“I have resolved issues 9 times out of 10 before my competition has even opened their back door. Everybody has price and products, but you must have good Service.” ~Steve Edwards
Steve Edwards of Kohl Wholesale, Quincy, Illinois, earned top honors as AFDR’s August 2021 DSR of the Month and has been inducted into the AFDR DSR Hall of Fame.
Steve was selling freight for his folks’ company when he began looking for something new and ended up getting a sales rep position at US Foods. He worked with them for seven years. Edwards moved on from US to Kohl’s Wholesale and has been there for six years.
What were the hardest things when you began in foodservice?
Steve: I had zero food knowledge. I had to be a sponge by learning from one of the top guys, Tom Desmond, who was a very business-savvy guy. I listened to why and what he did to be at the top. To learn products, I relied on the descriptions a lot, but those were fairly weak, so I also learned by trial and error. After a while, I began calling brokers and manufacturer reps who would help with knowledge. I talk with them every day.
Steve’s warehouse is about 126 miles away, which was a concern for him when he first began, but at Kohl they have a great system in place to have the items shipped down to his customers if anything goes wrong on a delivery. Steve says, “I have resolved issues 9 times out of 10 before my competition has even opened their back door. Everybody has price and products, but you must have good Service.”
How do you begin Prospecting?
Steve: Most times I walk in as a listener as opposed to as a salesman to see what they have going on and then make something happen. I let them know it doesn’t cost them anything to see what else is out there to help them. Just because a restaurant is “happy” with who they are using doesn’t mean that someone else might not be better.
If I get the “I’m happy with my current distributor” response, I will come back 3-5 days later to check on how things are going. They usually remark on how they thought they already told me they were good… and I just say, “Well that was then and things in this business can change in a blink of the eye.” If you do not look outside of the box you have been in, how do you know what other options there are that might be better for you?
How do you keep your customers from trying something else with your competitors?
Steve: I tell them to give it a shot if they think it is going to help them, and let’s see what they’ve got. If they surpass us, then that’s when I rely on my company, the director of sales, district sales manager, etc. to see if we can make any adjustments.
How do you determine when it is just not a good fit for you and a customer?
Steve: If we are going to work together, we have to be teammates. If they are not willing to function in that way, they are probably better off elsewhere. If I am doing everything I should and that is expected of me, and they are still not happy, I will tell them they should probably go with someone else.
I was told once by a customer many years ago that they weren’t with me because I was that good, it was because the competition was that bad. There can be a lot of truth in that for operators.
Customers are not going to price their way to the top/success. There is more to it. My best customer says, “If you get caught doing me wrong, I have to cut ties with you. Everybody has a product and price. But I need a consistent price that is reasonable for us both to make money. We have to work together at that, period.”
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