2009 Top Achiever: Tricia Powers Dambrauskas

Tricia Powers Dambrauskas
Vice President/CFO, B&G Restaurant Supply, Pittsfield, Mass. – Dealer

Tricia Powers Dambrauskas loves going out to dinner with family and friends. Good thing, too. "My job gives me the opportunity to go to a different restaurant each night. That way I am supporting my customer base," she says.

As part owner, vice president and chief financial officer of B&G Restaurant Supply, in Pittsfield, Mass., Dambrauskas oversees a growing number of customers, particularly in upstate New York. The company's two-year-old outpost in Albany, N.Y., added 50 new accounts this year alone, most of which are restaurants.

Practical Solutions

Dambrauskas, however, isn't counting on the commercial foodservice side to provide B&G's future bread and butter. She predicts the bulk of the dealership's revenues, some $11 million in 2008, will come from non-commercial foodservice operators– schools, hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities, and the government. B&G, for example, sells the U.S. military foodservice equipment that its staff uses to feed soldiers in Afghanistan.

Stability makes the non-commercial foodservice segment attractive. "It's where the guaranteed money is. If we do business with a school, we may not get paid in 30 days, but we know that money is coming. Commercial operations, on the other hand, might get financing for the initial equipment but as far as future goes, we must hope the business does well and they don't run out of money," Dambrauskas explains.

Dambrauskas, 31, is nothing if not practical. She once briefly entertained the notion of owning a restaurant, having studied entrepreneurship at Babson College, in Wellesley, Mass., where she earned a master's degree in business administration. But Dambrauskas quickly decided that despite loving the dining trade she would probably hate its hours. Instead, Dambrauskas joined the business her mother founded 25 years ago in Pittsfield. It was part of the foodservice supply chain and, more importantly, the dealership needed Dambrauskas' strengths, chiefly her ability to work across disciplines.

"I figured at that point my skills were definitely those things they were not focusing on at the time," Dambrauskas recalls. Older brother, Bobby, who has worked for the family business since high school, was president and oversaw sales and operations. Dad Bernie, co-CEO, managed most of B&G's projects; and co-CEO and founder Gloria purchased smallwares

So in 2005, Dambrauskas began overseeing information technology, accounting, human resources, and finance. "I took away all those extra things that my mom, brother and father didn't have time to do," she recalls.

At the time B&G had revenues of only about $7.5 million, but it easily competed with larger competitors by virtue of its strong customer service platform. Unencumbered by the need to manage by "hard numbers," the business endeared itself by showing loyalty to its customers.

Shayne Varnum, a Derry, N.H.-based territory sales manager for Hobart-Traulsen, sees Dambrauskas taking the same approach. "Tricia has an absolute dedication to getting things right for customers. She is very cooperative, courteous and kind," he notes.

Strong customer focus gives the dealership an edge with foodservice operators. "Maybe the dealer they were doing business with has implemented minimum a delivery requirement. Maybe they needed something right away but dealer didn't ship right away. We can make a decision quickly," Dambrauskas says. "That's the great thing about a family business. We don't have to answer to a higher power."

Necessary Changes

Nonetheless, higher powers have their place. Big companies don't ignore IT, for instance. B&G had. As recently as 2005, its Web site was bare-bones, accounting mostly paper-based and many employees worked without email. Dambrauskas' arrival changed that. She immediately beefed up legal documents, upgraded the Web site and bought an email server.

"I made everything electronic, because it is easier for employees to share information. That was something I did from day one," recalls Dambrauskas.

Two years ago, Dambrauskas and her brother, who run B&G day-to-day, opened a second showroom in Albany, a 40-minute drive from Pittsfield. It was the riskiest move the company had ever undertaken, she admits. But it was necessary if the company were to boost profits and enter the lucrative New England market.

B&G had an edge. The company already was piling up revenues by "re-distributing" equipment to a dealer in the area, who in turn sold them to end users. (Re-distribution sales account for about one-fourth of the dealership's total revenues.) But the margins on the equipment it sold were thinner than if it had sold them directly. Then, when that dealership closed, brother and sister moved into the area.

Showtime

"We opened a showroom, which hadn't existed," Dambrauskas says. In addition, existing customers, who now knew who originally supplied the equipment, referred the dealership to others. Coincidentally, the Albany area gave them access to a second set of manufacturer's reps; B&G could now leverage better prices from equipment makers.

The rest isn't quite history. B&G's margins remain under pressure because of the economy. "Customers are shopping on prices more and more. It doesn't allow us to have the margins we once used to," says Dambrauskas, who has commuted to the office three days a week from her home in Boston since joining the company.

Yet she believes the customer-focused company can weather the downturn. "We are not looking to cut margins because we need to pay our bills. We want to do the right thing for customers, to make sure they are there in the long run."