Tammy Pratt of Harbor Foodservice out of Kent, Washington is AFDR’s April 2023 DSR of the Month, earning her a permanent place in the AFDR DSR Hall of Fame. Tammy’s territory is Kitsap County which is about 60 miles from the Kent, Washington warehouse.
“It is okay to say ‘I don’t know’ as long as you follow up with ‘But I will find out and get back with you”. ~ Tammy Pratt
How did you get started in the foodservice business, not just as a DSR?
Tammy: I started in fast food when I was 16 years old and spent seven years doing that through high school and college. Then a friend of my dad suggested I look at the opportunities at a grocery store she worked at that was looking for an assistant seafood manager. I grew up fishing with my dad and thought it might be a fun gig, which it did turn out to be, but after seven years I was looking for what might be the next step. I ended up at FSA Harbor next and have been there for 22 years as a DSR.
In the first year or two, what were some of the hurdles you had to overcome, even with the experience you came in with?
Tammy: Learning what the job looks like. There’s structure, but when you first start, it doesn’t feel like there’s much structure and there’s so much to learn. There are things coming at you from all different directions, and you’re trying to figure out how it fits into your day-to-day job and how to start connecting with your customers on a regular basis and building new relationships with customers. You must lean on the people around you and ask the questions. It begins to solidify, but it certainly doesn’t happen quickly. It takes time to build those routines and the relationships and know what you should be doing every day to make things happen.
How long would you say it took you to feel like it made sense?
Tammy: For the first couple months/8 weeks I would ride with reps watching and learning what they did and how they handled situations. Then I began in route relief for eight months. Stepping into other people’s routes, you were able to see what they did, what their world looked like, and take things from that. Once I had my own route, it was a couple of years before I felt more confident in what I was doing.
Was that good training working with different salespeople on their routes, and did you learn anything you still use today?
Tammy: It was great training. So many things… it’s greeting everybody that you come in contact with in the restaurant because we’re in kind of a small area, and those people move to other restaurants and they can be your in at another location.
Always follow through on what you say you’re going to do. I’ve seen people who did that consistently and people that didn’t.
Be a person that keeps your word and be honest with somebody when you can either fix something or you cannot or find something or not. Being a genuine and transparent kind of person helps build those relationships.
In those first couple of years, what were some of the more difficult lessons or hurdles to learn how to deal with?
Tammy: There are so many moving parts in what we do in this business…
Credit issues of how do I talk to somebody about this? How do I get the money that I need for my company. Discussing it with your credit manager and developing that. Talking to your coworkers about how they deal with it.
Product knowledge. When customers are asking about products that you don’t have, how do you find them, how do you say yes or no or qualify what it’s worth to the customer? There are so many things out there, how do you know what to lead with? There’s so much that happens that you need to learn who to talk with to help you solve this.
I feel fortunate I had really good mentors and I try to be that mentor to some of our new people too. The “who to call or ask” questions still come up and you must find out who is the person to help you solve it.
The three things that seem to be the hardest for most greenhorns are product knowledge, making cold calls, and A/R. What suggestions would you have?
Tammy: Probably the first step is searching your laptop to find it. Maybe it’s asking some more questions of the customer or looking at what they have, and finding out where they currently got it. You can talk to your category managers and coworkers who can help find those things. Then you can share a few different ideas with the customer.
I find that customers like to teach you those things too. If you go in with a humble attitude, being open to learning from them, I think a lot of the kitchen managers and chefs are happy to share or show you when you ask a question. When I began, the book, Food Lover’s Companion (The New Food Lover’s Companion) was rather helpful. It is kind of the kitchen dictionary of the terminology you might run into.
Sometimes we will have that situation where somebody says something and they mean one thing and you hear something else. It is best to ask the question again in a non-aggressive way, in the “I’m open to learning” way, so you can make sure you’re both on the same page and looking for the same thing.
In the beginning, one of my bosses said to me, “It’s okay to say you don’t know. Just tell them you’re going to find out.” And there are still times when that comes up and I simply say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll find out.” And then I use my resources and make sure I follow up.
Be a Resource and SELL SOMETHING!!