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DSR of the Month, April 2010: Tom Mahaney, Buffalo Hotel Supply Co., Amherst, N.Y.

As a volunteer fire fighter, Tom Mahaney has had a lot of experience putting out fires. In his work as project manager for Buffalo Hotel Supply Co., Mahaney has had the opportunity to put out fires of a different sort.

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Mahaney not only manages the projects he sells, but he also handles design and contract bidding.

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Tom Mahaney, Project ManagerMahaney joined Buffalo Hotel Supply 18 years ago, after working in the foodservice industry during college, managing a Howard Johnson’s after graduation and selling linens and textiles. “I started in smallwares, learned about heavy equipment and then moved into design, contract bidding and project management,” he says.

Mahaney’s broad and diverse client base ranges from hotels and colleges to convention centers and senior living communities. He is known for supervising an installation from start to finish.

FE&S: Describe your customer service philosophy. Do you stop serving the customer once the job is done?
TM: With today’s competition and the internet, customer expectations are pretty high. It is important to have an ongoing relationship with customers. I attribute repeat business to my attention to detail. Whether it’s a fast food restaurant or fine dining operation, my customers are dealing with that expect great service daily. It makes sense that operators would expect the same from me and appreciate it more than the average person.

FE&S: What have you learned by working with such a varied customer base?
TM:
What is most important is communication and acquiring accurate information. No matter what type of operation I’m dealing with, most customers have a clear idea of their menu composition and what type of layout they seek. Everyone’s goal is to create an efficient kitchen with a good work environment that helps keep labor costs to a minimum.

FE&S: You seem to be pretty hands on with your projects. How do you and your customers benefit from such an active interest?
TM:
It’s important to be involved with a project from start to finish. I go to job sites often, work with people and remain proactive. This allows me to be better prepared for things that could go wrong and plan ahead. There will always be problems and challenges on a job. It’s easier to be onsite and see the issues firsthand than have to deal with them remotely. With a hands-on approach, I can deal with challenges as they come up and get everyone in one room to resolve problems quickly.

FE&S: You both sell and manage your projects. How do you transition back and forth between the role of salesperson and project manager?
TM:
The tools we have today make it much easier to manage jobs than when I joined the company 18 years ago. Being able to contact customers via cell phone or e-mail from a laptop allows me to reach out to them at any time. It’s still a juggling act trying to prioritize where I need to be and where I want to be. Today, it’s more about time management than anything else. Fortunately, we have a great staff that I tap into constantly for support and backup. I couldn’t do my job without them.

FE&S: As a volunteer fire fighter and community advocate, you seem to give of your time freely. Why do you continue to be so active in your community and in what ways do you benefit?
TM: My wife and I are both volunteer fire fighters because we enjoy it. I also do a lot of business with fire fighters. I am currently putting in a new kitchen for a fire department.

FE&S: How do you keep your product knowledge current?
TM:
Factory schools are a big part of our company and an important educational resource. I also keep current by partnering with good rep firms. I learn a lot from my customers, who are both diverse and astute. Trade journals, like FE&S, are great sources for trend information, as are trade shows like NAFEM. There also is a lot of information on the internet.

FE&S: What are the challenges in training end users on equipment and how do you overcome these?
TM:
I build it into the contract that, after equipment is up and running, reps will do a demo. This is so important, not only from a productivity standpoint, but also in terms of safety. We teach basic cleaning and maintenance procedures as well. I keep in touch with customers in the event that follow-up training is needed. The better equipment is kept up, the longer it lasts.

FE&S: What are your goals for this year?
TM: I have a full list of projects currently, so I’m looking forward to another good year. In this challenging economy, it will be important to stay in close touch with customers and be of service to them.

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