Frances Fernandez, CFSP, a sales rep with National Restaurant Supply Co. in El Paso, Texas, is a great believer in the basics — getting to know a business from the ground up, learning as much as possible about foodservice equipment and supplies and the customers who use them, and being honest at all times.
Fernandez began her career with National 21 years ago. She started by working behind the counter of the company's showroom, servicing walk-in customers. “I was also in charge of handling all the vendor price changes that would come into the company,” she recalled.
Her early cash â€˜n carry and administrative experience left a lasting impression. Not only did it allow her to transition into a career in sales, but, she maintained, it was also the best way to gain the experience and cultivate the knowledge and contacts she needed to succeed as a DSR. “Start at the front line, the front counter,” she advised. “Build up your clientele.”
The manner in which she treats her clients is just as straightforward. “Always be honest with your customers, because if you're not it will come back and get you,” Fernandez said. “If something came in damaged, be upfront and tell the customer. They will understand.”
This approach has served her well. In all, Fernandez's client list totals more than 200 and is comprised mostly of schools, as well as one national chain. In an average week Fernandez communicates with at least 50 customers. She totaled more than $1.2 million in sales in 2004.
When serving schools, DSRs must realize that these accounts have very specific needs, Fernandez said. “You have to try to spec the new products that are out there to make the foodservice directors' jobs easier. You've got to make sure the convection ovens are more efficient and cost-effective for the school people. When you work with the schools you learn that everything goes out to bid, so you have to have a sharp pencil.”
Sharing knowledge is one of the biggest strengths of Fernandez, who hosts in-house product knowledge seminars for customers and colleagues alike. As she explained, “I've done â€˜school shows' where vendors will come in with their products. I'll invite the foodservice directors to come in and look at a new piece of equipment, like a combi oven, and ask questions. I had a turnout of 50 people recently, and out of that seminar I have sold four combis in a period of three months.”
Fernandez counted her boss, National's President and CEO Bruce Gulbas, first among her mentors. “He's always very professional, fair and is always giving me an opportunity to move up in the company.”
For 2005, Fernandez plans to expand her customer base outside of the El Paso region.
She also plans to attend more school shows and in general “be more out in front of the people.” Fernandez is shooting for a 10% increase in sales volume over last year.
Fernandez's advice to colleagues is to do just what she has done: Soak up as much knowledge as possible. “Read up on new items. Read the industry magazines. Attend seminars. Attend equipment shows like The NAFEM Show. Product knowledge is the most important thing you can have.”
Fernandez, a lifelong El Paso resident, said she “would like to give a special thanks to my caring parents, Anita and Albino Lopez, and to my loving husband, Victor J. Fernandez.”