|Years as a DSR||16 years, 2 at Y. Hata|
|Annual sales volume||$11 million plus|
|No. of active accounts||35|
|Type of accounts||Independent restaurants, large chain, country club|
|Territory||Oahu from Honolulu to Waikiki|
|Biggest attributes||Taking time to understand customers’ needs|
|Best tools/support||Category specialists|
|Favorite category||Center of the plate|
|Learned the hard way||Forgetting to double check to be sure I have everything I need in the car|
|Always||See accounts face-to-face|
|Never||Talk too much|
|Best thing about being a DSR||Getting paid well for hard work|
|Worst thing||The first year is the hardest; you may want to quit every day.|
|Top trends seeing||Concerns about ingredients|
|Mojo Motto||Don’t take it personally|
DSR of the Month
Working in purchasing prior to becoming a distributor sales rep (DSR) has given Cheryl Ho an edge in understanding everything she needs to know about products for her customers. She has been a rep with Y. Hata, headquartered in Honolulu, for two years. Prior to that, Ho worked in purchasing and, later, in sales for another foodservice distributor. In-depth product knowledge makes her a valuable resource when it comes to helping operators build their businesses.
Her purchasing experience saved the day in a situation that most other reps would call impossible. A 250-seat restaurant on her route closed down and was scheduled to re-open in 10 days. The Salvation Army, owners of the location, sent all the original furnishings and supplies to their thrift shop. They wanted everything new and they wanted it next week. Ho says no other distributor even took the time to meet with them.
The challenge was not only the time crunch but also the fact that they are on an island so getting goods delivered can be lengthy and costly. Due to her knowledge and connections – plus working every day onsite – Ho was able to achieve the impossible. The restaurant opened and is successful. Not surprisingly, they are now a loyal customer. Having the new chef and owners tell her how much they appreciate her help has made it worth the effort, Ho says.
One of Ho’s customers, Joey Castenada, ceo of the parent company of Ono Cheese Steak, wrote the following: “Cheryl is a super star in customer service. She continually goes beyond our expectations as account manager and we truly enjoy working with her.” Jim Cremins, vice president at Y. Hata, adds: “I have always believed that in sales there are amateurs, professionals and artists. Cheryl is an artist of the first order.”
It takes time to understand the business
Ho’s secret to success is taking the time to know and understand each customer’s business. She eats at the restaurant and spends time with staff, especially in the beginning of the relationship. She often brings in Y. Hata’s category specialists to provide broader education on center of the plate or restaurant supplies. She says this extra pair of eyes helps to identify sales opportunities that she may have missed.
Y. Hata is a UniPro Foodservice member, so Ho uses the distributor cooperative’s NetNews service to learn about new items and trends. She frequently forwards market updates to customers to keep them up on any and all market developments.
Ho has seen an upsurge of interest in ingredients, whether it concerns trans fats, gluten, nutrition or allergies. Even employees are seeking information as they are often queried by diners on these topics.
Don’t forget to double check your list of items
One lesson that Ho learned the hard way was not taking off in her car to a customer meeting without checking that she had everything she needed with her. Several times, in a rush, she arrived without the sample or the product left off the delivery truck that was the focus of the trip. Even though the actual mileage of her route is close to ten miles, with tourist traffic and construction, it can take her more than an hour to reach a customer. So, now she double checks to be sure she has every item she needs when she arrives at the back door.
Ho credits the health of the restaurant business in Hawaii ironically to the higher cost of living there. People have to work longer hours to survive so either eat out or order takeout for convenience. She spends times with her customers coming up with specials to attract hungry diners.
It’s important to spend face-to-face time with customers listening to their needs, Ho says. She adds that when she takes new reps on calls with her, they often talk too much. In addition to counseling them to listen, she also emphasizes follow-up, even if you don’t know the answer to a question yet. Also, it is critical not to take a customer for granted, even when things are going like clockwork. Menus, items and personnel can all change, she points out, and these can affect the success of the relationship.
The motto Ho lives by is “Don’t take it personally.” If something goes wrong, whether you had any control over it or not, and a customer is angry, don’t take it as a personal attack on yourself. Foodservice is not a perfect world, she says. As a DSR, you are the catalyst between your company and the customer, so it’s just business, not personal.
Written by Caroline Perkins, author of Customer Care & Feeding: The Ultimate B2B Selling Strategy. Visit www.customercareandfeeding.com