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Years as a DSR 2 ½ years
Annual sales volume $1.6 million
No. of active accounts 114
Type of accounts Street, catering, fine dining, family dining, senior centers and golf resorts
Territory Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia
Biggest attributes Customer service
Best tools/support Software to analyze menus
Favorite category Nonfoods
Learned the hard way Roll with the punches
Always Ask for the sale
Never Lie to the customer
Best thing about being a DSR Knowing that I’m doing everything possible to help my customers – and they know it, too
Worst thing Seeing the toll that the economy has taken on business; the hard times customers are having is heartbreaking
Top trends seeing A return to scratch cooking
Mojo Motto You’re only as good as your word

DSR of the Month

Lisa Lancaster
Wendling’s Food Service
Buckhannon, W.V.
The Tables are Turned for Lisa Lancaster

Lisa Lancaster, a DSR at Wendling’s Food Service, has been on the other side of the foodservice distributor/customer relationship. Her experience as a waitress has given her an edge in selling to restaurants and institutions.

Lancaster started her foodservice career at the age of 14, bussing tables in the restaurant of a family friend. She graduated into waiting tables and, eventually, into management. In 2010, a Wendling’s DSR serving the restaurant where she was working suggested that she consider a switch to distributor sales. After considering her options, she decided to give it a try and has been a DSR since. “I can put myself in the customers’ shoes,” she says. “I know what they need and I can take care of them.”

Wendling’s is based in Buckhannon, West Virginia. Lancaster, however, lives in Columbia, Md. Her territory stretches across Maryland and into Pennsylvania and West Virginia. She says she put 44,000 miles on her car last year visiting customers. Her schedule is different every day. She starts by figuring out a “plan of attack” for each area that she visits, going over notes to follow up with existing customers and to develop new business. Then she works the plan.

Lancaster figures her strength is customer service. Her focus is building relationships based on trust. “They have to believe in me to let me help them,” she notes. When customers find out that she worked as a waitress since her teens, they can relate to her, she explains.

Menu analysis builds business
Wendling’s provides its sales team with a software package to help them analyze customers’ menus for profitability, as well as what is selling and what is not. Lancaster says that, often, customers have a menu item that may sell once or twice a month and should be retired. In many cases, gross margin per item is not what it could be. The software helps to identify areas that can be improved, leading to a stronger profit picture. Menu analysis can only take place when customers trust that she has their best interests at heart, so this process takes place over a period of time.

Her favorite category to sell is nonfoods. “There is no date code,” she says, “and there is less chance of any problems” than with perishables. She particularly likes to sell chemicals and cleaning supplies.

In the food area, Lancaster sees many customers going back to scratch cooking. She believes this is because operators are looking for cheaper and healthier menu items. She keeps up to date on product knowledge at sales meetings and through brokers.

Honesty is critical
As for the dos and don’ts of being a DSR, she says a “must” is to always ask for the sale. She also believes it is important to communicate with all parties at the customer’s operation, not just the buyer. This helps in getting to know and understand the business better. Lancaster is adamant that a DSR should never lie to a customer, even a little white lie. “Be honest, no matter what it is about,” she says. “Sometimes it’s hard, but they understand.” Truth is a key part of building the trust that allows her to help her customers run their businesses better.

Lancaster never stops building new business. Mary Ann Folmsbee, who is Wendling’s sales manager, says Lancaster is “hungry like a wolf. She takes it running,” Folmsbee counts Lancaster as a valued team player. In fact, she thinks of the sales force as a family rather than a team. Lancaster agrees, saying “I enjoy working for Wendling’s because we are a family-oriented business with true family values. With over 20 years of experience in the foodservice industry, I have never felt more at home than I do at Wendling’s.

 

Caroline Perkins is author of Customer Care & Feeding: The Ultimate B2B Selling Strategy. Visit http://www.customercareandfeeding.com.