“I will take an order anyway I can get it. Online, In-person, Text, Phone Voicemail, heck Morse Code if necessary!”
Simone DeVore of Kohl Wholesale – Quincy, Illinois is AFDR’s July DSR of the Month for 2022, earning her a permanent place in the AFDR DSR Hall of Fame. Simone’s territory is in Southern Illinois, the Benton, IL area, which is about 200 miles from the warehouse, but she lives in the middle of her territory.
How did you get into this business?
Simone: I worked as a waitress through college and little bit after college. I ended up working in the area of managing and setting up weddings and conferences. While working at that restaurant, I set up a food show for a small distributor in Southern Illinois, and a couple years later, sent my resume in for a sales rep. job that was advertised. They were a small family-owned company with only six sales reps, but later sold to a corporate company that I worked with for two years.
Now I work for Kohl with well over 50 sales reps within our company.
What were some of the biggest hurdles you encountered when you first began?
Simone: I think the biggest hurdle was that it was a totally new career. And at the time, we were a very large school distributor, so there were many regulations for schools. Learning those and educating myself on that was a hurdle. I’ve always felt that if you’re going to sell to certain customers, you really need to know what their needs are going to be and help yourself by training on those type of needs, that way you are the best resource for them.
Where did you go get the knowledge? How did you learn?
Simone: Reading up on it, talking to others, anyone who can give you any information, even customers. They are sometimes the best asset to train you on certain things that you may not know, and they do. It makes them feel better to kind of train you, especially if you’re someone new who lets them know that you want to learn about their type of business category. It makes a really good relationship for you and them both.
How long did it take to feel comfortable with the knowledge? I’m asking this because in the first couple years, many greenhorns think that there’s no end in sight.
Simone: Maybe two to three years to really get to know the information. I don’t think it takes that long to educate yourself using all the resources, whether you’re looking things up on Google, doing whatever you need to do, or asking your peers. I think eventually it just kind of clicks. But then again, you’re constantly learning. I don’t think you can ever stop learning more and more about each part of the business or the different segments that you sell to. I think each person is different, but once you kind of get a good idea of it, you just know. And if you don’t, keep looking out for those resources. It’s okay to tell a customer you need to get back to them on something and go find those answers. I think once you get it, you’ll get it.
At Kohl, I continued to learn, gain, and be successful at different markets, including health care. There are two different spectrums of what the dietary needs are between schools and health care. Continual learning makes me a better sales rep. and gives me the ability to keep going after different types of business because I think it is good to have a good mix of everything out there.
DSR Dave: I agree. I had about 50% of my route as healthcare, including nursing homes, hospitals, retirement, and long-term care. Hospitals upstairs and downstairs is how I referred to patient feeding versus kiosk/cafeteria. It really helped me in Columbus, Ohio because in the wintertime the restaurant business was down. It was a nice mix because I just had peaks then and not a bunch of valleys.
How did you get into the health care?
Simone: There was an independent nursing home group in my area that we had called on several times, and ironically, we ended up taking over for them and becoming their distributor in March of 2020, the same week that the world basically shut down.
So for me, it was a great advantage where most of us as sales reps during that time were scared to death because our restaurants were being shut down and we no longer could sit inside of a restaurant. So, I was quickly learning about health care.
DSR Dave: How did you learn – – from the customer, your own homework, Google or what? How did you find out about those three meals and the night snack?
Simone: So, within our company, we actually have chefs and dieticians on staff. I had to reach out to them to understand a lot of the reasoning. Why are they needing a thickener? What are these products that they’re asking about? Because for someone who’s never done healthcare, I had to educate myself a little bit on what they were. I still to this day, if I have questions, whether it be with a school or a nursing home, I reach out to the dietitians. I’m glad that our company takes that and budgets that into their yearly budget, because those are really important people within our company that we can use as resources.
DSR Dave: But after you learn it, it’s like having a multi-unit account because the products they use and the cycles they use, and the monthly menus that allow you to predict what you’re going to sell.
Simone: Which helps the buyers as well, too, within each company, because the menu most of them use is some type of a Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer menu. So, you’ve got those items, you know what they’re going to be purchasing. Their numbers may alter, but you know pretty much what they’re going to be purchasing for six months. So that makes it really nice as well.
DSR Dave: I learned so much information from my long-term care accounts that I transferred over to my restaurants, like plate studies, for example. Why is there still food on this plate when we’re only giving them 3oz?
So, I began doing plate studies at my restaurants, standing back by the dishwasher, and having all the bus people bring anything back that was more than a half ounce. I wanted to count it with my restaurants. Like, why are there still French fries on the plate? Did we give too large of a serving? Or are the French fries bad? Should we get a sample? I may not have ever learned that had I not learned it in the nursing homes and long-term care.
Has Cold Calling always been easy for you?
Simone: I think cold calling is very natural to me. I believe many reps, especially the newer reps, get frustrated because they get way more no’s than they get yes’s. I think it’s respectful if I go in on a cold call and someone tells me they are very happy with their rep and company, and they’re not interested in talking to me. I tell them that I appreciate and respect that because I hope to one day build those relationships with my customers as well. I give them my card and tell them if something ever changes or their rep leaves their company, I hope that they will give me that opportunity so we can possibly get together and build that relationship as well. And honestly, that’s worked for me. I know it’s going to sound crazy but leaving that card and maybe stopping in every once a while, especially the ones that say, no, no, no, you never know, it may come back.
In fact, I had a prospect very recently who had said no. And two, three years later, they contacted me saying they wanted to do something different and were interested to sit down and talk with me. I got the account and was there on their first delivery to make sure that it went well.
Are you required by your company to be there for their first delivery?Simone: No, but it is something that I think we have all discussed that it’s a good thing to do. I work for a family-owned company, and I take pride in that. I want to make sure that my customer meets the driver. I introduce my driver before the driver even starts bringing product in the door. We discuss where they like to have their products brought in, and we kind of give the driver a tour of where they want their products to be put, and I think it just gives a personal touch. In addition, you want to make sure that what they ordered is correct. You can only show them so many pictures and talk about so much product, but seeing it handed right there in front of them, and maybe it’s a product that they were getting from someone else, I want to make sure that they’re happy with the quality of what they’ve got, because I don’t want to wait until the next week for their next delivery to go in and then find out they were mad. Sometimes, if you don’t follow up on that first delivery, you might lose that account.
Plus, it could be something that could have been fixed right on delivery. You can discuss that it doesn’t look like what they want, so you suggest going back to the drawing table to find something else for them. This leaves a lasting impression on them.
Be a Resource and Sell Something!