Burton Hardy has always been a people person. Before he began his career in the foodservice industry 34 years ago, Hardy worked in sales and even considered becoming a stand-up comic.
Fortunately for the Sam Tell Companies, that plan didn't pan out. Hardy became the Farmingdale, N.Y.-based company's first million-dollar sales rep after he came on board more than two decades ago. "I rely on my personal freedom to challenge myself to be more," says Hardy, who is based out of the dealership's New York City office.
A traditional street salesman who handles resupply orders, tabletop and some equipment, Hardy serves a client mix that includes multiconcept operators, regional chains, white-tablecloth restaurants and independents. For larger jobs, Hardy often gets companies' equipment departments involved.
FE&S: How has the business changed since you first got involved?
BH: Many single-site restaurants have turned into smaller chains. Customers that had one 70-seat restaurant now have nine or 10. Hotels are not just offering fine dining now. They have lounges, clubs and rooftop bars. The boards of health all over the country are becoming more involved in enforcing food safety. It has helped our sales and selling points but has caused anxiety amongst restaurateurs because increased regulations can stifle creativity. We have been responsive to the changing trends.
FE&S: What's the secret to successfully serving such a diverse client base?
BH: I'm fortunate enough to have a great crew behind me. The sale may begin with me, but my success is due to the great people in the credit department, customer service, warehouse and our drivers, in addition to the factories and their reps. Service is the foundation of our business. Computers are wonderful, but I'm a firm believer in the importance of handshakes and eye contact.
FE&S: How do you make the best use of your supply chain partners?
BH: Factory reps are a great resource. They provide me with necessary information quickly, accompany me on service calls and provide smallwares orders in days rather than weeks. I keep in close contact with them over the phone, in regular meetings and via e-mail.
FE&S: Which is more important: service or price?
BH: Service is the foundation of this business. You can't put a price on service, because people need merchandise. It's easier to lose a customer with bad service, since people tend to remember it.
FE&S: How do you respond when something does not go as planned with an order?
BH: The ability to respond to a situation is important. Sales reps need to take responsibility for problems and not make excuses. It's important to keep customers in the loop and provide alternatives or solutions.
FE&S: What are your most vital resources for product knowledge and information?
BH: Our equipment department provides concise and precise information when restaurants are in the design and building phases. Factory reps also are good resources. I regularly read magazines, trade publications and product catalogs to see what is new and innovative. I am currently working with two manufacturers to see if a couple of my new product ideas are possible.
FE&S: What is your favorite part of your job?
BH: When I achieve a personal goal that helps my customers, it makes me feel great. When customers are satisfied, it gives me freedom from worry, along with a feeling of accomplishment.
FE&S: After more than 34 years in this business, what keeps you coming back?
BH: It's important to find work that makes you happy. Outside salesmen need to be motivated to set goals, regardless of how big they are. For me, my work provides me with a feeling of freedom, which is very satisfying.