Although she enjoyed working as a restaurant operator/manager, after receiving a business degree from the University of Missouri, Rode opted for the flexibility of a foodservice sales career in California, where she became a rep for R.W. Smith & Co. in San Diego. Thirteen years after joining the company, Rode moved to Sacramento.
This past year has been Rode's most successful since joining the company 21 years ago. "I love this side of the business," says Rode, whose client base includes independent operators, casinos, hotels and country clubs. While Rode has a good base of equipment knowledge, tabletop is her passion.
FE&S recently spoke with Rode to discuss her career successes and her enthusiasm for the foodservice industry.
FE&S: What's the biggest challenge the foodservice industry faces today?
AR: Obviously the economy, which hasn't turned around, is a big challenge. I have clients who are thriving and expanding, while others are closing. There is a large dichotomy there. The challenge for foodservice establishments is to stay afloat. As a DSR, I need to find ways to help them do that. This includes saving money, streamlining efficiencies, being creative and thinking outside the box.
FE&S: Tabletop is your passion. What attracts you to it?
AR: I love tabletop, even after 21 years. The creativity is thrilling, like creating artwork. I find unique products to set my customers apart. It takes more time and lots of samples, but I enjoy working with owners on these projects. The satisfaction I gain makes it worthwhile.
FE&S: Where do you find your inspiration to create new and compelling tabletops?
AR: R.W. Smith is very passionate about tabletops and offers training seminars six times a year. We keep on top of the new ideas in the industry. The company also has a Tabletop of the Year contest for sales reps, and the winner receives a trip to Europe. During my career, I've traveled to Rome, Spain and Paris to find new cutting-edge designs. Tabletop trends start in Europe and work into the U.S. I also look for inspiration in magazines, on television shows and in visits to other foodservice operations.
FE&S: What steps do you take to make sure your product knowledge base remains current?
AR: Researching and training are key, and R.W. Smith is passionate about keeping us abreast of what products are out there. Part of my job is to find out what's new, the equipment that can save customers money, or china with the smallest carbon footprint. When going on a sales call, it's crucial to go in with information on new trends and tell the client something they don't already know. I need to be on the cutting edge before my customers. I do this by training, researching and being proactive about what's new in the industry.
FE&S: You are known for providing timely and thorough customer service. Describe your approach to making this happen.
AR: With my customers, I want to be known as an unpaid staff member and part of their team. I do this by building solid relationships. My customers know they can count on me, and I will honor all commitments. Mistakes happen, but I try to fix them immediately so customers don't focus on them. Also, R.W. Smith has great sales support to keep me on top of things.
FE&S: What keeps you engaged in the industry?
AR: This industry is very exciting. I've never been bored in 21 years. Finding new projects keeps me engaged. I look for new projects in blogs, by networking and looking at new liquor license applications. Finding new business is like a treasure hunt.