“Let’s take care of one another, get your drivers back, that’s for sure.
The drivers are a key component. They’ve been through hell and back with Covid and I have the utmost respect for our drivers across the industry, not just US Foods.
They are the backbone of our industry, and we need to take care of one another as best we can.”
~ Chris Conder
Do you manage mistakes and outs and things like that throughout Covid any different than you always have? Are customers more willing to take a substitute than before Covid when they would not take a sub?
Chris: Absolutely. It’s been amazing how customers have evolved around this shortage. I have some really high-end steak houses and white tablecloth restaurants and country clubs that have very hard specs that normally stick to those specs on those items, but with COVID and the whole supply chain issues that we’ve had, they have been very willing to take a sub just so they can keep that menu item on their menu. But it has been very difficult.
Do you ever turn your phone off?
Chris: Actually, I do. Every night at 10:00.
Do your customers know that?
Chris: Yes, they do. I have very understanding customers and they respect my downtime just like I respect theirs.
Do you take a vacation?
Chris: I get a lot of grief over that, to be honest. I get five weeks a year because I’ve been around so long. So, yes, I take every one of them.
DSR Dave: A lot of sales reps don’t take a vacation because they are so worried about what’s going to happen when they’re off. So, they don’t do it. They might take a day here or there, but they’re still on their phone and all that. Those of you NOT taking a vacation should listen up, because you NEED to take a break/vacation.
How do you prepare for a vacation?
Chris: You have to decompress and take those vacations because you deserve it, number one. But the goal to taking a vacation is preparing your customers ahead of time. Most of my folks are on “.com” so they manage their own orders. We have a great system in place at US Foods. We have our sales support inside sales coordinators. So, every district has an assigned person for our district, and we try not to overlap vacations so that person can handle any situations that might arise during your time off. But if you prepare your customers, make sure their order guides are up to date and just do everything possible ahead of time. Usually, you will have a smooth vacation. Granted, there’s going to be hiccups, and that’s just the nature of our business. But we have a sharp sales coordinator in our division, and she does a bang-up job for us anytime there’s any situations that might come about. That backup really helps.
DSR Dave: The key with what Chris just said is to make sure your order guides are up to date and try not to have three different tomato sauces on there. Have the one on there that they use and maybe the backup because they will order the wrong one. And prep your customers so they are aware and prepared.
How long in advance do you prep your customers?
Chris: I have been a big memo guy for pretty much my entire career. I have a vacation template in my computer. So, I set the dates, I print it off, I email it, I hand delivered it, or take a picture and text it… whatever that customer prefers. But I pass that out the week before, and it’s got all the information that they need on there, my inside contact’s number, my district manager’s number. So, they’ve got the tools there if they need it, if they have a situation. I’m generally at home during my vacations taking care of home things, large amount of yard work, etc. that recharges my batteries.
Do you think Covid has permanently changed the way brokers and manufacturer reps do their jobs or do you think they will get back to the sales meetings and food shows as before?
Chris: I think we’ll see some normalcy return. I have seen where a lot of manufacturers during Covid have broken away from the brokerage and have gone in house and have their own folks hitting the streets due to their business model, so that might be changing, but I do see them becoming a big part. Tomorrow Hormel is hosting a luncheon for our district and hopefully we’ll see some new products. He’s feeding us lunch to say thanks. I think we’ll see things like that come back and we’ll see them get back in the car with us, too.
DSR Dave: I love ride-withs because I learned a lot, and you really get to know somebody by the end of the day.
Chris: It’s just nice to take another face into an account. They see you every week. It’s nice to walk in with somebody new and fresh with a different idea, a different angle and a different approach. It’s refreshing for you and your customer to have them in your toolkit.
DSR Dave: A lot of customers/operators like the fact that you brought somebody in because it kind of says that they are important enough for you to bring a specialist or rep in to see them. But some operators don’t think of it that way. I always did it, and it was great when they got along, too.
Chris: The most rewarding thing is to take an item into an operator, cook it for them, break the cost down, show them how to sell it, and then they buy it, and they try it. They sell it all weekend and they come back to you on Monday telling you that it was great and asking for two more. That is rewarding and what we’re here for.
I know Covid is discussed so much, but longer term, how do you think street/independent operators will have to adjust or have adjusted during Covid that they might continue doing that afterwards?
Chris: I have had several customers completely revamp their menus in the last two years. And like you mentioned earlier, major scale downs, and they have found that they can make as much or more money. The production flows better in the kitchen. Everybody’s happy, the staff is making money, and they’re selling as much as they were before with less product on the shelves and less inventory. I think we’re going to continue seeing that. But also, the biggest change that I feel like we’re going to see that’s going to have legs and stay for a while is the “To-Go” scenario that we’ve seen explode in the last two years. I have customers that hardly ever did To-Go business. Fried seafood doesn’t travel well, therefore they’re not accustomed to To-Go orders. But now, it’s about 15-20% of their business. So, they’ve adapted to this new model that they’ve had to adjust to just for that reason.
Do you find some special container that works well with breaded or fried seafood?
Chris: Yes, we did. One of our scoop items last year was a vented container. It has four vents for breathing, which is the key for breaded product, whether it’s a chicken tender, piece of fish or even fries. Normally, when using a foam container by the time you get home, your fries are soggy, this vented container is an eco-friendly paper product, and it performs fabulously. Any type of really hot, particularly frozen, food item travels perfectly in these containers.
Any advice for Greenhorns, all the DSRs who are 2 ½ years or less who are thinking they like the job, but it is harder than I thought, and they are wondering if it is worth it?
Chris: Keep trying, keep absorbing. Try to educate yourself with all the tools you have and surround yourself with successful people like your specialists who can help you. It is hard the first two years, but once you kind of get over that hurdle, for lack of better words, and see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it will pay off. But it’s hard sometimes, this business can be a little tough love at times, and you get beat up a little bit from folks. But be persistent.
Advice for Veterans to stay motivated because Covid is driving them crazy, and they feel like they haven’t had to work this hard for a long time?
Chris: Again, you just have to keep grinding. Try to kind of reinvent yourself. If we dig deep inside, we can find new ways to navigate this new norm that we’re in. I’ll be the first to admit I’m old school. Change sometimes takes me a little longer to adapt to. Therefore, you just must keep grinding. You can keep pushing and it will get better. Make yourself better and adapt.
Any suggestions on how to reinvent yourself? Do you watch videos or listen to podcasts?
Chris: My success on changing my ways of doing business and adapting to new things is listening to my counterparts, the guys and gals that are in our district. We do a great job in our district of sharing what we do best. And yeah, I’ve been around forty years, but I don’t know it all. We have some younger folks that come in that really are better than me in the IT world, and I try to feed off of that. I learned from them. You cannot stop learning. That’s the key. You have to continually change with the environment and absorb the information that you can get your hands on. We lean on each other in a large way in our district, our region, and in our division.
DSR Dave: I agree! It is a great time to reinvent yourself. With all this madness going on. Come out with a different haircut, dress different, act different. Keep learning. Reach for the knowledge. Don’t sit around on your front porch waiting for it to come along.
Is there anything at all that you want to say or tell the industry?
Chris: I would say, let’s take care of one another, get your drivers back, that’s for sure. The drivers are a key component. They’ve been through hell and back with Covid and I have the utmost respect for our drivers across the industry, not just US Foods. They are the backbone of our industry, and I just think we need to take care of one another as best we can.
Be a Resource and SELL SOMETHING!