Fresh bread may have been taking a ride on the truck for a couple of days…
DSR Dave: People have asked me why I like using frozen vegetables at home. It is because I took a tour in Oregon at a farmer cooperative. We were out in the fields and followed the process all the way, following the peas, carrots, and others from when they harvested them, and onto the truck back to the processing facility. Within 3 hours it was washed, processed, and IQF in a bag. And I’m thinking of all the produce getting on trains and trucks and stuff coming from California or wherever, how long it takes to get here. I am happy to eat frozen fresh.
When you began as a DSR after working inside, which was a great training ground knowing how the system worked, was opening new accounts or knowledge more difficult when you hit the street?
Chris: I believe time management and how to manage my day-to-day efforts was what I struggled with most, and probably because I was so young. More so than anything, I was extremely fortunate to work with some of the greatest salespeople in this industry that we’ve ever seen. Some of the sales reps would come into the office in the afternoon and finish their day there. We new reps were like sponges and soaked it up. Plus, occasionally when we were not in school during the summer, we actually worked relief for the local sales reps. So, we got a lot of training there during the summertime out of school and running routes and gaining the knowledge that way.
DSR Dave: When I started as a DSR, the only thing that saved me was cut off time. I called it the finish line because my family was in the racehorse business. I was unorganized with time management and having a cut off/finish line forced me. You had to have your origin; you know what I mean? It was my time manager, I would get up early because I knew it had to be in by 4:30. And if I didn’t, it would be sort of like just turning the horses out with no fences and them running everywhere.
Chris: It was harder because we were working off of a Telxon and so we were literally keying in every item, every code, every price into that little Telxon machine. I’m sure you remember that. And of course, transmitting it over the phone so that took time. As technology has progressed, especially since the “.com” evolution, it has tremendously saved a large block of afternoon time in the office. Today’s world is all about .com and customers want to be hands on, especially the newer generation. They love the internet and their phones. So, I have customers that do their orders online that way.
What percentage of your customers place their own orders online?
Chris: They’re running about 65%. I kind of like to watch more closely per se, a couple of country clubs. There are a lot of moving parts there, so you kind of have a little more hands on. But your independent restaurant chefs and kitchen managers generally like doing it on their own and using ACH too.
The ACH has been wonderful because back when we started, we collected money and chased checks down every other day and keyed in orders all the time. So, you take those two aspects out of it, and you get a lot of time to spend with your customers helping them with their needs and definitely spending more time with your specialists and your broker community and just trying to penetrate.
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