"The sales rep who was calling on us at the time recommended that I come in for an interview," Johnson says. "The timing was perfect, because I wanted to spend more time with my family. This had been difficult with me working long hours and late evenings as a restaurant manager."
It's now been 14 years since Johnson joined the South Attleboro, Mass.-based firm. And his clientele, mostly based in Connecticut, consists largely of independent restaurants and healthcare operations.
FE&S: How do you make sure your customers receive exactly what they want and need?
SJ: I'm very thorough and check all orders twice to make certain they are correct. I also consider myself a student of the industry. I make it a point to listen carefully when clients place orders to ensure that my interpretation of what's being said is accurate.
FE&S: When an order or project does not go according to plan, how do you approach customer communication?
SJ: I stay on top of it and make sure to follow up with the project from the beginning, staying involved as much as possible. I will keep in contact with customers until the project is completed and the customer is totally satisfied.
FE&S: How do you go about leveraging the expertise of your supply chain partners to deliver meaningful customer solutions?
SJ: We're fortunate to have a great amount of resources at TriMark. I also utilize as many local factory representatives as possible. We have great reps in the area who can help me get my customers what they need quickly. They have access to a variety of products that my customers use on a regular basis. Servicing customer needs in a timely fashion is critical in this fast-paced industry. I will also do a lot of the leg work myself whenever possible.
FE&S: How has the business changed since you started 14 years ago?
SJ: When I started out in this business, the economy was doing well. Even though it took a dip over the last few years, I've been fortunate to have loyal customers. Rather than upscale hotels and restaurants, the majority of my success has been in mid-price point restaurants, a menu price range that works well in this economy. When the recession began, I focused on getting more of a foothold in schools and restaurants that I thought would be successful and move ahead in the economy. Luckily, these businesses have weathered the storm.
FE&S: How have you used technology to your advantage?
SJ: Efficiency has been enhanced and response time is much faster with e-mail. Technology is a tool, but the relationship aspect of our business has not changed at all. I see approximately 80 percent of my customers on a weekly basis. It's the relationships, not the technology, that drive my business.
FE&S: What's the most important lesson you have learned in all your years on the job?
SJ: Be truthful, because you're only as good as your word. Deliver on promises, and it will enhance customer relationships.