Tyler Hughes of US Foods – Pittsburgh, PA is AFDR’s May 2023 DSR of the Month, earning him a permanent place in the AFDR DSR Hall of Fame. Tyler’s territory is in State College, Pennsylvania, about 120 miles from the Greensburg, Pennsylvania warehouse.
Hughes got his start in the foodservice business at the age of 13 making donuts at his father’s bake shop. His career involved being an owner and operator of many restaurants and hotels in Pennsylvania and Florida before switching over to the distributor side of the business with US Foods 28 years ago.
Tyler was educated at Penn State University, first in food service and housing, then switched to business administration. US Foods sent him to the CIA in California for an immersion course that was fantastic.
DSR Dave: Were you surprised that the culinary schools don’t teach students a course on “upstream” about how distributors and brokerages work and that kind of thing?
Tyler: Yes, I was very surprised at that. Their focus is teaching food from scratch to finish, but they don’t teach you about the vendor relationships, or the food service relationships with your territory manager/salesperson. They prepare these folks coming into the business to come out making the best food they can.
DSR Dave: Would it have helped you as an operator to have known some of that info?
Tyler: Yes, I think it’s an important part that they’re not teaching. I believe it would be beneficial to have at least one class on it, so they have an understanding of how it all fits together.
DSR Dave: When I began in this business, I didn’t know anything about either side. But as I learned, I tried teaching my customers what I was learning. Whether it was how we made money and how I got paid or how brokers got paid, or product and process information from a plant tour. As I learned something new, I’d share it with my customers. When I was invited on a plant tour, I would invite some customers to go along with me so we could learn together. It seemed the more that I taught them and the more I learned, the better customer they became.
Tyler: I absolutely agree. I just took a group of four of my customers out to the certified Angus Beef Training in Wooster, Ohio. We drove in my car for about a four-hour trip from State College and they had a fantastic time learning about Certified Angus Beef and what they do to make that brand so good and beneficial to the operators. Loved it from start to finish. It was my third time taking customers there. Each time, I learn a little more, and it’s good to see my customers really taking it in and enjoying what both Certified Angus Beef and US Foods offer them.
DSR Dave: If you’re having problems with pricing, or you find yourself answering the question from your boss why your margin is low or you don’t sell more, and you are saying it is because your prices are too high… You MUST ADD VALUE like these field trips and teach your customers more about the business.
Tyler: I couldn’t agree with you more. I rarely talk pricing, and a lot of the people that know and deal with me know I’m trying to teach them value-added information that makes their business run a little better, a little cheaper, from a labor standpoint. And that I continue to tell them you can’t save their way to profitability. You have to actually earn your customer’s respect and you have to give them good products. I’m talking about all the other things with my customers to help them be successful. I think they appreciate it and I think it leads them away from all that price talk.
DSR Dave: As an experienced operator and chef, do you ever try to tell customers what to do based on your experience?
Tyler: People who own restaurants are entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are doing that business because they don’t want people telling them what to do, they want to tell other people what to do. I am not going to turn them off by trying to tell them what to do. Many of them know I’ve worked in restaurant businesses for a long, long time, and if it comes up and I can share something with them that I learned that might help I will share, but if it doesn’t, I never bring that conversation up with them. I’m just trying to help them be more successful at what they do, not trying to tell them what to do. Big difference.
- Scout out their menus online.
- Eat there once or twice without asking for a buyer/owner contact, but ask questions without any red flags. If they have a bartender I will sit there because they are a great source of information.
- When I will go back again I try to talk with the owners first because they know what deals or contracts are in place when the chef might not. Don’t want to waste time.
- If not the owner, then I usually just walk back into the kitchen telling them my name and that I’m there to see the chef.
- I never take my computer to that first meeting. Pencil and paper. Take notes on their name, cell phone number, and email, and simply ask questions about the restaurant.
- I do not talk about my competitors or theirs, just ask questions about who’s creating the menu, and what inspired the dishes, and ask questions about their operation and hope they respond.
- If they love the distributor they are with, I leave them a copy of our Scoop magazine which usually inspires most prospects to welcome me back in. I then ask if they’d mind if I stop in from time to time in case they might be interested in something from the magazine and check to see if anything changed.
- I don’t normally bring them into the initial call, but sometimes I might notice a product on their menu that I know I have a better product that might catch their attention and take it with me on the call like sous vide pork belly versus the non-precooked item they may be using, to save them time.
Brokers versus Manufacturer Reps:
- When it was broker reps, I could just call and they would come with their product, we’d show it, and it was all done in a timely manner.
- Now, in some cases, I might not know who the manufacturer rep is or if they’re even local and willing to come here. I prefer the brokers versus the manufacturer reps.
- I pull a sample because I don’t like to give the whole sample case to a customer. Some days I plan my schedule around what I have to sample to different customers. I like to prepare it for my customers because there’s nothing like getting it in their mouths because that always helps make the sale.
Be a Resource and SELL SOMETHING!!