“… that’s what I love about food sales and why I got in the business. You have something you can touch, taste, and smell. It’s an easy sale. Now you just tell yourself, just be trustworthy.” ~Troy Bonner
Troy Bonner, Tankersley Foodservice, Fort Smith, Arkansas has earned AFDR’s DSR of the Month for March 2022 and enters the DSR Hall of Fame.
Troy’s company, Tankersley Foodservice, is based out of Van Buren, Arkansas. Bonner is 20 minutes from his warehouse. But there is really no territory between sales reps. He has been selling parts of Texas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma for seven years.
How many miles do you drive a week?
Troy: On average, I drive about 1000 miles a week, and hit about 65,000 in a year.
How did you get started in the business?
Troy: I was working for AT&T in corporate sales, and the regional manager at the time for Tankersley came in and I sold him a lot of stuff. He knew me because I played baseball with his son, and he’d always said that I had the gift of gab. He asked me if I wanted to come sell food. But at the time, I was leading in two states for AT&T in sales. I asked him if he meant for me to sell green beans and he said that and everything else. I rode with his best salesperson to see what it was about. It was a ball. I had a good time. I thought this outside sales was the job for me. My grandparents and parents had restaurants, and I was so comfortable in it. When I was young, I washed dishes and helped unload the truck a lot.
My grandparents actually bought from Tankersley. Funny story. When I started, I walked in and introduced myself to the VP at the time. He asked if I was Beverly Bonner’s grandson? “Yes, sir,” I said. He proceeded to tell me that my grandma kept him in business by buying from him when he was a broke salesman who didn’t know anything and she really took care of him. I was really happy to hear about that.
This is a people business and I really like people.
DSR Dave: What you do with a customer, whether it’s AT&T or this one, it’s how you take care of them and how you build your brand that matters.
Troy: I completely agree with you because what I like to do when I take over an account and get into it, every time I eat there, I put a picture on Facebook, put a picture on Instagram, and make a TikTok video. I pretty much do a full court press of advertisements. But it’s because I like it and it’s what I’m actually eating. I am not asking for food to put on there. So, everybody that sees me, they always crack up and they’re like, dude, you eat so much food. And I’m like, I know guys. I think I put on 30 lbs. since I’ve been in the business, but you don’t trust a skinny chef and you do that for the customer on top of everything else you bring to the table. And they love you for it because they can’t always afford the Facebook ads. And it’s really word of mouth as all this business is. If you’re going to be in the food world, the way I see it, be the best at it.
I embrace it and go for it. That’s kind of the best way to look at it. It’s like Zig Ziggler, I used to sell insurance a long time ago and they gave me an eight-disc set of Zig Ziggler. I’ve listened to it probably four times. When I’m down on sales, I’ll put it in and listen to it trying to hear what I am not doing? The dude gets it. And that’s what I love about food sales. That’s why I got in the business. You have something you can touch, taste, and smell; It’s an easy sale. Now you just tell yourself, just be trustworthy. Help them be the expert.
DSR Dave: I’m a huge fan of Steven Covey. I’m a huge fan of any sales rep, bad, good or great, like Ziggler. I’m a fan because I learned from even the bad ones. Someone told me right after I started that most know the 80- 20 rule, but in the foodservice distribution business, it’s more like, 5% are really great and 95% are trying to be great. I remembered that my whole sales career. And he was right, because not many people are going to work as hard as you. I keep telling people if you want to double your sales, work twice as hard, twice as smart. I’m a fan of any sales rep that’s trying to do the job, car salesman, Rainbow Sweeper salesman…
Troy: Dave, I had a rainbow guy sell me a rainbow the other day!! It’s a long story, but the gist of it is my wife had an appointment and I had to sit through it. Eventually, I was like, “Dude, are you creating a sense of urgency? That’s crazy.” And I’m like, “yeah, man, I’ve read the book. I got you.”
DSR Dave: I think the biggest difference between selling furniture and rainbow sweepers compared to food is that theirs will last for 30 years. Where in our world, they need more tomorrow to be in business, which is what the guy that got me into this business told me. I grew up on a farm training horses seven days a week. You couldn’t turn your lights off on your birthday or if you were sick, it didn’t matter. You still had to hay, water, feed, and clean stalls every day. That guy told me, if I worked half as hard selling in this business because people always needed more of my stuff tomorrow, and since they had to buy it from somebody… if I made it easier than my competitors, they’d buy it from me.
Troy: Horseracing? That’s funny, when I was younger, my grandparents also had a racehorse. So, when I was older, I ended up sponsoring a race, so we had to be on the track to present the trophy, and I proposed to my girlfriend on the racetrack after that race.
What was your biggest hurdle when you began as a DSR?
Troy: It was about a six-month learning curve on food knowledge.
How did you go about learning products?
Troy: Well, glad you asked. Two things I recommend. We always have a round-robin-style sales meeting with all the brokers there with their food. You go through it and try it all. We also do a training the night before which is really helpful, where you get a certain broker that brings in say, all the bacon that we stock for them and you try all that bacon, you can taste it, touch it, own it, sell it. If you’re going to sell it, you must know what it is. I purchased a good-sized freezer, for a deal, and asked our brokers for samples so I could cook them up and taste them to know which product and what application they might work in.
When you are trying to find out who a prospect is buying from and they won’t tell you or you couldn’t determine it from the inside of their restaurant, do you go dumpster diving?
Troy: I’ve spent more time in dumpsters than most. I have even been caught by prospects while in their dumpster. I actually ended up getting the business at an account where I was caught. I was asked what I was doing, and I told him that I was trying to see who he was buying from, and he said he would have told me if I had asked him. I told him I would do whatever it took, and I was unable to get past his stern staff. We had some laughs and became buddies, and I began selling him.
I would like to point out how important it is where I am selling to be dressed appropriately. I dress very similar to what they wear and the way their restaurant is. Because if you try to wear a suit jacket or button-up shirt and slacks in certain areas, you do not have a shot. There are farm towns and oil rigs, and they think you work for the State or something and are turned off. I will wear Wranglers and a T-shirt or Polo shirt. I will put on a suit jacket and jeans for my fancier customers.
Be A Resource, and SELL SOMETHING!!