Getting Started: How Tom’s first few years prepared him to be a DSR
DSR Dave, Tom Kars, and guest host, former “DSR Joe” discuss the first few years of being a DSR.
Tom Kars of Gordon Food Service in Grand Rapids, Michigan is AFDR’s January 2023 DSR of the Month, earning him a permanent place in the AFDR DSR Hall of Fame. Tom’s territory is in and around Holland, Michigan about 25 miles from the warehouse.
In 1982, Tom started sweeping and mopping floors at Gordon’s cash and carry stores while still in high school and then transitioned into a night stock position. Soon he moved into a daytime role for three years at the retail store where he began learning about products, which he says was invaluable when he launched into his DSR role later. There were a couple of sales reps who, before they retired, decided to slow down a little bit and work in the store. They were great mentors as far as teaching product knowledge, even to the point Tom can remember going back and not understanding what all the different pork ribs were. He pulled the product from the warehouse and opened it up and one of them began explaining it. Curiosity is what started it and then just the desire to figure it all out.
Tom said there was one particular sales rep who came into the store a lot to pick up customer orders. The rep asked him one day if he would be interested in sales. The DSR thought Tom would do well at it, so Tom looked into it and his career in sales took off from there.
How long did it take for you to feel comfortable with the products?
Tom: I would say within a year I became comfortable on the street as far as knowing where to look and where to find things. Because back in those days, if someone asked you a price on something, you had to know where to find it because the customer’s patience would wear out rather quickly. If they asked you for a price on a 25-pound bag of sugar and it took you five minutes to look it up, they’d give up on you, and move on.
What hurdles did you have to overcome in the first few years?
Tom: I think probably the biggest hurdle for me at the time was making cold calls. I started off with a territory of customers that were given to me, but I needed to build the route/territory and get the customers to build trust in me.
Secondly, was understanding that customers buy for different reasons. It’s not always what you think it is. I recall in my first year on the route, a little independent pizzeria that I was doing some business with, I just wanted to go after that cheese business. So, I brought him in samples and gave him pricing on it and he didn’t buy it even though my price was twenty cents a pound less than where he was buying it from, and I didn’t understand. When I asked him, this big Italian guy, said to me, “Tommy, let me tell you something, you can save me money on cheese, but you know what if I lose five or ten customers because it’s different, then I lose. Not that your cheese is bad, it is different, but I need to keep it consistent.”
Joe: What was your training like?
Tom: It was all hands-on for fourteen months. I was also the youngest they had trained. I would have to cover a route for a DSR’s vacation and would ride with him taking notes of everything including which door to walk in. Product knowledge was gained through monthly sales and branch meetings where there was hands-on product training, sampling, and cuttings. They were beginning to develop their training manuals but did not have them at the time. I rode with someone different every day and learned good things that made DSRs successful and other things you would not want to duplicate.
I learned I did not want to use a pager for all the disruption reasons stopping every time it went off looking for a pay phone since we had no cell phones then. But I then learned that the most organized DSRs were very efficient with time management and focus.
Sometimes we assume things incorrectly so we need to ask the customer in case schedules have changed and it may be better for both you and the customer to switch days for calls or other things.
Be a Resource and SELL SOMETHING!!