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DSR of the Year, 2010; Promise Keeper, Mike Perrino, Edward Don & Company’s

Edward Don & Company's Mike Perrino pairs an intense customer focus with a sense of urgency to make good on his commitments to deliver positive returns on the investments made by his company and customers alike.

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F1009_PerrinoCvr3The foodservice industry is littered with stories about ambitious entrepreneurs who bit off more than they could chew and ultimately choked on their aspirations, letting down their customers and companies along the way. Mike Perrino of Edward Don & Company is the complete antithesis of these types of people. Simply put, when Perrino makes a promise, he keeps it.

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Instead of looking to make a big splash, Perrino continues to build his business one customer at a time, with each transaction becoming a pixel in a much larger and more impressive body of work.

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Upon first meeting Perrino, one might easily equate his comfortable, casual style with a lack of focus or drive, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Rather, it's a very structured and disciplined approach backed by an encyclopedic base of product knowledge that allows Perrino to keep a firm grasp on all the details associated with his clients and easily move from an internal meeting to a customer meeting while maintaining the same comfortably confident, detail-oriented approach.

Perrino's incredibly thorough and fundamentally sound approach that earns the mutual respect from internal and external customers alike allows him to stand tall while making good on his promise to generate a positive return on the investments made by his company and customers. For these reasons and many others, FE&S proudly recognizes Perrino as its 2010 DSR of the Year.

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Kicking off a Foodservice Career

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Rosebud corporate chef Brian Wright and Mike Perrino (right) take a look at some new dishware the multi-concept operator has added to one of its locations.
Shortly after graduating from the University of Notre Dame, Mike Perrino was drafted by the National Football League's San Diego Chargers, where he played the 1985 season as an offensive tackle. His second season in the NFL, Perrino traded his blue Chargers jersey for the green of the Philadelphia Eagles before signing the next year with the New York Jets.

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By his own account, Perrino was an average NFL player, and he hungered to be more than that over the course of his career, whatever that would be. So shortly after signing with the Jets, Perrino had a change of heart and left the NFL. "It was time to get on with life and have some fun," Perrino says.

Coach Perrino

So in 1987, Perrino decided to make a career change and put his economics degree to work in the banking industry. To get his feet wet in the banking business, Perrino took on a couple of banking internships. "At the time, banking was a nice, stable business," Perrino recalls. "If you got into banking, chances are you had a job for life, but it was not a very dynamic sell."

During a visit with his uncle who was recuperating in the hospital, the elder Perrino turned the conversation toward his nephew's career. Perrino told his uncle that banking was not providing the type of challenge he had hoped for, and he was exploring other professional avenues for life after football. As the founder and owner of Chicago's famous Home Run Inn chain of pizzerias, Perrino's uncle suggested his nephew apply for a job with one of his company's suppliers.

So Perrino followed his uncle's advice: he applied for a sales position and got the job with Edward Don & Company as a route salesperson covering the Chicago suburbs of Berwyn, Cicero and Oak Park. Like every other salesperson when they first start with the company, Perrino hit the streets with a stack of credit applications and copies of the "Don Big Book," the dealer's product catalog, and started to make a career for himself.

By all accounts it would appear as if Perrino did well as a route salesman. But after five years, Perrino found himself looking for a different kind of challenge. Around that time during one of the dealership's national sales meetings, Perrino had breakfast with Jim Pope, another Edward Don & Company salesperson.

As the two men broke bread, they shared their career aspirations and frustrations. Pope had joined Edward Don & Company from a broadline foodservice distributor and brought with him a portfolio of operator contacts. While he had no problem getting meetings with potential customers, Pope needed someone to help him build an equipment-and-supplies-oriented program that would meet their needs, an expertise Perrino had spent the previous five years cultivating. For his part, Perrino was looking beyond his traditional route with the desire to tackle something bigger. "The concept of working together was invigorating because it gave us the potential to do more than we were doing," Perrino recalls.

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When they first teamed up to form the Multi-Unit Sales Group, Mike Perrino (center) and Jim Pope (right) worked with sales assistant Marty Joyce.
So in 1994, Perrino and Pope developed a business plan that would pair the two of them together in a special unit aimed at serving multi-unit foodservice operators and growing sales in this area for Edward Don & Company thanks to a more cohesive effort. They added a staff member, Marty Joyce, and set out to make their mark. "Our biggest concern at first was making sure we had enough business to keep Marty busy," Perrino says.

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That concern was addressed when the new group quickly secured its first two customers: a hotel management company and a local Italian restaurant concept. And the business took off from that point, with other parts of the company eventually emulating the model Perrino and Pope established. "Because we operate as one company across the country, I am accountable to that customer regardless of their location," Perrino says. "That has proven to be pretty powerful because now I can get a product specified in all their units across the country and manage the inventory and pricing for them. Whether they need a custom plate or a hood, I can take care of that for them."

As the scope of clients and work expanded, so did the multi-unit group's staffing needs. When Pope retired in November 2009,

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Seen here are members of Edward Don & Company’s multi-unit sales team. Back row from left to right: Gladys Sample, Leticia Gamboa, Jennifer Kambic and Mark Garoufalis. Front row: Curtis Schatz, FE&S 2010 DSR of the Year Milke Perrino and Nancy Carbon. (Not pictured: Joanne Guzik)
Curtis Schatz stepped up to become Perrino's partner. The group has also grown to seven staff members from three at the beginning. Nancy Carbon and Leticia Gamboa, a sales assistant, are the two assigned primarily to the multi-unit group. Carbon helps Perrino and Schatz quote new projects and track specific jobs. Gamboa works in Edward Don & Company's bustling call center processing orders the group's customers phone in each day. Gamboa runs a report that summarizes the day's activity for the group's customers and gives it to Perrino so he can address any challenges or respond to any customer questions. Project coordinator Jennifer Kambic supports Perrino's heavy-equipment projects by doing everything from creating quotes all the way through to ensuring delivery, and coordinating warranty service calls.

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In addition, multi-unit sales coordinators Joanne Guzik and Gladys Sample help create and manage customer order guides, monitor inventory levels and manage pricing. Both Guzik and Sample perform a similar function for DSRs Michael Gold and Jim Simon. "Our team helps me keep my eyes off my desk and on the customers," Perrino adds.

Today, the multi-unit business group that Perrino and Pope first developed 16 years ago has customer relationships with 12 different purchasing entities that operate more than 500 locations from the Florida Keys to Las Vegas. The group's client portfolio includes multi-concept operators like Chicago-based Rosebud Restaurants and restaurant chains with franchisees throughout the country. Perrino estimates that 20 percent of the group's revenue comes from customers opening new locations, 25 percent from heavy equipment sales and 55 percent from re-supply orders.

To ensure the fast-paced group remains a cohesive team, Perrino holds Monday morning staff meetings. During this time, the group reviews working task lists, notes from previous meetings and other customer developments. Perrino describes this meeting as being sacred and says he's only missed one over the years and that was because he was on vacation at the time. "It is important that everyone be pointed in the same direction," Perrino says. "We do a good job of creating a common cause among the individuals on our team. They all know what the agenda is when it comes to serving the customers. There is never a question. If we make our customers happy, they will buy more from us. It is that simple."

Despite having such a large group that helps serve his customer base, Perrino does not see himself as a manager, and he intends to keep it that way. "We have managers who perform the function of managing," Perrino says. "In sales it is easy to get bogged down in a management role. I try to be a salesperson that is working within a team."

Generally, the multi-unit group targets any foodservice operator with less than 100 locations that does not currently do business with Edward Don & Company. In sizing up a potential client, Perrino and his team look for concepts that have good reputations, both professionally and in the foodservice part of the business. These concepts should also show potential to grow their revenues and the number of units systemwide. "We know who the strong concepts are — the ones who can pay their bills," Perrino says.

When pursuing new business, Perrino and his team use a very simple litmus test. "It has to make sense for the customer and for the company and for us," he says. "We need to find out what the operator's hot buttons are and then develop a plan to address them."

Uncovering an operator's challenges takes time, though. Perrino likes to shop a potential customer's store on several occasions before actually meeting with them. For example, if a restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, then Perrino will go to the location during each of those dayparts and observe what happens. "Doing this gives us something intelligent to talk about when we do meet with the decision maker," he says. "Most operators will know within 30 seconds if you are a fraud."

Becoming familiar with the foodservice operation seemingly makes it easier for Perrino to engage new customers in a dialogue that taps into their passion and can eventually help build a relationship. "If we happen to see the owner or decision maker, we will introduce ourselves. We are not there in secret," Perrino says. "Most people love to talk about their place. Foodservice is a hard business, and the good operators know there are things they can improve."

It's those areas where the operator would like to improve that give Perrino that foot in the door he and his team need to begin building a working relationship with their customers. "We want the opportunity to earn their loyalty," he says. "We have credibility because of who we are and who we do business with."

To help maintain credibility among their existing customer base, Perrino and Schatz conduct quarterly business reviews with each of their customers. In these meetings, they review the client's order history — both enterprise-wide and on a unit-by-unit basis. The meetings also look at the frequency of deliveries by location, the ordering process and more. Reviews of this nature help both parties identify which items work well for a concept and the ones that need to be replaced, among other things.

In light of the sputtering economy, practices such as these have served Perrino and his team well. "We are spending a lot more time on customer retention right now," Perrino says. "When businesses are not as profitable, their managers will turn over every rock they can to save money."

Attention to Detail
One of the keys to Perrino's success is his ability to pay very close attention to detail. Large or small, he follows up on every request as they roll in from customers or colleagues at the company. "You have to respond now or it becomes an avalanche," Perrino says.

Perrino relies heavily on his email account to help keep track of deadlines and deliveries. He will send himself a reminder email that lands in his inbox in advance of a deadline. This allows Perrino to follow up with any suppliers or customers to make sure everything is going as planned or to be proactive in addressing any unforeseen challenges. "This way, I am not caught flatfooted and, when need be, we can compensate the customer with a substitute item or a credit," Perrino says. "I like customers to know that I am following up on things. They are much more forgiving if they see you are paying attention to detail."

In the event something does go awry with a delivery or a project, Perrino is very dutiful with his follow-up. "I always try to deliver bad news in person," he says. "If I can't do it in person, I will call and speak to the customer. What I won't do is send a text or leave a voice mail with bad news. I know I would not want to get bad news that way."

While Perrino is very dutiful with his follow-up and communication, he seemingly operates on a two-way street with his customers, who share information freely with him. "I know when a piece of equipment is not working for them because I ask the customers to call me when they have performance issues," says Perrino, who works with Kambic to set up the necessary service calls. "I encourage them to not suffer in silence. It is important to know about any problems they have so I can help them fix it."

What allows Perrino to be so accessible and able to help his customers is a very structured and disciplined approach to each business day.

He begins each day at 5:30 a.m. by checking email. At that time, Perrino responds to the follow-up emails he sent himself and to any other company or client communication that came in overnight. From 7:15 a.m. to 9 a.m. Perrino meets with Carbon to review the status of specific projects and issues the other team members may have. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Perrino makes sales calls and manages existing projects. And from 3 p.m. until the end of the day, Perrino will address any outstanding issues, and review the daily orders, invoices and delivery confirmations. Late that evening, Perrino will review any relevant company reports, and track deliveries and the status of special orders.

Feet Still on the Street
While the bulk of Perrino's business comes from the multi-unit operators, he still retains a handful of clients from his days as a route salesperson. These customers include a couple of restaurants, a high school and two country clubs. "It's OK to think big, but you can't let them think you are too big for them," Perrino says.

Watching Perrino interact with these customers, there's an unmistakable personal bond between him and the individuals he calls on at these establishments. The basis of this bond is an element of trust that Perrino has established with these customers and works diligently to maintain. "A good vendor like Mike is well-versed in all types of equipment, and he is not going to sell us something that will break down in a year," says Brian Wright, corporate chef for Rosebud Restaurants. "Plus, he knows how to help us keep all of our plates spinning — pun intended — so our projects keep moving."

Earlier this summer a customer called Perrino on a Saturday morning in need of some champagne flutes for an important event that evening. Acting with his trademark sense of urgency, Perrino contacted the warehouse manager for some help in retrieving the product. Unfortunately, the evening before, an intense thunderstorm dumped more than eight inches of rain in a very short period of time on the area, flooding the basements of countless homes, including that of the warehouse manager. So upon arriving at the office that Saturday morning, Perrino zipped his way through the warehouse, picking the order himself and making sure the customer had the glasses in time for their event.

Moving with this sense of focus and urgency is typical for Perrino, regardless of the type of client he is working with at the moment. He takes tremendous pride in making each customer feel as if they are his only client and the most important people to him. "If I can make a customer look good, they will buy more from me," he says. "Think about the guy on the other end of the phone and how he feels. If a unit manager calls you, there is a reason. So we can never be too busy to take that call."

Also fueling his focus and sense of urgency is Perrino's deep competitive fire. "He always gives me an honest answer when going up against the competition," Wright says. "You can tell Mike is a competitor because business is business to him."

The same traits that made Perrino a successful route salesperson continue to define his performance working with multi-unit customers. "Every foodservice operator has challenges and opportunities," he says. "Once you address that challenge or opportunity it then becomes a logistics problem because you have the right product coming to the customer when they need it."

For example, a route salesperson's customers expect their suppliers to visit them on a regular basis. During the busier summer months, it is not uncommon for Perrino to visit his country club customers two or three times a week to ensure they have what they need. Working with multi-unit customers in the Chicago area, he makes regular visits to their individual locations in addition to touching base with the corporate decision makers. "If you are out of sight then you are out of mind and that is not good in this business," Perrino says. "There needs to be a dialogue between us and our customers."

On occasion the foodservice equipment and supplies manufacturers need to be a part of the dialogue Perrino has with his customers. "We could not do this without cooperation from our vendors," he says. "Their help is necessary for us to execute our marketing plan."

In fact, Perrino regularly sends factory reps on sales calls without him, something not every dealer or DSR is comfortable doing. "There is always a reason for their visit — we don't just send them out there to talk about the brand," he says. "The factories know the sales call will be worth their time."

Factory reps also help Perrino keep his product knowledge base current. "You have to make time to talk to the vendors, but sometimes that is difficult because we are all trying to hustle to make a buck," he says.

Perrino also feels fortunate to have a strong network of internal resources at Edward Don & Company. As a football player at the University of Notre Dame, Perrino learned firsthand that good leadership starts at the top and works its way through the entire organization. Such is the case at Edward Don & Company. "For me, it is helpful to have someone whose name is on the wall and keeps an open door for us," Perrino says of Steve Don, president of the dealership. "I have never had any trouble selling our company on what we do. Our corporate culture is very conducive to our kind of teamwork."

That supportive culture extends throughout other parts of the company. For example, Perrino counts district sales managers Mark Garoufalis and Cliff Whitman as being critical internal resources for both him and the group. "They see the opportunity for our group, and you need that type of backing internally," Perrino says.

Another person who's helped shape Perrino's career is Jeff Goldstein. "He approached the multi-unit business professionally and with a plan," Perrino says. "He taught me how to sell a program. Until then I was struggling, but Jeff got me to realize you are selling your services and not just an item."

Even internally, Perrino understands the importance of proving your value on a daily basis. That point was driven home about five years ago when Jeff Weiland joined the company as vice president of sales. Perrino had to introduce Weiland to the unique world of multi-unit sales. "I prefaced everything by explaining my agenda is to build customer penetration and move product for the company," Perrino says. "Jeff came from a parallel industry and worked for a large publicly traded company with a completely different business model. But once he understood our group's agenda, working together was very easy."

Perrino also counts himself lucky to have the ongoing support of Cindy, his wife of 26 years. "She has supported me through all of the changes in my career," Perrino says of his college sweetheart.

And what about Perrino's extended family — the people that operate Home Run Inn and encouraged him to enter the foodservice business? His cousin Joe Perrino, who runs Home Run Inn, has been very supportive from a business perspective and served as a life coach for Mike over the years. Mike and his cousin Dan Costello, who runs Home Run Inn's restaurant business, have an excellent working and personal relationship. That's probably because Mike Perrino seemingly approaches Home Run Inn like most any other client: honestly and directly.

"I am very up-front with them and very forthright," Perrino says. "When something goes wrong, I let them know before their people tell them. Restaurant operators deal with things that go wrong all the time. It's how you deal with it that matters."

Despite all of his success, it is the simple things that keep Perrino engaged in the foodservice industry. "When a new decision maker comes in and wants to change out all the suppliers but you are able to keep the business by showing your value — that is a real rush for me," Perrino says. "At some point, the relationship is not enough. You have got to take care of business."

When asked what aspect of his career makes him most proud, Perrino pauses to reflect for a moment and then replies, "Whenever I asked the company for resources, I made a promise with regard to the return on investment, and I always kept my promise. They came through and I came through."

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