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DSR of the Month, May 2005: Neil Ross, Bresco, Birmingham, Ala.

Neil Ross, a sales representative with Bresco (Birmingham Restaurant Supply Inc.) in Birmingham, Ala., sums up the secret to his success in two words: “consultative selling.”

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A chef, Ross joined Bresco 17 years ago after having run his own operation, the 80-seat, Australian-themed Down Under Restaurant & Pub in Huntsville, Ala. He made the career change, he confided, after realizing that “I was working 80-to-100 hours a week and not making the amount of money I thought I should be making.”

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His wife was working in Birmingham, about 100 miles from Huntsville, he continued, “so when I closed the restaurant, it was natural for me to move where her career was. I walked in and talked to [Bresco's owner, founder and president] George Tobia one day, and a couple of weeks later I was working for him.”

Ross, who holds a degree in Hospitality Management from the University of Queensland in Australia, lists the amount of clients he handles in the hundreds. He called consultative selling the key to his success. “We'll identify people who either want to get into the foodservice business or are currently in it and need to expand, renovate or change something,” he said. “We take them through the whole process, from concept to design. That's where consulting comes in.”

Though not a CAD operator, Ross provides conceptual design, working in concert with Bresco's facilities consultant Finley Lackey. “I do the operations, he does the engineering and we put together a package and solve problems for architects, general contractors and owners,” Ross said.

In 2005, Ross said he accounted for $1.5 million in sales, but that he and his colleagues maintain their focus on something else. “We focus on profitability,” he said. “That sales figure to me is somewhat meaningless. I have been anywhere in a calendar year from $800,000 to $2.7 million based on just raw sales; it means nothing. I don't get paid for sales. I get paid on profitability.”

His biggest clients are architects, for whom he has been able to “perform well and actually save money by doing good design up front. Their clients like what we do. We give them information that's accurate and prompt and, once again, when a problem arises, either before the installation or during the build out, we [handle] it for them.”

Thanks to the widely reported aging of the Baby Boomer generation, continuing-care communities have emerged as Ross's fastest-growing business sector for the past two years.

“What we've done is taken some of the more traditional foodservice models and tried to apply them in the aged-care market,” he explained. “We've taken more of a ‘country club' approach ... with really, really good food-and-beverage facilities.”

Ross wants to go further, and is looking at changing the paradigm of how nursing homes are run.

Traditionally, Ross pointed out, such facilities housed 30-to-40 residents in a “very structured environment, with everything by the clock. The care was good, it just wasn't with the dignity and the lifestyle that I think we can provide, and that the developers we work for think we can provide.”

The new paradigm he envisions features smaller residential-type units with a maximum of 12 residents. In Ross' vision, a chef works in a centralized kitchen, more like a residence.

Even though the meals are planned, he explained, residents would be free to have food outside of the regular hours, and are encouraged, if able, to participate in the preparation.

This initiative is “something I'm passionate about,” Ross noted, “but it doesn't represent all the business we do. It's a growth area, and I'm seeing more and more smart developers acknowledge that this may be a better way to do it.”

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