PART 1 – Working as a Sales Team, Getting started in the Foodservice Industry, Product Knowledge, Broker/Manufacturer Rep Relationships
“Working as a team, helped me excel at my job. We have grown our business because we can spend more time penetrating accounts.”~Tom Kardohely
The Sales Team of Tom Kardohely and Katie Watts of Maplevale Farms headquartered in Falconer, New York are AFDR’s June 2023 DSRs of the Month, earning the team a permanent place in the AFDR DSR Hall of Fame. Tom and Katie’s territory is Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania about 85 miles from the Falconer, NY warehouse.
How did you get started in this business in the first place?
Tom: I helped my uncle run his restaurant, and 34 years ago, our sales rep from Maplevale, was being promoted to a supervisor, and I took his spot and decided to do this instead of staying in the restaurant business. And I’ve been here 34 years now.
Katie, how about you?
Katie: I have been a sales associate with Tom for about 2 1/2 years now. But I have always worked in restaurants since I was a teenager in the front of the house as a server and in management in a couple of different places and was working at my uncle’s restaurant that Tom sold when we ran across each other.
Tom: Katie started to work with me and has really helped me to excel at the job and spend more time penetrating accounts. And I couldn’t have done it without her. We work inside and outside together.
Katie: Getting everybody comfortable with me because they’ve been with Tom for so long, a lot of his customers for over 30 years, so just gaining their trust with me has been one of the bigger challenges.
Tom: For me one of the challenges back when I began was being the new guy trying to get business when there were so many old timers out there who had a chunk of the business, but then some people retire or quit, people move around, and then you have a better opportunity just trying to prove yourself and gain their trust.
Was it difficult learning new products?
Tom: We always did a lot of training at Maplevale with sales meeting roundtables, it was so helpful for new sales reps. There are so many things to learn. It can be pretty overwhelming.
Katie: I have the benefit of learning from Tom on the road, matching and comparing products, and learning about the different brands, plus the training at Maplevale.
Tom: Sales meetings, of course, slowed down due to Covid, but are increasing again – – I love to see products. Even products that I haven’t seen for a while. It could be a product we’ve had for 20 years, but I haven’t seen it in a while. It refreshes you with the things that we carry. Recently, we had a sales meeting comparing products from different companies and it was very helpful. For the new people, I think that’s huge. If you really want to excel at this, you must have product training seminars frequently because there is so much to cover.
How do you utilize your brokers and manufacturer reps?
Tom: We have some brokers that really do a great job for us. We lean on them, and our buyers tend to give them more business because they know they’ll work hard for us. We mostly will reach out to a broker after a sales meeting if I find a product, new or unique, that I get excited about, and the following Monday we’ll ask that broker for a sample to take out and work with it. I’ll portion it up and sample many different customers with it, sometimes we cook it or they do, but we get to learn about that product, and we always get at least a few orders out of that one sample. I don’t ask too many brokers to go by themselves.
Tom: Well, a lot of times I don’t send the broker because I feel that I know exactly when that buyer is going to be at that restaurant. I can give them a rough idea, but it’s very time-consuming to manage it all, making sure that I’m not running them all over the place and making sure they get to each place at the right time, where I know that the right person is going to be there. I’m not saying I’ve never done it. Sometimes we’ll give them a list of six or seven accounts to go see that day, and sometimes it works out great. But it can get kind of cumbersome. Sometimes I just like doing it myself. Taking some of their products and showing them to the customer seems a little bit easier.
DSR Dave: If you’re one of those brokers out there listening, and you are not getting the desired results with getting products in or buyers even seeing them, or sales reps not calling you, listen up for some good advice.
Tom: I guess it’s no different than a sales rep out on the road selling to the restaurants like we do. There are some who follow through and work with you and get back to you, and there are some who just seem overwhelmed and you don’t hear much from them. Sometimes you’ll ask them to do something and they don’t get back to you. And to me, that turns me off right away. And I’m sure that they get a lot of requests from people that they don’t follow through because maybe it didn’t work out for that person before or something. But I guess there are just some people that are really willing to work pretty hard to help you, and some aren’t.
Hearing back from them within 24 hours is pretty acceptable. We know that some of them could be out on the road and they’re busy, but by the next morning, I would think that they’d be able to be in contact with you.
DSR Dave: I agree with you. I mean, if they call you back in a couple of hours, they’re probably going to get the business. You didn’t call them just because you wanted to talk. You needed something.
Tom: Nowadays, a lot of people are very impatient. I mean, they ask you about something, they want answers right now, and if you take a couple of days to get back to them, the other companies probably solved their problem or got them what they’re looking for.
DSR Dave: Well, I think that you’re right, especially since COVID too. They are not knowing why you are not calling them back; they are wondering if you do not have it? Is it out of stock? Did the manufacturer quit making it?
Katie: Our customers want those instant responses. I think that’s been a big part of Tom’s success. And something that I will continue also is just following through and communicating with people and getting back quickly.
Manufacturers want to know how they can get DSRs to be more loyal to their company and want to sell their brand over another brand. What would you say?
Tom: Brokers need to build relationships with those sales reps. Many of them do not try to build a relationship. When we build a relationship with a restaurant, we’re the ones that they go to you.
DSR Dave: AFDR has been saying the same thing to manufacturers and brokers for 20 years now. Build a relationship. They do not have to take them to lunch, dinner, or golf, simply CALL, email, or text them to let them know that you are around to help if they need anything. And then respond to those sales reps who do reach out to you PROMPTLY.
Tom: Here is an example. I had a problem yesterday with a Simplot product, and I emailed the broker. She asked me for the customer’s name. She contacted my customer immediately, took care of that for me, went through the whole motion, and to me, that was great! The Simplot rep helped me. She’s my friend now because the way she handled the whole situation was awesome!
DSR Dave: Do it like everything else… Do what you say you’re going to do and as quickly as possible, and you’re probably going to sell more of their product because she did that simple thing of being professional and handling it promptly.
Tom: She just left a good impression, she was a hard worker, and now I want to help her sell something!
Be a Resource and SELL SOMETHING!!