Anthony Rodriguez was a manager-in-training at Radio Shack, when his girlfriend's father, Jose Lorenzo, offered him an opportunity at his foodservice equipment dealership, J&E Restaurant Supply
"I started at the older facility in Fresno, doing a little bit of everything, including delivery, stocking, order-taking and sales," Rodriguez says.
Fast forward seven years and Rodriguez's girlfriend has become his wife and he has carved out a successful career as the lead sales rep at his father-in-law's firm. His broad client base includes local school districts, hotels, hospitals, Native American casino bars and custom concession trailers.
FE&S: When you first started with J&E, you did not have any foodservice experience and yet you are known for being able to put yourself in your customers' shoes as you solve their problems. How do you do that?
AR: When I was six years old, my grandparents owned a restaurant and I often spent time there. I've always had a real interest in foodservice. I always have paid attention to details in restaurants, even before working as an equipment sales rep. I had a real affinity for it. You don't always know what you're meant to do until you start doing it.
FE&S: What role has product training played in your success?
AR: I'm a stickler for training. I can memorize any catalog that we have here and I read them often. When we joined SEFA (Supply & Equipment Foodservice Alliance) three years ago, it was a game-changer. The SEFA training for sales staff is incredible. I can learn about entire product lines and gain huge amounts of product knowledge from SEFA conferences.
FE&S: Describe the proudest moment of your career.
AR: The job I'm working on now will probably be my most memorable. I'm working on a temporary hospital kitchen, which is the most challenging project I've ever had. I've been involved in the design and build, and now we're doing the finishing touches. I'm giving an orientation to cooks on how to use the equipment. Whenever you have a big project like this, there are always things that don't go as planned. However, when I see the end product, it's very fulfilling and satisfying. The hospital's foodservice director told me we did a heck of a job and that made it all worthwhile.
FE&S: Describe your approach to working with other members of the supply chain, such as reps, factories, etc.
AR: I'm fortunate to have decent reps who are more like friends than business associates. We have a mutual respect for each other. They go the extra mile to make things happen. We all have the same goal: to get customers what they need quickly and provide customers with the best product for their money.
FE&S: How do you keep your product knowledge current?
AR: I really like reading magazines like FE&S and seeing what's new. I enjoy going to NAFEM shows. The Internet is invaluable. I also always look at vendor websites and ask reps what products are new. It's important to bring this information to customers first and try to stay one step ahead of the competition. People come to me as a resource for new products, knowing I do my research.
FE&S: What's the most important lesson you learned during your time in the foodservice industry?
AR: It's important to never stop learning, and always seek to know what's new and what's coming out. Sales reps shouldn't get stuck in their ways.